Ministry of Reconciliation (Changing Generations Part 8)
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
As you may have guessed, the title of this series has been something of a double entendre. Generationally speaking, the church is in a state of change. But with the power of the gospel, leaders are able to effect a positive change in their churches and communities. This post is a practical application of this.
Often gospel presentations center around a system of “spiritual laws” or formulas to try and package theological truths (usually with regard to the atonement) in contemporary terms.
Yet this method seems to be losing its effectiveness. It does not take into account the changing ways young people think, nor does it directly address their needs. People – specifically young people – are more in tune with “spirituality” and a sense of connectedness to God. A gospel of reconciliation provides a relational model for establishing a relationship with God, as a result of the cross.
A HOLISTIC GOSPEL
Spiritual reconciliation need not be seen as the isolated core of the gospel. Recent years have seen a resurgence in social emphases, and it is likely that the “green” movement will continue to have influence in both the near and distant future.
Proponents have suggested that the gospel needs to be about both spiritual and social change. However, I would argue that such a view presents a dualistic portrait of the gospel not supported by scripture. Rather, what I find in the text of scripture is a holistic gospel that emphasizes the restorative changes of the gospel in all areas: spiritual, social and, ultimately, environmental.
In so doing we create a gospel that is both true to scripture but also asserts itself in all facets of a believer’s life. Thus we find a way to communicate the truth of the gospel to a group of people whose “web” theory of learning. If and when the gospel message is shown to impact all areas of life, then its central message becomes inescapable.
One of the challenges churches are facing is that of the clash of generations who, as we said earlier, have radically different thinking and learning styles. One of the ways many church leaders have suggested to go about this is through intergenerational ministry, where interaction between generations establishes and solidifies what many have called a “web of relationships.” This “web” is not all that different from the “web” style of learning we discussed earlier, and in this web young people are able to see the gospel’s impact in the lives of those around them.
But in addition to this “intergenerational” ministry we must also pursue what I will call “transgenerational” ministry. That is, ministry that transcends the boundaries of generational labels (which aren’t always helpful anyway), but speaks to the universal core of the human condition. Good theology unites generations in powerful ways. In Luke 1:17, Jesus is spoken of as one who will reunite “fathers and sons.” I take this literally – that Christ-centered teaching will piece back together those communities previously divided by aberrant sources of truth.
Teaching on such things as justification, redemption, sanctification go well beyond the boundaries of one generation or another. Therefore, there may be little need for changing the content of preaching and teaching, but to change the style and application based on the demographics of a given audience. In such cases that there is a wide demographic distribution, the core content may still be sufficient to reach the hearts and minds of hearers.
But intergenerational approaches do not negate the need for strong ministries geared toward reaching young people with the gospel. Many churches are devoid of ministries for young singles, which is part of the reason that roughly two thirds of youth group kids graduate high school to leave the church.
Therefore there is a need for creating ministries that support and equip young adults. That is, ministries that both serve the needs of that community as well as equip them for ministry outside that community to further Christ’s mission.
The danger of this is that in so doing we ultimately replicate high school ministry, effectively multiplying ministries and creating even more “dead ends” for people to become lost in. Therefore the ministries of the entire church must be progressive in nature – that is, presenting clear means of transition from one to the next. In one sense, this is not far from Frazee’s view of small churches in The Connecting Church, though I am advocating a strong sense of transition (at least for younger generations) so that one can move from high school to college ministry to singles ministry to young couples ministry and so on.
There is much more to be said on this issue, and there are many others who write on similar issues (including a fellow blogger who wrote an excellent series on campus ministry – click here to go to the first post in that series).
My task was to provide a framework for understanding how the gospel relates to the changing epistemological conditions of rising generations, which I have explained through the lens of reconciliation.
I hope you have enjoyed this series and that it has triggered thoughtful reflection. Feel free, as always, to leave comments. I plan to write on similar issues in the future; I hope you can join us.
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.