This week I was part of a panel fielding some questions from a leadership class at Belfast Bible College. One of the questions had to do how we saw the biggest challenges currently facing Christian leadership. Here are two that I mentioned (you can feel free to comment or to add your own thoughts):
- The challenge to be culturally relevant and biblically faithful. Each of those emphases will have its champions. For the progressives, there is little point in being biblically faithful if we are culturally irrelevant. Indeed if the church is becoming culturally irrelevant, perhaps it’s time to rethink some of our beliefs and ditch some of the baggage that makes us unattractive. And it ought to be obvious that some of the intra-mural debates and discussions that cause so much angst within churches (check out this post from the summer for a few suggestions) have little or no importance in the eyes of a wider public. On there other hand some of the conservatives/traditionalists will probably want to argue that there will be times when culturally irrelevance is the price you have to pay to be biblically faithful. I think we need to bear in mind that both Daniel in the Old Testament and the apostles in the New had to determine where their ultimate allegiance lay, even when there was a price to pay; up until fairly recently in (now fading) Western Christendom, we’ve not often had to pay too much of a price. I remember one thing Mark Driscoll (I am not getting into a discussion of that saga) talked about a few years ago and which is helpful in this respect. He talked about things which are held in a closed hand and things which are held in an open hand. You don’t negotiate or compromise on the virgin birth (to throw in a Christmas example) or on the deity of Jesus Christ. But it’s hard to justify an uncompromising stand on whether you should have an evening service! Those are easy examples, but leaders need to sort out their closed hand/open hand issues.
- The challenge to honour the past without sacrificing the future. I think this has some relevance to something I wrote earlier this year about new churches. But it also comes into play in local congregations or denominational structures. Again, as with #1, we can veer to either side in this. In their quest for a church that is relevant to this generation, some people may be tempted to shunt everything (and everyone) from the past to one side: ‘those old people have had their day, let them stand aside while we get on with it,’ is the battle cry. But it’s arrogant for any generation to speak and act as if they were the first to do anything for the sake of the Kingdom! Your generation stands on the shoulders of those that went ahead of you. That said, it is no solution for an older generation to determine to hold tightly to the reins while the style of their church services remains firmly anchored several decades in the past. On the other hand, I heard recently about some older people whose church had revamped one of its weekly services to make it more contemporary and relevant. It was definitely not their cup of tea. So they didn’t go. Instead they met in a house to pray for the service.
One of the other people on the panel (Bishop Harold Miller) mentioned Phyllis Tickle’s idea that a major tectonic shift takes place in church history every 500 years. If that’s where we are today (the previous big shift, the Reformation, started 498 years ago), we will need courageous and discerning leaders who can help us navigate these waters.