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6/13/97 Leader says successful churches respond to ‘tidal wave’ of change

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–“Is this a great time or what?”
Until Christians can answer an honest “yes” to that seven-word question, they won’t reach the world with the gospel.
So says Leonard Sweet, vice president of Drew University and dean of the theological school in Madison, N.J. He spoke about “cutting-edge leadership” to church leaders attending the National Sunday School Leadership Training Conference June 9-13 at Glorieta (N.M.) Baptist Conference Center.
Sweet said a “tidal wave” of change has hit the nation in the last decade, drowning a way a life known and cherished by millions of Americans. In its place is an interactive, high-tech world many Christians are ill-prepared for and even uninterested in meeting.
“I grew up in a ‘Father Knows Best’ and ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ world. When I was growing up, Walter Cronkite closed every newscast with, ‘And that’s the way it is.’ His successor, Dan Rather, signs off with, ‘And that’s a part of our world.’
“I grew up in a world where magic was on the printed page; now it’s on a screen. Let’s face it, it’s a very different world out there,” Sweet said.
But to reach the lost in today’s world, he said believers must step up and respond “not to the world we wish we had, but the one we’ve actually got.”
He discussed three ways to respond to the current tidal wave of change:
1) Denial. People using this approach say, “It’s not really a tidal wave. Things aren’t all that much different,” Sweet said. “The path of denial works for a while. The problem is, you eventually drown. We’ve got a lot of gurgling churches out there. Their brains died when Einstein died — back in 1955. I’m afraid we’re becoming a ‘museum’ church.”
2) Hunker in a bunker. With this response, people say, “Yep, there really is a tidal wave, but I’m out of here,” Sweet said. “They create a subculture and an ‘us- against-the-world’ mentality. This can be very successful. The problem is you spend all your time sandbagging to keep the world out. And you’ve lost any chance at reaching the world (for Christ).”
3) Yes, it’s a tidal wave … surf’s up! People who respond in this way are ready for the challenge, Sweet said, adding: “I am sick and tired of hearing people predicting rain. It is time for the Noah principle of leadership — build an ark. It’s time to figure out how to live and minister in this new world.”
Sweet himself acknowledged he didn’t own a computer until nine years ago. “I was an academician, I was devoted to the printed page. I didn’t want any part of the electronic culture. But then I had a ‘Damascus Road’ experience. God told me, ‘You’ve got to wake up, Sweet. You’ve got to retrain yourself.’
“I’m with you,” Sweet told church leaders. “I’m still in a growth curve. We all are.”
Sweet expressed discouragement that the Christian church hasn’t taken the lead in using the latest technology — computers and cyberspace.
“You and I are here today because one of our ancestors embraced a new technology for the cause of Christ,” Sweet said, referring to William Tyndale, who translated the Bible from the original languages into English in 1524.
What was his reward for putting Scripture into the hands of the common man? A dozen years later, he was condemned as a heretic, tied to a stake, strangled, burned, and drawn and quartered.
“How many of us today are willing to put our lives on the line by using a new technology to share Christ?” Sweet asked.
“God has chosen you to lead the church in this ‘New Reformation.’ Are you going to be a New Reformation leader or a counter-Reformation leader? You’ve got to decide.”
The National Sunday School Leadership Conference was sponsored by the Baptist Sunday School Board’s Bible teaching-reaching division.

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  • Chip Alford