the next christians

when one has undertaken the tedious process of reformation, it’s easy to get in a funk.  people resist change, and the movement is so slow as to seem non-existent.  i am encouraged, however, by several things coming from the pens of young revolutionaries.  i ran across another powerful commentary on the missional expression of church by gabe lyons in which he provides a synopsis of his new book.  look it over and tell me what you think…

Over the past eight years I’ve dedicated much of my work to understanding how a new generation is applying the Gospel in post-Christian societies. That work has informed and been illuminated in my just released book, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America where I hope to cultivate a rooted optimism that the future for the church in American culture is bright.

Just looking across the pond to Europe, it’s easy to surmise what society can look like when the church loses its vibrancy. In Europe’s case, the potent edge that once catalyzed the Renaissance and much of her values became rubbish within only a few generations. It should be a stark reminder that just one generation stands between ultimate collapse towards the falling edge or a resurrection of what could be—or better said—what ought to be. So it is with the American church and our opportunity in this generation. If we have the eyes to see (and I can tell you from my experience that a new generation does) the greatest days for the church just might lay ahead.

But to understand the opportunity, we need to remember where we’ve come from.

The church of the 20th century had two dominant ways of teaching and modeling the Christian’s role in society. The first was to separate. The Separatist view urged Christians to spend time and money among their own—venturing out too far from the fold could have dire consequences. The goal was to protect oneself from the corrupted nature of the world. Culture was sinful and our job was to man the fort, fight those who opposed it and in the pursuit of being faithful, win over as many converts as possible.

The second approach I call the Cultural view. Cultural Christians saw the label “Christian” as an important part of their cultural identity. They were generally good people who identified with a form of religious Christianity. In some cases, their connection to faith was no more than a genealogical hand-me-down, something they were born into. For others, their understanding of being Christian meant being good citizens—volunteering their time in schools, hospitals and neighborhood community groups. They attended church on holidays and for special occasions, but never quite personalized the work of Jesus as the main motivator for the life and work they did. In both cases, the intentions have been good, but missed the holistic mark to which the Gospel calls us forth. Which leads to the larger development at hand.

I’ve observed, and many of our churches are experiencing, a new, yet historic, way of seeing the faithful approach 21st century culture. Some aren’t quite sure what to do with it. Is this just a warmed over social Gospel or is something deeper underway? For the Next Christians I describe, taking the Gospel seriously means living within the tension of the two previously stated approaches to the world. They aren’t “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Instead, they are bringing a much needed gravity to what the Gospel demands from a follower of Christ in the West.

Restorers, as I’ve come to call them, hold tightly to Jesus’s redemptive work on the cross and his resurrection as the main motivator for why they give their lives to bring God’s transforming love and renewal into every area of the world. These restorers exhibit the mindset, humility, and commitment that seems destined to rejuvenate the momentum of the faith. They have a peculiar way of thinking, being, and doing that is radically different from previous generations. I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and motivated by the Good News, they work toward that vision. They are purposeful about their careers, and generous with their time and possessions.

They don’t separate from the world or blend in; rather, they thoughtfully engage. Fully aware of the sea change underway, they are optimistic that God is on the move—doing something unique in our time.

The Next Christians sit in your churches. Or maybe left a long time ago because they felt the church didn’t “get” them. But rest assured, they haven’t left God’s church and possess some of the greatest hope for how a new generation’s confidence in the Christian faith will be restored.

Sit down with them. Take them to coffee. Listen to their heart. Don’t judge their work, without understanding their motive. Mentor them, disciple them and then get out of their way. A new way of being Christian is bursting forth. Their lives are filled with tensions that demand love, discernment and engagement. When you get the chance, take them under your wing. And when they are ready to fly, unleash them to restore.


11 thoughts on “the next christians

  1. i like lyons’ views on this new group he calls “restorers.” i think he’s got a lot of it right. and i have great hope for the future of Christianity in the hands of these restorers.

    but i’m incredibly concerned in one particular area. the church, on a congregational level is crucial to the role of God’s people in their world. an individual can’t represent Christ alone, as he’s been granted (if we’ve interpreted scripture correctly) by the Spirit only a few of the giftings needed to be Christ in a community. it takes several members to be a body. and i’m afraid the restorers don’t realize this. or they choose to ignore it. our form of christianity was already, in my mind, too personal and individualistic to mesh with scripture (both o.t. and n.t.). i don’t think the church can handle it being any more so.

    a few of lyons statements that concern me:

    – [cultural christians] attended church on holidays and for special occasions, but never quite PERSONALIZED the work of Jesus as the main motivator for the life and work they did.

    – [restorers] are bringing a much needed gravity to what the Gospel demands from A FOLLOWER of Christ in the West.

    – Or maybe (the restorers) LEFT a long time ago because they felt THE CHURCH didn’t “get” them. But rest assured, THEY HAVEN’T LEFT GOD’S CHURCH…

    i think the “separatist” christians understood/ understand something the restorers are likely to throw out. a dependence on one another. while i don’t approve of their desire to separate from culture, i do appreciate a great deal the separatists’ willingness to share their lives (at least to some extent) and be in close relationship with one another. the restorers need to be mentored in this area.

    it takes a body to be a body. christianity is not an individual venture. and one cannot truly represent Christ without a church family. this whole, ‘i follow Christ, but i’m not a part of his church” thing must be overcome.

    • there is certainly much to admire about the attitude of the separatists. i get what you’re saying, brett, but i am seeing something different in actual practice.

      several (10?) years ago, barna wrote “revolution” and a lot of american pastors freaked out. barna argued that (at the time) one-third of american believers had chosen an “expression of faith” outside the traditional church (home church, parachurch, etc), and that within a few years (can’t remember the number), two-thirds of american christians will have voted against traditional church by leaving. the stunning part of his argument was that he claimed it was the most passionate pursuers of christ who were leaving.

      i have been seeing that in my context for several years. some leave because they are obsinate, but the vast majority (mostly young people) are leaving in groups and remaining in community with one another (see fran’s comment). they are hungry and open to godly leadership, and my sincere hope is that the “restorers” will see an open door in our fellowship and i will have the opportunity to “Mentor them, disciple them and then get out of their way.” i want to be connected with them.

      • randy and fran,

        i didn’t mean to sound as if i have a need for these guys to remain part of a traditional church. i’m more than happy for them to be a part of a body that looks completely different than how this corporate stuff usually appears. i’m a part of something that looks completely different. and i’m excited they want something different.

        it’s just that i’ve been involved with several “restorers” my age, but more from a slightly younger generation. and they weren’t leaving in groups and remaining connected. they may have left in groups, but they didn’t stay that way. many of them over time traded in obedience to God for involvement in social justice. passion for God became passion for going green. there was service to man devoid of service to God. God’s glory in exchange for mosquito nets and water in africa. i believe much of that is due to a “we don’t need a group” mentality.

        i’m not in any way against restorers. i think it’s one of the most exciting things i’ll witness in my lifetime. but i know many of them are giving up on any form of “organized” religion — and i’m not pushing hyper-organized religion. i just want some semblance of “we are the body of Christ, and it’s important for us to be together.”

      • I could’t add to your second post, Brett. So I’ll post here. I agree. I have several friends who are drifting but the Lord has laid it on my heart to pray for them so that their faith doesn’t fail and if I have anything to do with it….their faith will remain strong…..but I know many of these restorers who’s faith remains very strong..sometimes even stronger as they walk out where God is calling them…outside the context of the western church….I was talking with a friend recently and we both agree that the days ahead will be unprecedented and very exciting…can’t wait………..

      • I have to add one more comment…been thinking about this all night….I believe (and could be totally wrong) that many of these restorers are floundering away from a “body” because they have tried to connect to a “body” (American church as we know it today) only to be told that they can’t follow as passionately as God is leading them. I can here some leaders saying now…”we would never do that”…but perhaps they didn’t say it in words but in their attempt to force the restorers into their unbiblical mold.
        I believe the American church is responsible for some of this floundering. True, we are each responsible for our own faith….but a mentor in my life taught me that we are responsible for each other…..we say to each other…”if you go to hell, it’s my fault…..So, I say it’s the church’s fault. But there is hope!!! What I see is God awakening leaders and calling them to mentor the next generation of followers, restorers if you will. I see God speaking to leaders to go after the floundering ones. Historically though, the traditional church would just say “if your not for us, then good riddance.” Ok, again not by actually speaking the words but the private thoughts of most traditional leaders would be “they don’t belong here anyway.” Which just may be the truth.
        I don’t think I’m considered a leader but this is my prayer….God awaken us to what you are doing. Shake us from our pride. Break our heart for YOUR plan and help us follow. This generation of “restorers” are counting on us………….

  2. I have to go along with Brett’s concerns. As a pastor, I find a separatist attitude to be detrimental to the congregation and the individual himself. that is not a number statement but a reality check statement. we were not meant to function on our own. on another thought: what did you think? I want to know whether you think i ought to consider buying it.

  3. I beleive Lyon is dead on but perhaps a little behind. These “restorers” have been working for quite some time now. I have talked with many of them and believe I understand them. They have tried the religious “church” setting and have left in frustration. The religious church setting has tried to force them into a mold of what being a “follower” should look like to no avail. The restorers have given all to follow and God has implanted in them the vision to reach the world. I believe they have a church and meet quite regularly with other followers to walk out their faith. But, many times, it doesn’t happen in a “congregation” setting or in a church building. It happens many times over coffee, a cook out at one of their homes, or in a conference room at work. They have a keen ability to recognize other restorers and find tremenous life in their relationship. I beleive they are such a part of the body of Christ and are leading with much optimism. They have faith not in programs or the requirement to go to church every Sunday. Their faith is in the God who has brought life to them and they are passionate to take that life to the world around them. Hmmmm…sounds a bit like the new testament church who didin’t have a church building to go to and they revolutionized their world. I have to disclaim that I am not against going to church. I believe in corporate worship but that can happen anywhere at any time and I believe if God is truely leading this group of restorers He will make sure they have the support they need. You see the heart of a restorer isn’t the deisre to separate themselves from others in the body but many times…religion forces them out. And, they do feel “different” because the biblical path God is calling them to follow looks diabolically different than what is seen in most American churches. I am not against church. I grew up in church. But, I do believe God is on the move in a way that is totally outside the box and frankly….I am willing to step out and follow….

  4. Something that has concerned me of late is all the ‘purposeful’ strategies for ‘church’.

    My question is – is that church?

    I was born into my family. It was natural… actions that I took as part of my family were second nature. There are things that could be construed as purposeful in my actions as part of the family – yet there was no true manipulative intentionality.

    When I became a Christian, I became part of a family. In our American culture, it seems I was born into a dysfunctional family. We approach ‘family’ as if it were an enterprise – something that had to be approached with success models and moralistic paradigms. What happened to the natural part of being part of the family? When did the natural rhythms of family life get replaced with rote practices that verge on being empty traditions?

    Sometimes I wonder if we are so focused on what the byproducts of a family are that we forgot what made us a family in the first place.

    • by this time, we have looked each other up enough to understand each other’s view (and definition) of “church.”

      in my writing, i probably lean to much on my perspective as a leader. but i am not the slightest bit interested in styles and methods–what you might call “purposeful strategies for church.” i am, however, very interested in the most faithful expression of the Kingdom in this culture.

      i am not interested in “church growth” (as defined in most places on this man’s internet). but i am interested in Kingdom growth.

      and i love the metaphor you consistently use for what the church is supposed to look like: family. it’s just that i find that most sunday morning christian gatherings look/feel a whole lot more like “american idol”–or the first day on a new job–than a family reunion.

      i am trying to find out how to engage people that are disenchanted with the system (people like the york family) so that they have a place to “do life” with us.

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