By Mark A. Taylor
“Wherever two or three are gathered together . . . someone’s wrong!”
That was one of a hundred one-liners Chonda Pierce delivered during her alternately hilarious and heart-touching monologue during the Thursday-night evening session at the North American Christian Convention in Orlando, July 12. Chonda hadn’t attended two special seminars I heard earlier that day. But each of them contained questions and ideas that at least someone in the church would call wrong. This is one more thing good about this year’s North American Christian Convention. It stretched us by challenging us with ideas we may not have heard or taken to heart before.
One of these seminars was led by Reggie McNeal, from the Leadership Network. He offered a string of disturbing statistics to remind us that the church in America is in trouble. The fastest-growing religious affiliation in the U.S. is “nonaffiliated,” he said, claimed by one out of six Americans, one out of five men, one out of four young adults under 25. “We’ve doubled the rate of the unaffiliated,” he said, “while we’ve got the best church buildings ever!”
“Doing church better is not the way to reach our culture today,” he added. “Doing church better is aimed at a smaller and smaller portion of the population that is open to being ‘congregationalized.’ They cannot match their life rhythms with the rhythms of congregational life.”
His solution? The American church must “do better at being a missionary culture instead of a membership culture.” He said the church is who not what. “It’s a relationship, not a destination. All of life for the Christian is a mission trip. Everywhere you are, the church is.”
We’ll always have congregations, he said. All the talk about missional activity is simply “expanding the bandwidth, adding to the toolbox.” He suggested that churches change their metrics, measuring people development, not just participation. “Did something happen in the community because we are here?”
Earlier there was a panel discussion with five church leaders who talked about “Sticky Conversations” that are happening now in our communities. Steve Larson addressed the problem of pornography, stressing that communication about porn is vital: “This is an issue that needs to see the light.”
Tim Harlow considered whether Christians should drink alcohol. His conclusion: 87% of 18-35-year-olds think the church is judgmental. He believes this attitude is “keeping people from the kingdom,” just as the legalism of Pharisees kept people from the kingdom in Jesus’ day. For Tim, whether or not Christians drink alcohol is definitely a question that belongs in the realm of opinion, where there should be liberty.
Ben Merold addressed the question of eternal security, with a string of Scriptures that state that it is possible for the Christian to fall away from the faith.
Julie Gariss suggested three steps to help local churches deal with the issue of divorce and remarriage. “Jesus held up the model of marriage; we must too.” She urged churches to consider carefully the Bible’s criteria for leaders, that they must be “above reproach.” And she urged older couples to invite younger couples into their homes, to form relationships that allow younger couples to see models of successful marriage.
The fifth topic, homosexuality, generated the most feedback from workshop attendees during the discussion time toward the end of the session. Perhaps this is because presenter Teresa Welch listed questions we must ask as we approach this issue, without suggesting answers to most of them, although she did list biblical texts that support the conclusion that homosexual activity is sin.
These workshops are just two examples of how this year’s NACC fulfilled president Rick Rusaw’s goal to offer a program that stretched those who attended. The discussions they started will continue in communities across America, continued by those who attended these sessions.