Last Sunday we started a new series entitled, Embracing Exile, a series designed to help and equip us to navigate the season we find ourselves in.
I have been overwhelmed by the response to the first message of the series and the dialogue that has happened as a result of it. Thank you to all of you who emailed, wrote, and texted me. I am slowly working through the emails and I intend to respond to everyone who asked a question.
A brief recap of the context for our series. For clarity, the series was designed well before the election. Yes, we scheduled it to start on the Sunday after the election because we figured the election would reveal a polarized nation. The trailer video, the sermon slides, and the message were completed before the election results were known. Consequently, the election results neither add nor detract from what we’re saying. The basic premise is this: the spiritual landscape of America is changing, and the church has to change the way we engage. A convictional minority cannot minister as if it were a religious majority. If anything, the election results serve to emphasize the reality of the data I presented.
If cultural commentators are to be believed, somewhere in the region of 25% of churchgoers are unlikely to return to church after the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s because those loosely connected to the church before the pandemic have had their tenuous connections to a local church severed. Over the last 245 days, new habits have formed. While this seems a drastic conclusion to draw, a recent Barna research project concludes that during the pandemic one in five regular church goers has not attended a church service either in person or online.
I supplemented that thought with data from Dr. Ed Stetzer. I recently attended a workshop with Dr. Stetzer where I was encouraged to accept that Christians will be more of a convictional minority than a religious majority. Dr. Stetzer was essentially suggesting that Christendom was dying and pleaded for pastors to encourage their churches to move to a missional mindset in America. He shared how convictional Christianity—people who try to live their faith every day and remain connected to a local body of believers—will remain largely unchanged with the drop coming from the cultural (think, “I am Christian because America is a Christian nation”) and congregational (think “Christmas and Easter attenders”) segments of the church. Other research suggests that since most churches have cultural, congregational, and convictional attitudes reflected in their flock, the migration will likely affect most churches at some level. The result of the migration is said to be polarization. America is seemingly becoming more secular and more devout at the same time. What is missing is the middle.
In this series we are going to explore what it takes to live as a cultural minority. The analogy I suggested in last week’s message was that of a MEDIC. By medic I am thinking of a doctor who works with the armed forces. Since the Geneva Convention was signed, the Army has typically not armed medics since they were protected by international law. But the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have mostly been fought against insurgencies who don’t follow the Geneva Convention and medics have been armed with rifles and pistols. Medics fight and heal. I suggested that this is what we’re called to do. Our primary role is as healers and influencers, but we fight when we need to. In the message on Sunday I suggested that as MEDICs we must:
M = mourn what has been lost.
E = trust the bigger battle plan.
D = pick our battles wisely.
I = influence when we don’t have the authority.
C = contribute to the well-being of this nation as citizens of another.
These five traits are what we see God’s people modelling (on their best days!) in exile in the Old Testament. To thrive moving forward, I suggest we must assume our role as medics, fleshed out perfectly for us in the mindset required of the exiles. Our six-week series falls into three parts. Using the Old Testament as the foundation for the series, each part will jump into different sections of Old Testament history.
In the first part we’ll illustrate the reality of the cultural shift as well as give a framework through which to grieve our loss.
In the second part of the series we’ll explore what it means to shift from being a religious majority to being a convictional minority. Jumping into the lives of Daniel and Esther, we’ll unpack what it means to shift from a Christendom-mindset to a post and pre-Christian mission and evangelism mindset. We’ll also explore how the church needs to move from land thinking to exilic thinking.
In the final part of the series, we reach advent. While we won’t do a dedicated advent series this year, the theme for the first Sunday of December, Hope in Exile, shows how hope in exile is found in the truth that the king is alive (2 Kings 25:27ff). The King of Kings will lead His people, strangers as they are, into a new and heavenly home. Until then, we live as strangers and aliens, as ambassadors of a King whose rule and reign can be experienced even when living a long way from home.
Thank you for joining us for what we believe will be a foundational series for our church family as we continue to embrace our role as a kingdom-minded, missionally generous family of believers.
I am excited for this Sunday as Holly Brown continues the series with her message, Singing with the Exiles. See you online or in person.