Saturday Sermon: Authentic Christianity in the church today
The decade of the '60s was a significant era in our country's history.
The Vietnam War was raging, college campuses were alive with protests, the music scene was changing, and sexual norms were challenged. Amid all this upheaval, several writers were challenging the status quo of the church.
In 1961, Elton Trueblood, a Quaker, came out with "The Company of the Committed." Soon after, "New Life in the Church" was written by Robert Raines, a Methodist. In 1963, Findley Edge, a Baptist, wrote "A Quest for Vitality in Religion." As a result, many churches decided to opt for change.
The sad fact is that after all the excitement died down, most churches went back to business as usual. Someone has said that it is habit, not hatred, that is the enemy of the church.
Trueblood's book is only 113 pages, but it covers all the bases. His main ideas are, first and foremost: The church has become institutionalized and lost its vitality. Coming to church once a week has become a habit that too many are comfortable with.
The church must become creative in its approach to evangelism and serving human needs.
Second, the laity must get involved in the church and in ministry.
Third, each member should consider himself or herself a disciple and be encouraged to discover his individual calling or ministry and develop it.
From that book and from my experience, here are some suggestions:
Instead of promoting Sunday school as the sole teaching, courses might also be taught on counseling, evangelism, apologetics, hospital and prison ministries, preaching, public relations, etc.
There should be an annual retreat in which members would feel free to evaluate the church's ministry, make suggestions, make reports, testify and brainstorm ideas.
Those interested in evangelism might start an accountability group within the church to share, encourage, train, plan strategy, etc. Churches can plan and carry out meetings in public places designed to reach inquirers and the lost. Neighborhood parties can attract the lost or uninvolved. Religious studies or apologetics courses at colleges and universities are great opportunities. Evangelism is our highest priority.
Many churches are large enough to have an elementary school. All churches should have a library, even a bookstore, and encourage occasional book reports.
There is a great opportunity to reach people through the media: Most churches have only an announcement on the religion page, but with a little creativity, they might place stories in the main body of the paper; they may build a Web page and post movie clips on Facebook, and booths can be set up at a local exposition.
Guest speakers with a powerful testimony should be invited in occasionally.
Trueblood's main idea is to revitalize the laity, with the Apostle James' exhortation, "Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only. The most powerful command is from Jesus, Himself, who said ... that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."
It will take strong leadership to affect real change.
Raymond Smith is a lay minister and former President of Strong Families of Victoria.