At a recent meeting with pastors I spoke directly to the younger pastors who were present and told them I envied them because of the changes in the church that would occur during their ministries. Although I cannot predict what those changes will look like, there is little doubt that significant changes are occurring and will continue to occur as we move through the 21st century. The church I have known and served as pastor for the past 36 years will disappear. Please note that I did not say the church will disappear. Jesus made it very clear that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. But, much of what we now know as the church will change in the coming years, and I believe these will be exciting changes for both the church and the world it is called to reach.
We live in a very unsettling time in virtually every area of life. It seems that everything is under attack today, and that certainly includes Christianity and all it teaches and believes. The church is seen as irrelevant by a growing number of people both inside and outside the church. Denominational structures are viewed as even more irrelevant. Christian teaching is seen by many as judgmental, arrogant, and divisive.
It seems that every worldview is acceptable except the Christian worldview. This holds true on many university campuses as well as in the entertainment and business communities. In many parts of the world today Christians are under extreme persecution that includes martyrdom for tens of thousands of believers. While Christians in the US do not face that level of persecution, we continue to see new challenges placed on churches and other Christian organizations.
I hate to quote the atheist Nietzsche, but he did remind us that out of chaos comes order. There is little question we live in a chaotic time, but perhaps this chaos is to prepare the church for the changes that are coming. I am convinced that the church of the future will look much different and will minister is much different ways than it looks and ministers today.
It's interesting to me that many people are saying what I'm saying, but few attempt to describe what the church of the future will look like. I doubt that any of us knows at this point so trying to predict that would be a waste of time. At the same time, I would make two observations that I believe will be correct.
The first is that churches that value their models of ministry more than their mission will not survive the changes that are coming. We are already seeing established churches change the structures that served them well for many decades, but even these changes might not be enough. Regardless of size, churches in the future must clearly understand their mission, have a clear God-given vision for how to achieve that mission, and have the flexibility to make the necessary changes to see that mission fulfilled.
The second observation I would make is that the education today's current seminary students are receiving is going to be woefully inadequate to lead the future church. Most seminaries are still teaching a maintenance approach to ministry. The church of the future will require a more adaptive leadership style. This does not mean that those preparing for ministry should avoid seminary education, but go into it knowing that it will not be enough. Church leaders of the future will have to be even more committed to life-long learning as ministry will be changing at a rapid rate.
While I do not claim to know what the church of the future will look like, I repeat that I envy those who will be leading those churches. It's going to be a wild ride but a very rewarding one and one I would love to be a part of.