I often hear people describe the church as being behind the times. What this means is that by the time the church addresses issues that were important to society last year, or last decade, most people have already moved on to more pressing issues that the church will be sure to deal with in 17 years or so.
At this point, the church should stop trying to catch up. Instead of reacting to yesterday’s issues and problems, we should focus now on proactively responding to tomorrow’s opportunities. Be ahead of the curve. Pioneer the way. This is actually part of our calling.
We’ve been empowered by the Holy Spirit to pray the future into existence. We’ve been commissioned to co-create the future with God in the here and now, in the context of Spirit-filled community. That is what church is supposed to be. The future! Not a relic of the past.
How do we create the future today?
God’s creative process in Genesis 1 occurs in two stages. In the first stage, God creates specific environments; this is what God does on days 1, 2 and 3. In the second stage, God creates appropriate forms of life for those environments; this is what God does on days 4, 5 and 6.
On the first day, God creates light and darkness. God calls the light “day” and the darkness “night.” In stage 2—the fourth day—God fills those two environments with appropriate forms of life, called celestial bodies. God fills the “day” with the sun and the “night” with the moon and stars.
On the second day, God creates two more environments: the sea and the sky. In stage 2—the fifth day—God fills them with fitting forms of life. He fills the sea with fish and the sky with birds.
On the third day, God creates dry land. God calls the dry land “earth” and makes it grow vegetation. God does this so it will be the perfect environment for the forms of life God intends to create for it in stage 2—the sixth day—namely, animals and human beings.
This is a foundational creative pattern that’s woven into the very fabric of our universe. The creative process begins by creating the right environment first.
For example, before planting seeds in a field or garden, you must prepare the environment by turning the soil and adding fertilizer. Creating the right environment is essential to growing healthy crops.
So it is with parenting. We must create an empowering, stable, loving, healthy home environment if we want our children to be empowered, stable, loving and healthy. The future is formed in and by the environments of today. If we desire particular outcomes, or forms of life, we must make sure we create environments conducive to producing them.
I believe two very important questions for the church today are:
1. What forms and expressions of life is God wanting to create and grow in and through your particular church community?
2. What kind of environment is most conducive to creating and flourishing those forms of life?
The most important environmental factor for churches is to heed Jesus’ initial counsel to the early church. Jesus told these Christians to gather together, pray with one mind and be filled with Divine Spirit. Churches need to pray together in mutual submission to God in a way that leads to a collective consciousness that is saturated and in tune with Divine Spirit. This is the only environment today that will usher in God’s future for humanity.
However, there are others things we can, and probably need to, do in order to see our environmental issues for what they are. If we desire our young people to be set on fire for God, for example, we may want to invite some young people who are on fire for God—who have no connections or obligations to our church—and ask them to assess our facilities, media presence, sermons and worship, and tell us what they observe. I guarantee we’ll learn at least three things we can do to make our environment more conducive to setting young people on fire for God.
If we want to reach and engage people in our communities who aren’t Christians, then we should invite some of them to evaluate our outreach, buildings, websites, programs and worship gatherings, and have them tell us how hospitable and accessible our church environment is to them.
Until we create the appropriate environment, the intended and desired forms of life will not flourish in our churches.
Troy Watson is one of the pastors at Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford, Ontario.