ATLANTA (BP)–Increasingly segmented lifestyles, religious pluralism and even the “worship wars” within today’s church are among the most significant challenges Robert E. Reccord sees ahead for evangelical Christians in the 21st century.
Reccord, president of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, in speaking to state evangelism, church planting and media leaders, said Southern Baptists must emulate the capacity for rapid change of the B-52 bomber to be effective in reaching a rapidly changing culture.
The aircraft first flew in 1954 but because it is refitted every four years with the latest technology it is expected to have a life expectancy through 2030, Reccord recounted during NAMB’s July 28-31 Summer State Leadership Meeting in Atlanta.
“At every step of the way [the B-52] adapted and changed to meet the conditions, while never losing sight of its mission,” Reccord said. “That sounds pretty much like Jesus said you and I ought to be. …
“We must prepare and equip ourselves for the challenges and the opportunities that are out there before us.”
One of those challenges, Reccord said, is the modern trend toward segmented lifestyles, much like a newsmagazine is divided into news, entertainment, sports and even religion. Christians are often expected to keep the sacred and secular aspects of their lives separate, he said, when in reality the sacred should be a part of everything.
“If we are going to be the light of the world, we cannot be the light of the world just to the church,” Reccord said. “If we are going to be the light of the world, that means the men and women of your church have got to go to their world and take the message they heard on Sunday morning.”
Christians also are facing a world in which even those claiming the same Christ have joined a chorus arguing that all paths to God are equally valid, Reccord said. He noted conversations in which he has asked evangelical Christians if they believe neighbors who are “the greatest people in the world” will nevertheless go to hell without Christ. “A lot of times I don’t get fast answers,” he said.
Further amplifying the concern is a “divine deli” of spiritual beliefs and a baseless spirituality, much of which has no need for Christ, Reccord said.
He quoted one commentator in Publisher’s Weekly as putting it this way: “The problem is not so much that people do not believe anything, it is that they believe everything.”
Even within the church, Reccord said, one of the biggest challenges is faced every Sunday morning as evangelical Christians continue to differ on the meaning of worship. While allowing for differences in styles of music, he said the danger in many cases is that the nature of worship itself is lost.
In an admittedly extreme example, he showed a web page advertising a “Rock & Roll Worship Circus.”
“Could it be that some churches are confusing the purpose they exist?” Reccord asked. “And could it be they are seeing the purpose they have as the same purpose the circus has, and that is to draw a crowd? But there is a vast difference between a church and a circus.”
He drew an analogy of the church with three participants in the Greek theater. There were the actors, he said, which in most churches are the pastor, staff and choir. Then there was the prompter, the role usually reserved for God. And there was the audience, which in many churches is the congregation.
“That’s good for the Greek theater, but it doesn’t work very well theologically for the church,” Reccord said. “In the biblical church the actors need to be the congregation. The prompters should be the worship leaders. And the audience ought to be God.
“Whether you’re on one end or the other, here’s the issue,” Reccord said: “People have got to understand what they’re singing and who they’re singing to. The issue is not about style; it is about substance. It is about who is the center of the worship.”
Worship should not be as concerned with the experience as it is with an encounter with God, he continued. “It’s not just what we feel, but who we feel,” he said. “That makes all the difference in the world.”
But with the challenges come opportunities, Reccord said, citing, for example, exploding opportunities for sharing Christ through meeting physical needs.
He told of the work of NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Ga., which began a series of ministries in a local mobile home community. When a tragic fire claimed eight lives, the church was called on to help with the funerals, he said, noting that the people are responding by accepting Christ “by the score.”
In another ministry, the church began a mentoring program for at-risk teens in area high schools that has resulted in dramatically higher test scores. English classes have provided other opportunities. And because the church conducts the programs, they are free to share the hope found in Christ as well.
“I love to do door-to-door evangelism, and grew up and was teethed on it,” Reccord said. “But I need to tell you that the cutting edge for the 21st century is going to be ministry evangelism, where we go in and meet the need, and cross the bridge for Christ.”