In the fall of 1996 I was a bright-eyed freshman at Trevecca Nazarene University ready to take on the world. As I collected my books for what was sure to be the most illustrious scholastic career that university had ever seen I was struck by one of the titles for my Biblical Faith class. It’s title A Peculiar People by Rodney Clapp just seemed out of place amidst all of the other books. Then I began to read it and stumbled upon a story the author related from church writer and theologian Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was once a chaplain on a Holland-American cruise line and he related the story of the time the captain found their ship immersed in impenetrable fog. As the captain paced nervously back and forth he bumped into Nouwen, cursed him and told him to stay out of the way. As Nouwen walked away the captain called back after him, “Why don’t you just stay around. This might be the only time I really need you”. Nouwen recalled what it felt like to all of a sudden being displaced and ultimately reflected on the church’s lack of use/need in today’s world. I guess I forgot to mention that the sub-title of Clapp’s book was “the church as culture in post-christian society” And although it was written almost twenty years ago, it has more to say to us now than it ever did before.
What does the mission of the church look like in a post-christian society? Now before you get all antsy and say that we are not living in a post-christian society, let’s just look outside our doors for a minute. Very rarely now do people consult the church for the best way to live their lives. More often than not, individuals aren’t coming to pastors in drones to check their interpersonal relationships and cultural engagements. By and large, I hate to say it, the church has become somewhat irrelevant in modern culture. The church has allowed itself to become alienated from things like science, art, entertainment, music, etc. so much so that we have become like the nonagenarian trying to speak about the benefits of Snapchat (no offense to my nonagenarians). What happened? Where did we go wrong?
Honestly, I think we lost our imagination and our ability to tell a better story. We saw the world heading a certain direction and instead of creatively engaging it for the kingdom of God we railed against the societal ills we saw and alienated ourselves even further. And now we see this behemoth post-christian culture and try as we may we can’t help it change course. But I don’t think it’s too late. I just think we need to tell a better story. Instead of being seen by society as fearful, angry, judgmental, paranoid, and largely irrelevant, maybe we can change our course. I think about Jesus’ engagement with the culture of his day. Often times it began something like this, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…”, “The Kingdom of God is like” and then he would tell a story. And maybe that’s what it is time for us to do. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…a garden planted in an urban wasteland.” “The Kingdom of God is like…a church having a banquet for the homeless”. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…a church that let go of political ideologies in order to embrace their neighbors.” And maybe, just maybe if we start to tell a better story we might find ourselves becoming relevant again and truly changing the world for Christ.