This is post 1 of 6 in the series “VISION FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM”
- Our Vision For The New Millennium
- Civilizing The City
- Confronting The Culture
- Celebrating The Church
- Capturing The Children
- Concentrating On The Content
Vision For the New Millenium: Our Vision For The New Millennium
I Corinthians 9:19-23
Ann Bales shared with me a wonderful story about three ministers, one Baptist, one Methodist, and one Presbyterian. They were discussing what denomination Christ would be today. The Baptist minister immediately said that he would be a Baptist because of his evangelical focus. The Methodist minister said no, he would be a Methodist because of his focus on social ministry and good works. The Presbyterian minister said that he would be a Presbyterian. That was all he said. Then he was silent. After a few moments, the two other ministers said. “Well, come on. Aren’t you going to tell us why you think he’d be a Presbyterian?” The Presbyterian minister replied, “Because I don’t think he would want to change.”
Now, I’m enough of a Presbyterian to love that story, but much more to the point, I am enough of a Christian to understand that Jesus Christ is bigger than any denominational label we might try to pin on Him. And I believe that this church, Presbyterian and happy about it, is nevertheless engaged in a mission infinitely bigger than one denominational tradition. In fact, we in this church are called to change this city for Jesus Christ. We call ourselves the heart of the city, and that we are. We are at the geographical center of the City of Orlando. But not only are we the heart of the city, we have a heart for the city. I know there is nothing particularly new about that. That’s as old as Paul and the church and the city of Corinth.
Corinth. It was one of the great cities of the ancient world because of its location right on the primary sea and land trading routes. And because of its reputation as a tourist destination, Corinth attracted an enormous number of people from all over the then known world. Interestingly enough, Corinth was sometimes referred to as “the City Beautiful.” But all of those people in Corinth did bring a downside. Corinth was noted for wealth and luxury, yes, but it was also noted for drunkenness, vice, immorality, unbelief. That is the reason that Paul was so determined to change that city for Jesus Christ. And as a result, with the exception of the city of Ephesus, Paul actually spent more time in Corinth than he did in any other city. And it was worth the effort because in Corinth, some of the greatest work of Paul was done, and some of the mightiest victories of Christianity were won.
I want to talk about this church and its heart for this city. This church has three mentors, three spiritual directors who exercise an enormous influence over what happens here. One is Peter Drucker, the internationally known management consultant who also happens to be a very powerful Christian. The other is Lyle Schiller, this nation’s leading expert on the state of the church in our time. The third is Leonard Sweet, the dynamic young theologian whose crystal ball into the future seems to be clearer than most. I visit regularly with all three of them, read everything they produce, try to stay in touch with how they are analyzing the church and its future and then attempt to translate what I learned from them into the work we are doing here.
So now, with the three of them looking over my shoulder, I want to spell out for you the five basic elements of our church’s vision for mission in the new millennium – civilizing the city, confronting the culture, celebrating the church, capturing the children, concentrating on the content, civilizing the city.
In the early years of this century, 95% of the population of America lived out in the rural areas and only 5% lived in the city. Now at the last of this century, those figures are completely reversed. Now 95% of the American population lives in the cities, only 5% out in the rural areas. It constitutes the largest most dramatic demographic location shift in all of the history of humankind. And what it means simply is this, that in the 21st century, the mission field is going to be the city.
Drucker and Schiller would tell you that only large, dynamic churches will be able to make a difference in the central cities of this nation because smaller churches even in the central city ultimately are simply going to be squeezed out by the real estate realities of developing cities. Only a large church can afford to stay and wage the incredible mission waiting there. Drucker and Schiller would go on to tell you that in fact, the only hope for the cities of the United States in the 21st century will be found in large, dynamic churches working in the center of those cities. Need I tell you that the central cities for the most part in this nation are moral wastelands? That is not true here in Orlando. And I would contend, and I believe I can document it, that this church has had some say, some impact in shaping the quality of life at the center of this city.
Stretch that out into the 21st century and you begin to see that what happens in the cities of this nation will affect the nation as a whole. And so therefore, I want you to remember that what you and I are doing here in the center of this city is in fact making a contribution to the future of this nation as a whole. I want us never to forget that because of where God has placed us, right here, that our primary mission in the years that are ahead will be to civilize this city, to impact this city, to change this city for Jesus Christ.
Confronting the culture.
I believe that as Christians we are called to confront the culture around us but to do it positively and not negatively. I believe we are called to engage that culture creatively, seeking to transform it. Are you aware of the fact that in the next century, more and more people in our culture will be seeking to build their lives on a spiritual base? In fact, it’s happening already. There are some who say that America is now in the midst of a God rush, like a gold rush, I suppose. And it is happening now. There is evidence of spiritual awakening in the most unlikely places, even Hollywood itself, for Heaven’s sake. Who would ever have imagined that a television show called Touched By An Angel would stand at the top of the ratings charts or that a movie called The Apostle would be up for an Academy Award. Consider, if you will, the proliferation of books being published on the subject of God or faith or the supernatural.
Even the workplace is seeking a more spiritual approach to life. An example, The Lotus software corporation. They have appointed what they call a soul committee, S-O-U-L, soul committee, and that committee has as its only function to be absolutely certain that that entire corporation lives up to and practices every single day the stated, positive, people-oriented values which that corporation has claimed for its own. The Boeing aircraft corporation has retained the poet David Whyte to read spiritual poems and to tell spiritual fables to their top managers in order to revitalize their spirituality which they believe will enhance their effectiveness on the job. Just a week ago, the Wall Street Journal carried an amazing feature story about how many leaders in the business and corporate world are now in significant numbers turning to a new or a renewed faith in God.
It’s happening everywhere. America is in the early stages of a God rush. Of course a God rush is like a gold rush. In a gold rush, there was always fool’s gold and in a God rush, there are always foolish gods. But oh, what an incredible opportunity that is for the Church and for this church to be able to find creative ways to deliver the good news of the one true God to the culture around us. You see, if we spend our time attacking that culture and criticizing it and devaluing it and demeaning it, then we lose our ability to transform it. One of our strategies here will be to develop leaders, mind you, not just leaders for this church but leaders for this entire city. In fact, our whole young adult ministry is now being framed around that reality – to seek out and then to train those individuals who will be the leaders in this city’s life in the next century.
This church is a mission station designed to impact the culture around us by planting solid, significant Christians in positions of leadership in every aspect of this city’s life, and to do it not accidentally but by design, by deliberate intent. And so we are going to be engaged in training people who yes, will be elders and Sunday school teachers and worker bees for the church but also, we are going to be training people who in the next century, in the name of Jesus Christ, will change the city of which we are a part.
Celebrating the church.
The church will be known by the phrase “full-service church” in the next century, except for small churches which in fact are built around some strong family network. The only churches which will truly survive and thrive in the next century will be full-service churches, that is, churches which touch every dimension of the human experience. Already we are doing that in this church with programs ranging from spiritual development to physical development, to preventive medicine, to healing, to education, to the cultural arts, and on and on. I could go working my way down the list of necessities for life in any society. And if you look at that list and then you look at what’s going on in this church, you recognize that this church is already engaged in virtually every one of those. That must continue and that must be multiplied in the century which is to come.
In the 21st century, the church must be engaged in active evangelism, that is, finding ways to aggressively but appealingly take the Gospel to the world out there. No longer can we count on someone else to do that job for us. We’ve got to do it ourselves. You know the Nike Corporation has a slogan, three words, “Just Do It.” Every time you hear those three words or see those three words, “Just Do It,” you know immediately what that phrase refers to. You know it refers to Nike. I wonder if the Church’s message could be put into three words, yes, “Accept Jesus Christ.” The phrase “Just Do It” has been pounded into our heads in this society. The phrase “Accept Jesus Christ” must – it must be our cause to embed into the consciousness of the people of this world what that phrase means so that when they wonder what the Church is all about, they will have no question, “Accept Jesus Christ.” Those three words capsule the entire ministry and mission of the Church of Jesus Christ.
And Nike does a wonderful job of defining that phrase, “Just Do It.” “Just Do It” doesn’t mean just do anything. No. Every commercial you see has a very clear message that “Just Do It” means just do something particular. We need to define the message of the Church, “Accept Jesus Christ.” We need to let the world know what that really means. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the great theologian of the heart. Perhaps better than anyone else ever has, he articulated a passionate outreaching, belief and faith. Listen to his words. “We must come to grips with Jesus Christ, for on our coming to grips with Him depend life and death, salvation and damnation. And there is salvation in no one else.” It is impossible to avoid the person of Jesus Christ because He is alive. That’s the message. That’s the definition of the Church’s ministry and mission.
How do we get that message out to the world? Television, yes. We do some of that here now. We must do more of it because while it’s expensive, television is in fact the single most powerful communication tool in this world of ours. The Internet. Rob Bullock has created for us in this church a wonderful website, and I’m grateful for that. But you see, we have not yet begun through the internet to engage people at the point of their beliefs and their convictions and their personal commitments, and we need to be doing that. We are already engaged in devising ways to spread that good news of the Gospel to the world about us, ways that most churches have never even thought of and those which have thought of it have been afraid to try it. We’re not afraid to try it here. The Nike slogan “Just Do It,” everyone knows what that means. The church’s phrase “Accept Jesus Christ,” it’s up to us to see that everyone knows what that means.
The church in the 21st century will be multi-ethnic and multilingual. You know that by the year 2010, those of us whose skin happens to be white will be in the minority in this culture. This church has to have the courage to say that we are going to face that, and we’re going to face it in the name of our Christ. See, I dream of having here worship spaces and educational facilities where simultaneous translation in a whole variety of languages can take place. I dream of creating here smaller churches within our great big congregation, smaller churches formed around ethnic or cultural backgrounds. And those smaller congregations will worship together in their own language and with their own unique expressions of the faith, but they’ll still be part of the big family of First Presbyterian Church. And I dream of having a whole multitude of worship spaces all over this block where worship can take place in different ways, at different places, and with different languages but all at the same time so that then after those unique worship experiences, under the inspiration of the Spirit, we come together as one mighty people of God sharing our resources and working together to carry the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ out to change this city in His name. I dream of having a multi-ethnic, multilingual ministerial staff. And soon I dream of removing all of the physical and the psychological barriers that make it difficult for some people to come here. I dream of reaching out to the other communities which are a part of this city’s life so that this city can become nothing less than a haven of peace and love and justice. That’s what I mean by celebrating the Church.
Capturing the children.
Demographic studies tell us that the baby boomers, that is, those ages 35 to about 50 in general terms do not really make strong church people. Those studies indicate that Generation X, those 18 to about 35, that in general terms, while those individuals do have deep spiritual yearnings, they are reluctant somehow to make deep lasting commitments. We must intensify our efforts among the boomers and the Gen X people of this city and this culture. But you know what’s fascinating to me, those same studies now indicate that the next big spiritual wave will come from those people who at this moment are children in elementary school and middle school, that the next great spiritual awakening is going to be triggered by those who are children right now, and that means that we’ve got to focus our attention on children.
In this church, we are quite literally overrun with children. It’s wonderful. The problem is, we are now actually out of space for children, out of space. We’ve got to find creative ways to solve that in the short term. In addition to that, all of our projections indicate that that area of our ministry is going to continue to experience explosive growth. And so therefore we’ve got to continue to pour enormous resources into our work with children and youth. Leonard Sweet says, “Those of us who are older must build the church for our grandchildren.” He’s right. And that’s what we’re trying to do here. Oh, we’re going to continue to reach out and minister to the needs of older people. We need to do that by all means. But the fact is, every decision we make now has to be made by putting the children first. Because you see, the next great spiritual awakening in history is going to come through the children who are in pre-school, elementary school, and middle school in places like First Presbyterian Orlando.
Concentrating on the content.
The learning taking place in our society today is occurring through computers and through hands-on experiential teaching and learning. And we must do more of that kind of teaching in order to teach the content of this book, the Bible. Even many adults today are biblically illiterate. And so if we are not going to be engaged in teaching the content of this Book in appealing ways and at appropriate levels, then we’re not only going to miss the next generation, we’re going to disable this present generation as well. We must concentrate enormous effort on teaching the content of our biblical faith in ways which people can understand and embrace, appreciate and accept. Concentrating on the content.
Well, I don’t know how we’re going to handle all of this, but what I do know is this: God did not put us here to withdraw into ourselves. God put us here to change this city for Jesus Christ. If you are searching for something in your life which will make your life truly count, if you are longing in your life for something truly significant, truly lasting, truly transforming, truly bigger than you are or bigger than any of us are, if you are looking for something like that in your life, then let me tell you that the mission of this church in the next century is going to answer that desire and that need. I don’t know how we are going to do it all, but I believe we can.
Paul. Remember I said earlier that Paul changed the city of Corinth for Christ. And remember I said earlier that in I Corinthians, Paul told us the secret of how he did it. I want you to listen to his words. Maybe this is the example for us to follow? “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law though I myself am not under the law so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law though I am not free from God’s law, but am under Christ’s law so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak, I became weak so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessing.”
Bottom line, you and I are called to change this city for Jesus Christ and to do it in the next century. And by His power and by His grace, that is precisely what we shall do. Amen.