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Today’s spiritual earthquake 

Several years ago, I was in Taiwan onTaiwan earthquake damage business.  About 2 o’clock in the morning, I gradually awoke to the sound of the bathroom door repeatedly slamming into the wall.  The bed was shaking, too.  As the fog of sleep cleared from my head, I jumped out of bed, only to find the floor was moving.  I was in the middle of an earthquake!

Fortunately, the quake subsided quickly, and the damage to Kaoshiung was minimal.  But I never forgot the experience of having the world shift under my feet.  The same thing is happening in the world of church today — the ground is moving under our feet. 

Six major shifts are taking place in churches — large and small — and here’s how your church can benefit:

  1. The shift from observation to participation.  A 23-year old graphic designer recently said about her generation, “We’re creators.”  We are in the age of the prosumer that Alvin Toffler predicted in Future Shock — those who create and participate in their creation.  Content on the internet is the prime example.  The age of the spectator in worship, learning, and service is over.  People want to creat worship and participate in ministry, not just watch someone else.
  2. The shift from religious education to spiritual formation.  During the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, the education model drove church programs.  Church buildings were designed with small classrooms.  Churches enlisted “teachers” and planned curriculum.  Now the shift is to spiritual formation.  Willow Creek has just discovered that church programs, based only on an educational model, don’t make better disciples.  Spiritual formation — building in the practices of faith in everyday life — produces “self-feeders” that Bill Hybels now says he wants to produce.
  3. The shift from “what does it mean” to “what does it say to me” in Scripture reading.  Ancient practices like lectio divina make followers of Christ aware of what Scripture is saying to them, not just what it means in its historical setting.  Paul wrote“All Scripture God-breathed.”  The old view interpreted that text as the explanation for how scripture was inspired.  The new view interprets that passage as meaning God is present today in the pages of Scripture speaking to us now. 
  4. The shift from “hereafter” to the “here-and-now.”  Following Christ is no longer just about going to heaven when you die.  Rick Warren’s PEACE plan for aid to developing countries, and his ministry to those with AIDS has broadened awareness of God’s work now, not just in eternity.  Care for creation, service to community, and engagement with culture are examples of good news in this life, too.
  5. The shift from the individual to the community.  For the past 100+ years, we’ve focused on the individual in personal salvation and spiritual growth.  We now realize community is both the incubator and facilitator of our spiritual lives.  New expressions of community are helping people find their calling, their passions, and a new relationship with God.
  6. The shift from belief to practice.  People want to actively express their spiritual life, not just agree to a set of beliefs.  More church groups are now focused on “doing” rather than “talking.”  In pre-industrial society, the apprentice learned by doing, not just listening or watching.  The spiritual director of the ancient abbeys provided guidance in how to live, not just what to believe. 

 Your church can benefit from these shifts in the religious landscape by offering your congregation new ways of living the old story.  Experiment with small groups.  Do short term projects.  Introduce ancient spiritual practices.  Try on new ways of being Christian yourself. 

Of course, many of your members will be more comfortable keeping things as they are.  But new generations of younger adults want the experience about which John wrote,

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  — I John 1:1