We asked several Christian leaders, “What should churches served by CHRISTIAN STANDARD strive to be or do or look like in the next decades?”
By John Derry
Having served in the field of Christian higher education for my entire ministry, I have always appreciated the role CHRISTIAN STANDARD has played in emphasizing the importance of raising up the next generation of leaders for our churches. Visionary leadership is one of the most critical factors in any successful organization and requires one to be aware of changing trends and needs.
In the coming decades it will be important that effective leaders are informed about contemporary social issues, the demographic and cultural shifts taking place in America, and the impact globalization is having on the local church. But it will be imperative that churches remain doctrinally sound and leaders not neglect their responsibility to ensure what is being taught is consistent with Scripture.
There is a temptation to focus on programs and experience, but give little attention to the knowledge and understanding of God’s Word that provides the essential foundation for substantive and meaningful ministry. The “mile wide and inch deep” analogy comes to mind when we don’t invest the time and effort to acquire the tools necessary to accurately teach God’s truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
The average church member today may be involved in a small group for fellowship, prayer, and discussion of an important topic, but are they being challenged to really study the Bible? The early church was intensely focused on understanding and applying the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42). It was only in this way they could properly respond to the various philosophies and ideas of the age, and it is no less essential in the 21st century.
Every era has witnessed changes in the way we do things in the church. There was a time when midweek Bible study, prayer meetings, revivals, and Sunday school classes were the norm. However, we didn’t have the technological resources that gave us access to hundreds of commentaries and 50 versions of the Bible in the palm of our hand on a cell phone. Whatever resources we rely on or approaches we use, we should be known as “people of the Word.”
The church in which I grew up chose the name Berean Christian Church. The leaders did so based on Acts 17:11 that described early Christ followers in the city of Berea who “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” That kind of careful and deliberate study is commendable, but unfortunately it is not common today. When we welcome new students into our Christian colleges each year, they come from various backgrounds and degrees of involvement with the church. One would think those who have grown up in the church would have a greater knowledge of the Bible. However, that is often not the case.
For our churches to fulfill the mission to which Christ called us, we must have leaders who are well prepared and who are in touch with the biblical principles that are part of our heritage. I don’t have research to support this, but I would speculate in most of our congregations 80 percent of those attending have little or no knowledge of the Restoration Movement or its history. While this identity may not be what it once was, we must not ignore the relevance of the values that have contributed to our growing impact around the world. Those principles and values have shaped churches for 2,000 years and will continue to do so.
John Derry serves as president of Hope International University in Fullerton, California.