Keep Standing

by Jared Johnson 

Numbers 16 is sometimes remembered by Bible students as the “Korah’s Rebellion chapter.”  It’s a bit long as Bible chapters go – 50 verses, about 1,300 words in English.  And indeed, the majority of the chapter covers the drama among Moses, Aaron, Korah, Dathan and so on. 

But these are not the only events covered in Numbers 16.  The final few words seem to give a bit of an epilogue.  The main events conclude in verse 40.  In English, we then see a paragraph break, and this phrase right after the superscripted 41 indicating the new verse: “But the very next morning…” 

O my.  Here it goes again.  That all-too-familiar pattern of Israel’s interminable griping reared itself again – the very next morning!  Leadership, so often, can be a thankless task.  And that is precisely what happens in Numbers 16.  

Moses and Aaron faced the very public complaints of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, On, and 250 additional “community leaders” over the course of a couple very stressful days.  “The elders of Israel” are mentioned on one occasion with Moses (verse 25), but there is no mention of Joshua nor anyone else – the chapter has the feel of being very lonely for Moses and Aaron. 

Over 250 highly respected men voiced very public criticisms and complaints about these two.  God very obviously reaffirmed His choice of Moses and Aaron, who simply “left it at that.”  Moses and Aaron let the Divine punishments speak for themselves.  They didn’t punish anyone else in any additional way – what God said and did was the final word on the matter. 

Then verse 41: “…the very next morning the whole community of Israel began muttering…” 

Thankfully, Moses and Aaron set a great example here.  In the face of fresh rancor, how many of us given a similar situation – I know I’d be tempted! – would wearily cry out to God and take Him up on His “do over” offer as He made in verse 21?  “Get away from all these people so that I may instantly destroy them!” 

Not Moses’ nor Aaron’s MO.  They shielded the people in verse 22 (prayer), and again (prayer and action) here at the end of the chapter.  Verses 46-47 record that “Moses said to Aaron, ‘Quick, take an incense burner … purify them and make them right with the Lord…’  Aaron did as Moses told him and ran out among the people.” 
 
Moses and Aaron intervened on behalf of the people they led in situation after situation, just because it was the right thing to do.  Pastor Appreciation Month was far in the future.  No Starbucks gift cards would be showing up in their Tabernacle Office mailboxes the next morning. 

But here’s the verse that really hits me, verse 48: 

He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped. 

I cannot imagine. 

It was a plague.  Death came quickly.  In today’s terms, think Ebola or some other severe hemorrhagic fever or an extreme, rapidly progressing bacterial infection.  A plague, in only minutes or hours, had come into the camp of Israel and the leaders intervened. 

He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped. 

Aaron ran to where he was needed to intervene – he went immediately to the front line between the living and dead.  He undoubtedly saw people expiring before his eyes.  He probably heard people gasp their last – the “death rattle” when fluid fills the throat and bronchial tubes, then the lungs, suffocating the victim.  Whatever this plague was, it’s not unreasonable to think it involved massive bleeding, flesh that looked like it should not, flesh doing what it should not. 
 
And all Aaron had – literally! – was an incense burner and prayer. 

But He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped.  God worked in and through Aaron’s servant-leadership. 

Keep standing, pastor.  Keep standing, elder.  It will often be thankless.  It will be spiritually, relationally, emotionally messy.  It might even be physically messy; modern medicine is a wonder, but that doesn’t mean hospital visits are for the faint of heart. 

Keep standing, shepherd.  Someone will live eternally because you will have chosen to stand with – and in defense of – the living.

“I” Problems

by Rod Nielsen 

My dad, a long-time elder in the Church of Christ in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, sometimes talked with me about situations where one could see “I” problems.  He meant that some people have a problem with their ego.  They make decisions about the church and what the church is doing based on their personal preferences rather than on the Word of God.
 
In my years of being a preaching minister, I have witnessed this again and again.  Well-meaning church members are sometimes critical of the church, what we did or how we did it simply because they did not like it, or we did not do it the way they would have preferred.  While I appreciate that they care about what the church does and how we do it, “because I don’t like it” is not a very good point of reference.
 
M.C. Escher, the artist known for fascinating and bizarre drawings of impossible things, created one drawing he titled “Relativity.”  The drawing depicts a building with stairs going every which way: up, down, left, right, sideways, upside down.  There are people walking on the stairs as if gravity has no effect.  Of course, as a viewer you know this is impossible.  The drawing shows what the world would be like if there were no absolute point of reference.  Turn the page around and around and you cannot find a single point of reference to know which way is up.
 
It is a statement about the impossibility of life without a single point of reference, an absolute up and down or absolute right and wrong.  Our culture has rejected any sense of absolute right and wrong and it has disturbed a sense of moral compass in America.  There are many examples of that which is good being called evil and that which is evil being called good.  It does not work for a people to exist without a consistent moral compass.
 
In our churches we must have a clear and absolute point of reference of what is right and what is wrong.  This is true for individuals and for the congregation.  The Bible does not spell out everything the church must do or how we must do them.  We are free to be creative as we live out our commission to make disciples.
 
So how do we determine what is good and what is bad for the church to do and how the church does it?  That requires careful and prayerful trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  What we must not do is try to accommodate every member’s preference.  This is especially important for the men, Elders, who make portentous decisions for the church.  It is necessary that we do not allow our own “I” problems to become our point of reference.
 
Whenever we are tempted to say, “I like this” or “I don’t like that” we should stop and remove the first-person pronoun and insert “God.”  If we are still at peace when saying, “God likes this” or “God doesn’t like that,” then we are focused on the true point of reference.
 
Our creator God offers us an almost unlimited variety of things to do and methods of doing them.  We are limited by our creativity and the true measure of right and wrong, the Word of God.  Overcome our “I” problems to truly be a Holy Spirit led church.

The “Authority” of Elders Makes me Nervous

by Mark Scott 

Founding Academic Dean of Ozark Christian College, Seth Wilson, said, “If Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), then how much is left over for you?”  The answer is in the question.  I suppose that is why I get nervous when I hear church folk talk about the “authority” of the elders (or the preacher or the church secretary for that matter).  What is implied in how that word “authority” is used? 
 
The Greek word translated authority is “exousia.”  It occurs 102 times in the New Testament and means “the right to command or the power to act.”  Interestingly enough, it never appears in conjunction with any discussion of the elders (their 17 qualifications or 12 duties).  In fact, the word does not appear at all in 1 or 2 Timothy.  Most people know that the word “office” is not really in the Greek text of 1 Timothy 3:1.  It is supplied (sometimes) by translators.  But the word for “work” is in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1.  Maybe that is what an elder has – not an authoritative office but a “good work.”
 
Don’t misunderstand me.  To oversee the church does imply some kind of empowerment by someone.  But elders should use caution when they desire the work of an elder so that they can command and boss people.  Again quoting Brother Seth Wilson, “All of our efforts to control people shows our failure to convert them.”  Some might argue that since the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20), didn’t the apostles pass the baton of authoritative leadership to the elders?  I do believe in a certain level of plural apostolic succession.  The farther one reads in Acts the more evident it is that the apostles started fading into the background and the local church elders took on the leadership of the church.  Note Acts 21:17-26 for a classic example where the local Jerusalem elders tell the Apostle Paul what to do – and he obeys them. 
 
But, at best, any authority that the elders have is first delegated (see Matthew 10:1 for an example of what Jesus did with the apostles) and is secondly through teaching and persuasion (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Corinthians 5:11).  Loving the people (the latest strong emphasis on eldership coming from Alexander Strauch), equipping the saints, watching their souls, protecting the church from savage wolves, teaching the Bible, and pleading with the people to not be idle, etc. all gain the elders’ spiritual clout with the people so that they will follow the elders (John 21:15-19; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). 
 
Some might ask about church discipline, and in those instances it may seem that the elders have to use authority.  But I would ask elders to carefully examine the grammar of Matthew 18:18.  The original NASB had it right, “Whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven…”  In other words, whatever elders (they may be the two or three witnesses referred to in Matthew 18:16, 19-20; see Kurt Aland’s Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum, 253 and the quote from Ignatius) exercise in terms of discipline has already been decided by heaven.  They are simply declaring heaven’s will – not their own. 
 
Some years ago someone asked then-President of Ozark Christian College, Don Earl Boatman, where the lines of authority were between his ministry and Brother Seth Wilson’s ministry.  President Boatman’s response was, “We don’t worry about authority, we just emphasize responsibility.”  Elders have leadership, influence, clout, sway, and persuasion.  But perhaps the only authority they have is the authority of their own obedience in following Jesus.

Collateral Damage

by Jared Johnson 

We have probably all heard the phrase (or used it ourselves) “kick the can down the road.”  It seems, in our society, that the national debt is the topic about which this phrase is typically expressed.

Unsurprisingly, we find an example of this kind of abdication and “not-my-problem” thinking in the pages of the Bible.

In 1 Samuel 15, Saul was ordered to purge the Hebrews’ territory of all Amalekite people.

Leaving aside the intractable issue (for a blog) of “sanctioned genocide,” there is a leadership lesson to be gleaned from the fallout of Saul’s failure in this chapter.

Saul, in his own mind, followed the direction of 1 Sam. 15.3 and attacked.  As he did so, he struck down Amalekites “from Havilah to Shur” (v 7).  Specifics about those two places are debated; we don’t know where exactly they were.  But we know, unequivocally, that Saul and the whole army kept, basically, whatever they felt like (v 9), especially animals.  Saul spared the life of the king, Agag, for whatever reason, despite God’s instruction to the contrary.

Some number of years passed by the time we get to 1 Samuel chapters 28-31.  Sparing a number of the intervening details, David and the entire band of men with him returned home from a military outing and found that … Amalekites had raided their homes and carried off all their wives and kids, along with possessions.  Had Saul carried out the direction to purge the Amalekites, David and crew and their families probably would have been spared the heartache and travail of 1 Samuel chapter 30.

Our tendency, in leadership, to put off a decision or to not definitively complete a task or initiative can – does – have repercussions.  And those repercussions can be outright harmful.  Saul’s ungodly leadership, his sin of omission, directly resulted in the kidnapping of hundreds of women and children and the ransacking and burning of David’s hometown at the time, Ziklag.

Decisions can’t be made with perfect clarity.  And when we make mistakes we need to admit as much and course-correct quickly.  There are usually unintended consequences.  However, there is also, especially from this biblical example, the very real phenomenon of avoidable pain.  Saul was irresponsible.  He deliberately chose personal convenience and preference over God-honoring leadership, and it harmed many people in many ways.

David was, usually, an example worth following.  Saul was not.  Let’s be careful that our chosen paths in leadership aren’t kicking proverbial cans down the road; we don’t want to cause collateral damage.  

Road Trip

by Jeff Stone 

Do you remember when, as a child, your school would load up the students onto buses and go visit a museum or some other destination of educational value?  The location change from the familiar classroom setting seemed to stir excitement and generate fresh learning.  Just as that experience energized your class, a road trip can accomplish the same synergy for your elders.
 
Periodically, our team of elders leaves our familiar conference room and takes our meeting time together on the road.  We’ve gone to conferences, men’s events, visited Bible colleges, supported area revivals, and have concluded that different surroundings stimulate new perspectives.  Often while en route, we enjoy a meal together and the conversation riding together while in the vehicles is most productive.  Perhaps the greatest value we’ve discovered from taking a road trip is simply the value of spending time together as a team.
 
The elders at my previous church in Dublin, Ohio received a prayer request from a new Christian man, deeply concerned about his sister’s diagnosis of an aggressive cancer.  Not content simply to add her to the prayer list, we piled into two cars after a work day, drove 2 ½ hours to where she lived, and prayed fervently with her and her husband.  Twelve years later, Tracy is still living and she, her husband, and her brother remain eternally grateful to those elders who went on a prayer road trip.
 
The Bright elders had learned of a faithful minister who was abruptly let go from the church he served in a far-away state.  We prayed for him in our elders’ meeting and collected a love offering of $300 to provide some assistance to his family.  We continued to pray for God to provide him a new place to do ministry.  We rejoiced when God relocated him to our state, to a church within an hour from where our epicenter of intercessory prayer had occurred.  After he settled into his new role, we went on an elders’ road trip to attend on a Sunday morning where he was leading worship, after which he was able to meet and personally express his thanks to some brothers who had helped to “hold his arms up” (Exodus 17:9-13).
 
More recently, the elders at Bright went on a road trip to attend Gary Johnson’s final service as the Lead Minister at Indian Creek.  Gary has been an e2 coach to our church and we wanted to be there to support and encourage him as he completed thirty years at the Creek and would begin the next day to pour his total efforts into the global impact of e2.  We were blessed by worshiping together as a team and were nourished by the entire service.  Spending those hours traveling and worshiping together with each other was enriching to all of us.
 
Do you see the solid benefits that await your team of elders when you begin to add this dimension to your meetings and experience the advantages of periodically taking road trips together?  Let me challenge you to try to incorporate a road trip into your team’s plan in the very near future.  The variety will break the mundane “Meeting Merry Go Round” and unleash God’s Spirit to work through your elders via some new opportunities.
 
I’d love to hear about a road trip that your elders have taken!  Happy Highways!

People of the Book

by Gary Weedman 

Two of the early slogans in our Stone-Campbell tradition were: “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent” and “No book but the Bible.”  Yet, for such a people of the Book, where is the Bible in our public worship?  I fear that it is all too absent.  A few years ago, I talked to a young married couple, raised in the Christian church, who had migrated to a more liturgical denomination. I gently inquired as to the motivation for such a move.  Their response: “We miss hearing the Bible in worship.”
 
The public reading of Scripture has always been an important part of corporate worship.  After a long period of absence of the Scriptures in worship, Josiah (7th C. BC) “read … all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 23:2).  Imagine – a worship service that consisted of the reading of the entire book of Deuteronomy!  The event launched a mighty reform throughout the Kingdom of Judah in behavior and devotion. 
 
A similar phenomenon occurred in the 5th Century BC as Ezra led a large group of exiles from captivity in Babylon to Jerusalem.  He read from the Law “from early morning until midday … and the ears of all the people were attentive” (Nehemiah 8:3).  The result was, once again, a great religious awakening.
 
This emphasis on public reading continued in the synagogue.  Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah (now chapter 61) and declared himself as the fulfillment of the text that very day (Luke 4:21).
 
These readings were considered an act of worship and not merely preparatory to the main event.  So, when Paul advised his delegate Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13), he was merely affirming the accepted practice of the early church adopted from their roots in the synagogue. 
 
A powerful demonstration of the power of the oral impact of Scripture is the dramatic presentation of the Gospel of Luke by Bruce Kuhn, a Broadway actor.  Through a dramatic recitation of this Gospel from memory, the impact is remarkable.  Although I had read Luke for myself and have written about large portions of the Gospel, I “heard” aspects of the Gospel for the first time.  For example, I had never “heard” how many times that Luke records Jesus and others saying, “Fear not.”  Those who heard his presentation can never read Luke the same.
 
Elders can lead in the restoration of the public reading of the Bible in contemporary worship.  We have the tradition of Jewish worship, the practice of Jesus, and the admonition of the apostle Paul to support such practice.  May we once again be a “People of the Book.”
 
What, then, can we do?  A few suggestions: 

  • Restore the ancient practice of Scripture reading in worship, preferably a substantial portion from the Old and the New Testaments.  There are many examples of weekly readings available from the Internet and from church history.
  • Make these readings a celebration of the presence of God and not merely a perfunctory preface to the sermon.
  • Create a ministry team of readers whose work is the reading of the Scriptures in worship and who learn the role of public reading of the Scriptures throughout the history of the church.
  • Use varied reading presentations, such as a leader with response from the congregation, two or more persons reading together, or a choral reading.
  • Promote Scripture memorization and recitations through church programs like Bruce Kuhn’s. 

E-L-D-E-R-S

by Gary Johnson 

Seven years ago, almost to the day, e2 incorporated as a non-profit parachurch ministry!  We thank the Lord for His great grace towards us, thank Him for the past seven years while trusting Him for seven more … and then some! 

As e2 celebrates her seventh anniversary, we look back over recent years and think about our conversations with 6,000+ elders at our conferences.  Time and again, conversation turned toward the same few topics.  Like cream rising in milk, we noticed elders talking about similar challenges in one location after another.  From coast to coast, in congregations both brand new and long-established, small or mega in size, these recurring themes capture the attention of elders and staff.  After thinking about this phenomenon, we have summarized these recurring concerns into six challenges. 
 
What are these six challenges?  We can remember them by thinking “E-L-D-E-R-S.”
 
E – Evangelism 
Some 250,000 churches in America have plateaued or are declining.  Why?  They suffer mission drift, failing to “seek and to save the lost.”  If elders are not leading by example and personally bringing spiritually lost friends and family to Christ, don’t expect the rest of the congregation to do so. 
 
L – Leadership
Conflict abounds between staff and elders.  Power struggles are alive and well.  We must work to turn our dysfunctional leadership teams into healthy teams.  This requires intentional forgiveness and humility.
 
D – Discipleship
Regretfully, far too many people are merely growing old in the faith and are failing to grow up – to become increasingly like Jesus.  As elders, we are to make disciples who make disciples, beginning with ourselves.  We must strive to become more spiritually mature today than we were yesterday – and help those around us to do the same.  After all, Jesus told us to do so. 
 
E – Equipping
The equipping of current elders must happen.  Stop doing the same things our grandfathers did when they were elders, while expecting different results.  We need to learn new leadership skills, raising the bar of our effectiveness.  Do you have an elder development plan in place and are you working the plan?  If not, why not?
 
R – Recruiting 
With the leadership pipeline running low, it is essential to recruit the next generation of elders.  We at e2 continually encounter churches with two or even just one elder in place.  Moreover, many churches fail to have elder candidates “on deck and ready to take their turn at bat.”  How do you identify potential elders with leadership skills and a calling to serve in this manner, and how are you preparing them to lead?
 
S – Structure 
Healthy bones make for a healthy body.  Similarly, a healthy internal structure of the church makes for a healthy church.  Let’s look and operate more like the New Testament Church and less like the federal government.  Stop nominating and electing people to specific “offices” with terms.  Is it time to rewrite the by-laws and structure the church as described in the New Testament? 
 
At e2, we help churches face up to these six challenges.  We’ve assisted hundreds of elders in dozens of churches to address each of these concerns.  How can we help you and your team?  Give us a call or drop us a note.  It would be a privilege both to hear from you and to help you. 
 
Coaching Elder Teams to Win

 

12 Mistakes Dead Churches Make

by Barry Cameron 

Every year thousands of churches unfortunately close their doors. Why? Because they kept doing things that did them in. Here are some mistakes dead churches make.

Dead churches erroneously believe …

1. Growth just happens.  They mistakenly believe growing churches are nothing more than the result of being in the right place at the right time.  Even the perfect garden in the perfect place won’t stay perfect if you just walk away and leave it.

2. You can have evangelism without evangelists.  In other words, you can reach the lost without ever having anyone in the church actually reach out to the lost.  They believe you can win souls without soul winners.  That’s why they die.

3. You can have progress without change.  They want to grow.  They really do.  They just don’t want to change.  They don’t want any new people taking their parking place, seat, or place of leadership in the church.

4. You can have success without sacrifice.  They want growth and don’t mind the cost as long as someone else pays it.  They’ve convinced themselves great things can come about without any price being paid or pain being experienced.

5. God will bless in spite of sin and unholy living.  They believe God will bless in spite of how they live.  Obviously, there have been no in-depth studies of the lives of people like AchanSamsonDavidAnanias and Sapphira to name a few.

6. First-class facilities, grounds, printed materials, programs and activities aren’t important.  In a dying church, members often think ripped and worn out carpet, parking lots with cracks as wide as the Grand Canyon, burned out lights, poorly designed, typo-riddled programs, landscaping resembling a tropical rain forest, equipment from the 50s, etc., doesn’t matter to the unchurched.  The fact is, people who demand excellence in the cars they drive, homes they live in, and places where they do business, won’t accept less than the best from the church they attend.
 
7. Leaders don’t have to be tithers.  Their leaders lead by the motto: “Do as we say, not as we do.”  Most people would be shocked to learn how many leaders don’t tithe in dying churches.  Their “weakly” giving is just that.  That’s why their church is dying.

8. By-laws, budgets and board meetings are really important.  They are constantly beset by the big “Bs”: By-laws, Budgets and Board meetings … as if those things somehow impart the supernatural, providential blessing of God.  Growing churches focus, instead, on the Bible.

9. The Pastor and staff work for us.  They see their Pastor and staff as official employees who are paid to do the work of the church.  The Bible teaches the opposite.  In fact, the Pastor and staff are to equip the saints “for the work of the ministry.”   

10. Being traditional is spiritual.  People in dying churches think “the way we’ve always done it,” is somehow holier than attempting something new.  They forget the time-tested traditions of today were cutting edge “new” things of the “good ‘ole days.”

11. The world cares about our doctrine.  They mistakenly believe their beliefs will bring more believers.  Few unchurched people even know what doctrine is.  We ought to have the right doctrine for sure.  However, just having the right doctrine alone won’t grow a church

12. There’s always next year.  They have no sense of urgency.  Growing churches are passionate, enthusiastic and urgent about everything.  They pursue ministry every day, as if they don’t have the promise of tomorrow.  Because they don’t.
 
Neither do we. 

3 Words

by Mike Shannon 

There is an incident in the book of Acts that gives us insight into the role of elder as it was understood by the New Testament church.  It is recounted in chapter 20, verses 13-38.  Paul is on his way to Jerusalem.  He did not know precisely what would happen to him there, but he suspected it would be difficult and perhaps even cost him his life.  Paul took time from his journey to Jerusalem to say his farewells to the elders of the church in Ephesus, a church that meant a lot to him.  This meeting ended in many tears as Paul said they would never seem him again.  In verse 17, Paul summoned the “elders,” which is probably the most common term for the office, even in our own time.  In verse 28, he called them “overseers,” and admonished them to shepherd (pastor) the flock, which is the church.  This is a passage that gives strong evidence that all three terms were applied to the same “office.”  Let’s look at these three words as a guide to critical elements in our understanding of the work of an elder. 

First, consider the word “elder.”  It means just what is sounds like it means.  It is an older or mature man.  The Bible never prescribes exactly how old an elder should be, but we can still draw some conclusions about what is behind this designation.  A leader in the church should be mature, at least emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  These qualities would most often be found in people who were also chronologically mature. 

Secondly, consider the word “overseer.”  The English word is actually a quite accurate translation.  We instinctively know what it means.  The elders provide general oversight over the life, doctrine, and health of a church.  Although it doesn’t sound like it, the English word “bishop” is derived from this Greek word. 

Finally, the last word is “pastor.”  That word is used widely in our world today, but it is actually used rarely in the New Testament, at least when referring to an office.  It is the word “shepherd,” and in this passage it is the verb form that is used.  While the term “pastor” is often used for the minister or preacher of a church, it seems that this term originally applied to elders, and some elders were, no doubt, teaching pastors. 

My purpose is not to make a case for proper titles.  There is a place for such discussions, but my purpose is to consider that these three words describe essentials components of a church elder’s work. 

He should be mature.  Almost nothing is more destructive in a church than an immature leader.  Childish behavior will disrupt meetings and the overall building of a Christian community. 

He should be sure to take care of the overall health of the church.  While good elders delegate to deacons and other church workers, there is nothing outside of their concern.  For instance, good elders will take the time to study and understand biblical theology so they can guard the spiritual health of the community.

He should have a shepherd’s heart.  It is not just about meetings and policies, however important they may be.  Elder boards should consider how they can care for the flock: visiting the bereaved, visiting the sick, consoling the broken hearted, etc. 

I could say it like this: elders, be mature, be aware, and be compassionate.  In doing so, you will lead like Jesus – our good shepherd.

What’s next for the Church?

by Daniel Overdorf 

What’s next for the church?  What will the coming years look like?  The short answer…I don’t know.  Only God does.  But here are a few things I feel in my gut – not an exhaustive list, but a few matters to consider.
 
 A THRIVING CHURCH IN THE NEXT GENERATION WILL BE:
 
1. Global.  Can you imagine if the Apostle Paul had access to air travel?  The internet?  Skype?  Thriving churches in the next generation will recognize their opportunity to participate in God’s expansion of His kingdom down every dusty road, in every metropolis, in every village.  As the world grows smaller, our opportunities for global impact grow larger.    
 
2. Diverse.  A year ago, I participated in the Metro Christian Convention in New York City.  I was one of only a few Caucasians in the room.  Around me, worshipping, stood brothers and sisters from every ethnic background imaginable.  I thought to myself, “This is what heaven will be like.”  Then I prayed, “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  
 
3. Missional.  Rather than waiting for our communities to “come to church,” thriving churches in the next generation will actively engage people – actual people, not just stereotypes and labels – relationally and compassionately functioning as salt and light in their cities and neighborhoods.   
 
4.  Authentic.  Recent revelations about the abuse of power among Christian leaders have damaged our credibility and our mission.  Further, they have reemphasized the need for openness, honesty, transparency, and accountability in the church.
 
IN THE NEXT GENERATION WE WILL WRESTLE WITH:
 
1. Technology.  How does a church leverage technology but not bow to it?  As we move beyond websites to livestreaming and social media (and who knows what’s to come), how can technology advance the kingdom?  What about “online church?”  
 
2. Multi-Site Churches.  This recent phenomenon is mushrooming, and multitudes are coming to Christ through multi-site churches.  In some ways, they’re more consistent with the New Testament model than our typical approach.  Will the trend continue?  Will multi-site campuses be released from the mother ship?  What will this look like in thirty years?   
 
3. What Does it Mean to be “Non-Sectarian?”  Speaking from the perspective of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, how will we interact with others who are also laying aside (or at least deemphasizing) denominational ties, and who share our core beliefs, but who do not share our heritage or doctrinal distinctives?  How will we live out our ideal of non-sectarianism in this new environment?
 
4. The Relationships Between/Among:

  • The Church and the Government. How will the church and government relate?  How can the church influence the culture without become intertwined with it?  Speaking of the American church, how will we handle a loss of privilege and influence in our government?  
  • Christian Higher Education and Government.  As regulations from the government and accrediting bodies evolve around issues such as sexual identity and practice, discrimination, financial aid, and tax policies, institutions of Christian higher education may have difficult decisions to make, with significant financial implications, regarding their hiring, admissions, and discipline policies.
  • The Church and Christian Higher Education.  Because of the previous two points, the church and institutions of Christian higher education may have to rely on one another more than ever before.  Some current efforts are strengthening the bond between the two, such as residencies, teaching church programs, and semesters in ministry.  We will need to strengthen such efforts in the coming years to survive – thrive, even – in the next generation.  

What’s next for the church? I don’t know for sure, but I think it may involve matters such as these.  I do know for sure that it’s God church, He is sovereign, and His Church will thrive.  What we fear, He uses as opportunities for purification and growth.  In the next generation, the church will continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus as the hope of the world.