In February, I attended the Velocity 2012 conference hosted by lead pastor Shawn Lovejoy at Mountain Lake Church in Cumming, Georgia. For the last seven years Shawn and his team have invested in the lives of pastors, and in particular church planters, with passion and excellence. To be invited to speak on leadership development was a delight and privilege. My role was to pour into the young leaders, but I found myself learning and being inspired by the people I met.
Let’s be honest, the Church faces significant challenges these days from financial pressures to declining loyalties toward any one church body. My take on the church is positive, very positive in fact, but I hear a lot of negativity. I love the local church, but many Christians and church leaders are disillusioned and disenfranchised. This conference was filled with over 750 leaders, many young and a few not so young, all who love and believe in the local church! That alone was a great statement about the future of the church. If the leaders believe, that’s where it all starts!
Let me share some thoughts that I picked up in the hallways, lobby, munching on snacks and talking with young church leaders, church planters and a few para-church leaders as well. I’ve included some of my musings into the mix.
They do see things different in the future, a few things timeless, and even thoughts on coffee so let’s start there.
1. Going “green” will matter.
The Next Gen care about this. From building design, or no permanent buildings at all – rented facilities only, to what kind of cars they drive, ecology will matter. We are not of this world, but the young leaders care about what we do to it! Ecology (the earth and all that is in it) will carry more of a spiritual tone than in the past. I’m not suggesting a bent toward pantheism, so please don’t go there, just a greater respect for God’s creation. The realities of food, fresh water, and fuel can’t be ignored. They might even rebel against something as commonplace and accepted as the corporate Starbucks model, though many still love it. Instead, insisting on more localized “mom and pop” coffee houses that support local “green” endeavors.
2. Partnerships will pave the way.
Resources are tight and not likely to become ‘”abundant” in the near future. From ideas to money to time and energy, the thought is that we need to work together if churches are to thrive. It’s not a throwback to the sixties communal Jesus movement, nor is it about the big box idea like Wal-Mart. It will involve more local based initiatives where churches and community organizations partner to make a lasting impact. This idea isn’t new, but candidly, not many churches are making it work. Hopefully this becomes something that is more than a good (almost obvious) idea, but one that we are inspired to embrace. One good example is StreetGrace. 12Stone® Church, along with many other local churches and organizations, have come together and leveraged resources toward the eradication of sex trafficking in Atlanta. Without this kind of collaborative effort, this anti-sex trafficking effort would never be successful. It’s just too big for any one organization to attempt on it’s own.
3. Theology will find its place.
Theology would certainly come under the timeless category, and may now be forging a new path. The seeker movement colored our approach to theology. It did not color it negatively or dismiss it, we all acknowledge the inerrant truth of God’s Word, but we must be honest about the many Christians today who are biblically illiterate. Something must be done. I’m not suggesting that we teach systematic theology and doctrine in our weekend services, or maybe I am. I am hearing young church planters talk about it. But I’m convinced that regardless of how we do it, understanding what we believe and why we believe is essential.
One of the things that is greatly encouraging is the easy access to seminary level education. Nearly anyone can get great training online, for credit or audit. We can start there for those who are ready!
4. Missional Smissional
Ok, I’m kidding a bit on the “missional smissional” crack. But some of the young, (and not so young) leaders are beginning to tire of “all things missional.” The concern is that over the last ten years that we’ve used the term missional, we may have overused it. This potential overuse may have caused us to lose sight of what it means. It may have become like the proverbial “mission statement” on the wall that no one pays attention to. The easy evidence is found in the abundant number of books and articles written on the topic of “missional” that attempt to define what it means!! Personally, I just wish my spell check would recognize it and stop underlining it in red! (smile) Really, it’s missional everything — missional strategy, missional community, missional small groups, missional student ministry, missional outreach, missional justice and compassion, missional finances, missional multi-site, and on the list goes. I’m waiting for missional coffee to be announced!! Alan Hirsh says it well: “When everything becomes missional, then nothing becomes missional.”
The point is this, for missional to matter it has to be focused, fresh, relevant and something you would give your life for. When I interact with church planters out on the front lines who have little help and even less money, I can see and feel “the missional.” It doesn’t have to be explained. It is deep in their bones. It matters. They are sold out, fired up, and in deep with their whole heart! You don’t have to define it for them. They live it! Missional for them is incarnational. It’s everyday faith to make it one more day. Missional is an “all in” mindset, to reach people for Jesus, because anything less doesn’t work.
5. Many will take a different look and path.
Many of the churches in the future will look much different than our current model(s). I met a guy named Tom at the conference. He was heavily tatted, sported serious piercings and had a crazy cool long goatee. He’s into motorcycles and just about to complete his D.Min. We hit it off immediately and I feel like I have a new friend. Tom is not likely to build a mega-church but he is reaching people that many of us don’t reach. He’s more of a store front guy doing ministry that by its very nature can’t become big, but it goes deep and lives are being changed. This is not a shot at the mega-churches. I serve in one. And I’m not suggesting that huge churches aren’t deep or don’t care. I’m just saying that growth may be lived out and measured in new and different ways.
6. A global perspective is the new norm.
It’s no longer a “missions” department deciding on a few trips to take a year. It’s bigger than that. It’s strategic, long term, and partner-oriented. Places that seemed exotic and far way from Africa to Asia are now the new neighborhood. The cultural, political and economic impacts make our spiritual focus more important than ever. A great example is a massive endeavor to develop spiritual leaders in more than 150 countries and counting. Hundreds of churches are partnering with EQUIP to see major transformational impact take place on a global level. There are so many other global initiatives from fresh water to fighting aids! We have the opportunity and responsibility to change the world together!
I’ve been wrestling with this one personally for some time. I don’t believe we can force the idea of diversity. But we don’t have to. It’s just here, and here to stay. We don’t force diversity in restaurants, banks or sporting events. It’s just part of culture. I think what I’m hearing and thinking is the opposite of intentionally and mechanically trying to program diversity. We need to simply relax and embrace it. In the same way that you cannot legislate relationships, you can’t program diversity. It won’t happen just because we attend a seminar or write a few articles. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that those who are not, at a minimum, thinking and talking about it, will forfeit huge potential and perhaps experience reduced momentum.
So what do you think? Use this article as a conversation starter with other church leaders. Get in front of the curve. Perhaps you agree or disagree with what I’ve said. The important thing is to know what you think and act on it.