The Prophetic Voices We Do NOT Need Right Now

The Prophetic Voices We Do NOT Need Right Now

It’s not lost on anyone that the Western Church is in a state of upheaval right now with the spread of the novel coronavirus. People are losing their jobs, bills are piling up, church buildings remain empty and church finances are already beginning to creak.

Largely, the church’s response has been to pause all in-person programming and quickly innovate through taking everything online, using tools like Facebook Live, Zoom rooms, livestreaming and a whole host of other digital options.

In the last few weeks, along with some friends of mine across various organizations, we’ve been able to cobble together a network of coaches around the country and have started dozens of temporary coaching groups to help them create a custom church response plan; to date, more than 10,000 churches are in an ongoing group.

What’s become glaringly clear to most everyone is churches were largely unprepared for such an immediate shift. Most churches struggled (and many continue to struggle) to move online. Many small group leaders have no idea how to lead the people entrusted to their care. Many pastors and church leaders are realizing how so much of their church expression was based on the two “Big P’s” of Western Church life: Personalities and Programming.

So what happens when you largely unplug access to those two things in the way we’re accustomed to?

My friend Rob Wegner has a really interesting metaphor for this. He says what’s happened is akin to a string of old-school Christmas lights. When you pull just one bulb out, the whole thing goes dark. There’s been a centralization to our church expression that relies so heavily on Personalities and Programming that many churches are reeling as a result. Do the people of God know how to be the church and not simply go to church?

In the midst of this, a number of prophetic voices have been stepping up (and quite loudly so) with a kind of “I told you so” message and tone.

And it’s this response that’s been troubling to me.

Right now, the Western Church is under tremendous pressure, not unlike a thirteen year old who was playing with firecrackers and blew his hand off. The most important thing for a parent to do is to get the bleeding under control and make sure the child doesn’t go into cationic shock and bleed out. They need to calm down the terror the child is feeling and get them to the hospital as quickly as possible.

In this scenario, the worst thing the parent could do is decide to focus their energy on saying things like, “See! I told you so! I told you not to play with firecrackers! What were you thinking?!”

The rightness or wrongness of where the church finds itself at this exact moment in time is beside the point. We have to triage the place we find ourselves in and care for those right in front of us. 

What this highlights is a shift that prophetic voices need to make in this current climate. (And a shift that many are having a hard time making.)

I was talking about this shift with a close pastor friend of mine and member of the Catapult team,  Andy Graham, who himself is deeply prophetic. I thought he made a really astute observation about the prophetic voice:

“In a time of plenty, the prophetic voice should bring challenge. But in a time of great crisis, the prophetic voice should bring great hope for the future.”

What I’m hearing is a great lack of those prophetic voices bringing hope for the future. We need prophetic voices more than ever, but we need them to shift to the moment we find ourselves in.

There are prophetic voices we need more of right now, and prophetic voices we need far less of. The thing I’ve been reflecting on, praying through in my own life and leadership and having discussions with quite a few leaders about is that clarion call of hope right now. It isn’t that we won’t have a different conversation in one month, three months or whenever it’s the wise time to do so. In the same way that eventually that parent will have a conversation about playing with firecrackers.

But when surrounded in darkness, we need to point to that glimmer of light and say, “There. That light? That one flicker? More of that is coming.”

Why? For “that light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”

6 Predictions that Didn’t Make the Cut

6 Predictions that Didn’t Make the Cut

Recently, I released a 6-month project I worked on with a cultural anthropologist to make 10 Church Predictions for the next 10 YearsAll told, we ended with a list of 31 predictions that we felt fairly confident in making. (You can download the PDF here.)

But rather than bury the whole list, just for fun, we decided to release 6 more predictions, with just a few sentences explanation for each. Enjoy!

Bonus Prediction: A few prominent seminaries will break with ATS and start training pastors in an entirely new and innovative way.

While there have been some advancements in seminary training in the last twenty years, most notably the move to distance learning cohorts, the strictures seminaries must adhere to in order to stay in good standing with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) puts significant limits on the kind of innovation schools can experiment with. But in a world where we regularly train pastors for a world that no longer exists, coupled with significant rising costs, we believe there will be a few bold institutions that figure out how to successfully experiment, which could become the future training grounds for pastors. If this subject is of interest to you, JR Rozko and I wrote a whitepaper on the subject a few years back.

Bonus Prediction: There will be a crisis in how people relate to local spiritual authority.

Between podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube channels, Reddit threads, online communities and a plethora of articles, people will be more committed to a tribe online than they will be to a particular people in a particular place. There is ongoing macrotrend within culture of people aligning themselves with people who tend to agree with close to 100% of what they believe. The Christian community is no different in this respect. Locally speaking, it will be hard for churches to lead with spiritual authority as people will increasingly live out a more individuated existence, choosing to belong to an online tribe of peers they agree with.

Bonus Prediction: The efforts of churches to reach cities and rural America will look wildly different. Forget your models.

There is a global trend of people moving towards cities, particularly among people younger than 40. These people are more diverse in terms of religion, ethnicity, worldview, education and background experiences. There has already been an end to the monoculture that long dominated the American consciousness and that is having profound effects on the church. But the end to that monoculture means the church models that “worked” will do poorly at reaching people who aren’t already predisposed to church. To reach people in cities will mean a diversity of missional models will be pioneered. But for every action, there is a counter-effect. If people move to cities en masse, the other side of the coin will be rural areas that feel more isolated, more spread out, smaller populations and fewer job opportunities. There will be a mission landscape (and opportunity) that is quite different than what it looks like today.

Bonus Prediction: Gospel saturation will hit a tipping point in a few cities.

The idea of “Gospel Saturation” is an idea that is already catching on. The principle  of saturation is that to fulfill the Great Commission, people in a geographic place need multiple opportunities to hear and respond to the Gospel and the only way to do this is for churches to work together, and not in competition. There are already a number of organizations making significant strides towards activating this principle. ChristTogether is currently working in 88 cities. The NewThing Network is seeing a wave of church planting happen with this principle that we haven’t seen since the Vineyard movement. And Saturate the Sound is one example of a city prototype that’s coming alive.

Bonus Prediction: The church will have a poverty crisis to contend with. 

Economists are predicting there will be an unemployment and refugee crisis coming and the American church will need to choose its’ posture towards the problem of poverty. Some of it will be people of color from different countries, but most people will be white and come from middle-to-upper-middle-class-backgrounds. There are 2 dominant factors at play: Unemployment will be driven by automation and the burst of the education bubble, while the refugee population will (possibly) soar due to climate change and global political terrorism.

Bonus Prediction: Many of the most “successful” churches will have a team-based leadership structure.

There has been a move in both business and the church towards more fluid, flatter and team-based leadership structures. While there will always be models of the genius with a thousand helpers, the significant movement of the APEST principles and practice in the church, coupled with the proliferation of similar visions of leadership in Silicon Valley, will dramatically shift the way the future leaders of the church choose to operate.