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WORLDVIEW: The ‘Christian Revolutionaries’ respond

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The “Christian Revolutionaries” want to revitalize the church, not abandon it -– and they definitely want to participate in missions.

At least, those are two messages I got from self-described “Revolutionaries” and others who responded to my last column, “Here comes the (Christian) Revolution,” released Jan. 11.

In that column, I summarized some of Christian pollster George Barna’s most significant research findings for 2006. Barna reported some discouraging trends in American church life: Only 15 percent of regular churchgoers rank their relationship with God as their top priority. Most adults related to a church youth group in their teens had dropped out of church altogether during their 20s. Many Christians experience spiritual growth haphazardly (or not at all).

But Barna also identified a growing movement of what he calls “Christian Revolutionaries” –- believers who demonstrate much higher commitment to group worship, personal spiritual growth, Bible study and biblical beliefs, community ministry, evangelism and financial investment in Christian work. However, Barna sees them embracing diverse forms of leadership, fellowship and worship (including house churches), placing more emphasis on “lifestyle affinities” and less on denomination, more emphasis on relationships and experiences and less on doctrine.

“The Revolutionary community,” he observes, “is reshaping American faith in ways which we are just beginning to understand.”

Barna’s findings raise basic questions about whether these trends will ultimately lead to the collapse or renewal of American Christian denominations –- and whether the Revolutionaries will lead a return to biblical faith or fall into conflicts and heresies through lack of emphasis on doctrine.

I posed another question: Will the Revolutionaries participate in cross-cultural missions, and if so, how will they organize themselves to do it?

A fascinating variety of people responded -– pastors, missionaries, professionals, students, young and not-so-young believers. Some consider themselves Revolutionaries; some don’t. Some reflected on church and society; others shared their personal struggles to follow God faithfully and creatively.

Here’s a sampling of their thoughts:

— A college student: “I would love to consider myself a Revolutionary! I am 24 years old, just about to graduate college (finally) and place Christ absolutely first in my life…. I think that God is calling [us] to change the world. [We] yearn for a place in the adventure He has for us. We feel called not just to live life, but to live it abundantly. My point is this: We are not content to sit in the pews of the churches anymore…. We are not content to let God’s will for our lives pass by. We are begging Him to give us a goal, to give us a mission…. Yes, we will participate [in cross-cultural missions]. I personally would love to get away from the hollow materialism that shapes our world and be a part of something that really matters! Show us how…. Give us a location, tell the need, and see if the creativity, ingenuity and passion won’t pour out of us to save the world!”

— An Arizona church member: “As a self-professed ‘Revolutionary,’ cross-cultural missions is a vital and inseparable part of [my] living a holistic Christian life…. I do not see revolutionaries as leading to the collapse of denominational expressions of Christianity, but rather embracing what I see as an emerging expression of the community of faith that we happen to call the Southern Baptist Convention. This culture desires to be able to actively participate in the worship of God in the context of a corporate body of believers rather than to be passively fed by a select few…. Only together in Christ can we start a REVOLUTION.”

— A minister to students: “I work with college students … and wholeheartedly agree with Barna on this one. I see several different movements reaching and challenging not just the younger generation but the [larger church] to put our faith to work. We have been connected to the ‘Passion’ (student worship and missions) movement since it began 11 years ago….‘Passion’ has fueled this vision … but churches are going to have to catch up in order to properly disciple and train those who are joining the Revolutionary ranks. There are so few churches of any denomination that are structured to equip Revolutionaries. Many collegiate ministries are filling in the gaps. ‘Emerging churches’ and house churches are largely a reaction against the business-as-usual churches that don’t seem to be on the same page.”

— A missionary administrator: “I wonder whether the ‘Revolutionary’ trend will lead to more multiplication of new believers and reproducing churches (yes, church-planting movements). I pray that it does…. It recharges my battery to work [with missionary candidates] and see what Barna calls the ‘Revolutionaries’ come seeking significance and impact in kingdom work.”

— A pastor: “What does a 30-year veteran pastor with the heart of a Revolutionary do when he is burnt out on conventional church, but has a burning passion to see a genuine expression of biblical church life and revival among God’s people, yet he seems to be stuck in a small, rural, traditional church with very little hope of change? I am desperate to be a part of something alive and dynamic.”

— A missionary mobilizer: “What a tremendous potential for missions this could be! Those going as missionaries from [house] churches would not need to overcome many aspects of deeply ingrained church models from America in order to plant low-overhead, reproducing churches on the [mission] field. And, the same house churches in the United States would not have to spend years paying off mortgages on huge building complexes. Just what could they do with all that tithe and offering money? Missions perhaps? I think so, if this trend is affirmed and cultivated and even incorporated into Baptist life as a viable expression of faith and churchmanship…. With 80 percent of SBC churches plateaued, unless we enlarge the tent, we may just get passed by.”

— A Tennessee pastor: “I don’t consider myself one of the Revolutionaries, but I am a local pastor in my 40s serving in an aggressive, mission-driven church….. Last year we sent more than 1,500 folks on short-term mission projects locally, nationally and globally. That number exceeds our average attendance in Sunday School…. We expect every member to be on mission. Sharing this information sounds very self-serving, but that is not my intent. I do believe, however, that unless we (SBC entities, agencies and leaders) find a way to harness the energy and passions of the next generation for God’s kingdom agenda, we are in a world of hurt as a denomination…. I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers; I simply have a deep desire to be part of the solution. The next generation of leaders is literally loaded with courage, conviction and compassion. They need to rally around a compelling cause.”

— A missionary in Africa: “At 31 years old, I am supposedly on the leading edge of Generation X…. We’ve been with the International Mission Board for just over a year now, and I think the effects of the ‘Revolutionaries’ and how they will participate in the unfinished task of missions is already evident. The new era of American believers is hands-on. That’s why we have seen an increase in short-term volunteers, engaging churches and [shorter-term missionaries]. They want the challenges of going to the edge and are willing to sacrifice comfort and amenities to deliver the Gospel message in an indigenous format. They are willing to put their money behind their convictions, too…. The new (younger-than-me) folks coming out are of this same mindset. We must more adequately prepare for the onslaught of churches that are willing to send ‘their own’ missionaries to get the job done.”

— A Minnesota pastor: “I can’t imagine any committed SBC church member not being a Revolutionary. Here in the North almost all our churches are made up of divergent groups, but hopefully we stick to good sound doctrine…. We as Southern Baptists ought to be reaching out to [young Revolutionaries] and showing them that not all denominations are bad, that in fact our forefathers put together a denomination that is still alive and effective in serving our Lord Jesus Christ.”

— An Alabama pastor: “Churches less and less will look to their denomination for identity and more and more for assistance in fulfilling their local and global calling…. Will the Revolutionaries participate in cross-cultural missions? Absolutely. In fact, in a more effective and energized way than the world has ever seen. But they will organize through more amorphous networks that will expand, contract, divide, unite, etc., at a local and global level at a speed no bureaucratic authority will be able to either track or control.”

— An Arkansas church mission team leader: “I am quite frustrated [by] the lack of concern of the average churchgoer, at least in my circle. Most people call themselves believers but we are tied to a world system. We all have too much debt, we build houses we cannot afford, drive cars that are something we want but not necessarily need, eat too much and spend too much. We are trapped in a cycle that requires everyone in a household to work full time just to pay the bills. However, I do see a very small movement of people (I hope I’m one of those) who do not want to get caught up in the cycle. I have led several mission trips mostly to Central/South America and I can attest that those who go are changed as they return. I especially like to take older teens to give them a little different perspective on the world. Ironically, I’m in my early 50s, but I feel like I have lots of time to make a difference in the world. I’m really just getting started.”

Let the discussion continue. If you have a response or a reflection, share it with me at [email protected].
Erich Bridges is senior writer for the International Mission Board.

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  • Erich Bridges