For some days now, I have been reflecting on what may be four to five distinctive dimensional changes witnessed in my lifetime of experience within the church, at least those in which I have been involved.
I would be curious as to whether others had experienced the same?
In my early days, cemented in my mind by Dad’s infatuation with 8mm film, was the sense of extended family with its matriarchal support, strengthened annually by all day homecomings and not a few returning pastors. As well, the sometimes two week long revivals that followed with fiery evangelists, though the more nominal churches and the few who did not attend church back then, often looked upon this with scorn.
In my genre of church, Pentecostals, we saw miraculous signs and wonders from physical healings to fiscal miracles of provision. It seems that today, the primary focus is fiscal; maybe it’s the economy or our materialistic nature, possibly also, the fact that medicine and healthcare has rapidly advanced in both quality and availability?
During my teen years, I recall a sense of need for isolation, protecting us from the ills of worldly living, though in me it may have had the opposite effect? Of course, that was the late sixties and the Vietnam conflict which led to a season of outright rebellion, re-shaping the philosophy of so many Boomers. The church, back then, was led by Builders, WWII veterans, all raised with a top down leadership model that had begun to erode nationally.
Even as I write, I sense once more the deep impact of the “world’ given the response of the church. Woodstock would forever impact music and culture, ironically providing a threshold for the Jesus Movement, which when mature, would touch so many Boomers like me. It didn’t help, that Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis who both learned to play in an Assembly of God Church, my denomination, had “left the building” with Great Balls of Fire!
Among the more financially heeled and stoic, a new move of God emerged as the Full Gospel Businessmen, a resurgence of the Pentecostal phenomenon also known as the Charismatic Movement, until that time relegated to churches “across the tracks” or occasionally a Brush Arbor meeting. Forgotten until then were the earlier revivals of Methodism, though it seemed this was the denomination most open to the Charismas, as described by Pope Paul VI in the 70’s. Vatican II was in part the Catholic Version of what God was doing on the Earth; He never seems to leave anyone out, moving today even among Muslims!
These deeply penetrating movements often fragment the institutional church, birthing non-denominational plants which eventually find each other again, and in the late 80’s even gave rise to non-denominational denominations. We are strange ducks in our need for institutional leadership. God comes in and “busts” up the Babels we build with religion and we rush back in and shore up those Towers in the name of God!
In the early 90’s, there was another noticeable attempt on behalf of some denominations to hold their market share, ramping up their music once more, providing professional childcare, family counseling and even senior homes. Some of their stronger leaders then attempted to build flagship programs, which would lead to Wal-Mart like, mega-church movements that in turn created unforeseen challenges for their smaller more rural outliers in which many of these Boomers grew up.
Of course televangelism was on the rise, which provided a cross-cultural perspective for the Body of Christ and made them easy marks for large lay gatherings such as Promise Keepers, as many yearned for the powerful gatherings lost to the Full Gospel and Charismatic Movements of the late 70’s, early 80’s. Skilled clergy leadership, hard pressed to strengthen their Men’s Programs before losing male leadership and the revenues that would follow, reined in their men from the powerful stadium events with which none could compete by. However, this seven year stint provided the churches with a lesson in what was missing, and families a shot in the arm as their men felt once more the anointing of God, so often reserved only for the “ordained” of the church. Music programs went to the next level once more, with worship teams assigned to praise leaders, given additional theatrical lighting and video support, some now perhaps approaching rock band status, while leaving most choirs in the closet with their dated robes!
I am always amazed by what happens in during these interim moments among men and women of the church, when given periods of time to engage with each other across denominational lines. These last few years have given rise to such concepts as City-reaching, which has proven far more fruitful than the competitive attempts of individual churches or denominations to reach their communities. The churches that survive, will finally give in to cooperation with each other, even at the risk of doctrinal challenges as more Boomers now age off the scene.
The next generation appears somewhat Biblically illiterate, most with little regard for our Mausoleum-like inner city sanctuaries or their traditions; even sacraments like marriage are now challenged openly, though a return to the church by many young families seems necessary if they are to resist becoming a statistic. I must say however, many have a great heart to serve and love, in a world so obviously at risk; and that, is encouraging.
One has to wonder what’s next, as America itself is cast globally as a place of irreverent materialism and greed. Will the churches survive, or will God again move outside the churches, through the lives of a new generation that is willing to become the Church?