There’s little doubt that we are in a time of tremendous change, both within the church as well as the cultures God has called us to. In order for us to respond well to the cultural moment, we must identify significant shifts in how we minister to build flourishing, mission minded church communities in the years to come.
In part one of this two-part piece, I proposed four missional shifts I believe we need to make in 2024 in how we approach church ministry. In this second part, I give the final four of these necessary missional shifts.
Shift 5: From ‘Bible as Encyclopedia’ to Bible as Cosmic Story
Most evangelicals would say that they hold the Bible in high esteem. Therefore, most of us want to know what the Bible says in order to pattern our lives after its truth. But often, this well-meaning desire produces an approach to the Bible that reduces the Bible to an encyclopedia of life lessons. When we approach Scripture like an answer book, we reduce the wonder of its cohesive whole.
We must shift away from picking up the Bible and demanding answers like millennials did with Magic 8-balls in the 90s. Instead, we have the opportunity in 2024 to recapture the wonder of Scripture. The Bible is God’s inspired story of what it means to live together as God’s priesthood, bonded in covenant under the reign of Jesus the Messiah, anticipating and working together in light of the hope of the life of the world to come. Such a grand, cosmic story should provoke a wonder, curiosity, and imagination. A dull, lifeless, flat reading of the text to extrapolate disconnected moral platitudes simply will not do.
Shift 6: From Culture Wars to Culture Care
With ongoing geopolitical unrest, contentious national elections, and ongoing cultural shifts, many people feel the need to recover something that they feel has been lost in the shifting sands of time. This internal angst frequently manifests itself in anger and vitriol toward “culture.” Over the last several years we’ve seen this anger about the “culture wars” even spill into the pulpit and in public pastoral discourse.
But, as renowned artist Makoto Fujimura wrote in his book Culture Care (IVP 2017), “Culture is not a territory to be won or lost but a resource we are called to steward with care. Culture is a garden to be cultivated.” I deeply appreciate Fujimura’s term “culture care.” We’re to tend to the cultures in which we live, discerning where the Spirit of God is already at work and joining him in that task.
We would do well to be stewards of culture in 2024, rather than warriors seeking to take it back. My late friend Oaklin Mixon forged a brilliant clothing line called GoodBoy in the harsh economic terrain of my home city of Flint, Michigan, that employed used the phrase “Make Good Culture.” Mixon’s words are a prophetic call for church leaders in 2024…let’s make good culture, not simply wage war against culture as it currently is.
Shift 7: From a Disembodied Gospel Toward an Incarnational Gospel
Millennials and Gen Z alike are among the two most cause-oriented generations in human history. On the whole, these generations will not resonate with an overly privatized, individualized, and disembodied iteration of the gospel message: “Ask Jesus to be your personal Lord and Savior and you will go to heaven when you die.” On the whole, this sounds like the gospel, but it ignores fundamental components to a holistic gospel message—components with which Millennials and Gen Z explorers resonate most.
The gospel is primarily the declaration that, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, he has staked his claim as the rightful ruler of creation. It is the announcement of the soon return of the King, who invites us to live as foretastes of the renewal he will bring in fullness upon his second coming.
We do not choose Jesus as our “personal Lord and Savior” like we choose our Harry Potter house or the character from Friends we are most like. Instead, Jesus is Lord, of all, and we are invited to personally affirm that reality which has already been etched into the fabric of creation’s unfolding story.
This holistic gospel also means that the gospel is incarnational—meaning it is not only meant to transform the unseen parts of our lives—it transforms everything, both in our lives personally, and in society.