“There are forces and trends at work in our society that are killing local churches.” You’ve heard people say stuff like that before, right? You know what comes next too, don’t you? Usually, it’s condemnations of the insidious effects of secularization — or sexularization as one Christian commentator calls it — descriptions of hostility toward religion, and warnings about persecution, the limiting of religious freedoms, and fraying family values. Oh, and great angst about people using the greeting, “Happy holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.” But while some, albeit loud, voices are telling you to look over there, you might be missing some everyday cultural shifts occurring that are having a greater and unnoticed effect on the church. In fact, it is now becoming clear that these trends are killing the mission of the church far more effectively than the hot-button issues that get all the attention.
Here are five that come to mind:
In other countries they have wars… I’ve always thought of my country as not the place that has flood, famine, war – you know, all the apocalyptic stuff. But I was wrong, wasn’t I? I guess my overwhelming feeling is of loss. It’s grief. Australia is a precious and beautiful place. It smells and sounds and feels like no other place on God’s earth. And it has been scorched to the point of irreparable damage. It’s just simply devastating to contemplate the scale of this disaster, and the loss of human life, property, flora and fauna. The consequences of this event will be generational – at least. Who can put this into words? Those are the thoughts of Sydney Anglican rector Rev Dr Michael Jensen and despite feeling he can’t put it into words, I think he speaks for many Australians.
Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg might have just missed out on the Nobel Prize last month, but this week Time named her their Person of the Year for 2019, making her the youngest ever to receive that recognition since the magazine started it in 1927. The Swedish schoolgirl has become the face of a worldwide campaign for action on climate change since she staged a solo school strike outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018. Since then she has been tireless in her work to alert the world to the mounting risks from worsening heatwaves, floods, storms and rising sea levels.
Why is it that the people most likely to demand that we “keep Christ in Christmas” seem to know so little about the historical birth of Jesus! If they did, they would have no sentimental attachment to traditional nativity scenes and they definitely wouldn’t want to have them placed in centres of commercialism like shopping malls. This isn’t so much to grouse about the chintz and cheesiness of traditional Christmas celebrations as it is to bemoan the widespread ignorance of the gospel story by the very followers of Jesus.
There are lots of arguments being had by Christians on social media right now. And I mean lots! And that’s not to mention abortion, same-sex marriage, creation, etc. etc. And the impression most people seem to have is that all that typing and posting and sharing and venting and raging and debating achieves absolutely nothing. No one is ever convinced of the other side. No one ever changes their mind. No one ever sees both sides of the story. In other words, the conventional wisdom is that online debates are a complete waste of time and energy. But I’m not so sure.