Tuesday, 01 July 2014 08:29

Church Relevance in a Changing World

Written by  Rachel Fisher
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What makes the Church relevant to the everyday lives of Christians?

 

This is the question we set out to answer this month and the answers may surprise you. We had the unique opportunity to interview four leaders shepherding churches in four different places in the River Region. Each is seeking to serve the people in their community in ways that will reach them where they are, and while each leader carries a different vision for the different places God has called them to lead, they all work with the same goal in mind - to make Jesus known and to promote His Kingdom on earth.

 

 

The goal of this article is not to promote one denomination or mission over another. Instead, we hope our readers will come away with a fresh outlook on the story God is writing in our city and how he is using a colorful pallet to write every word.

 

 

2Cities Church – Downtown, Montgomery

For Brian McDonald, pastor at 2Cities Church in Montgomery, the vision he and others carried for Montgomery dictated their location.  Situated in a rented space on Lee Street, two blocks from Court Square in downtown Montgomery, the church’s name tells a story part historical and part futuristic. Nearly 200 years ago, Montgomery was composed of two different cities: New Philadelphia and East Alabama Town.  In 1819, the two cities merged and the city of Montgomery was incorporated. “Today, one can still live in Montgomery and easily see that in many ways we are still two cities: racially, economically, socially, academically, etc.,” says Brian. “It’s our desire to see the gospel unite these ‘two cities’ and bring spiritual, social and cultural renewal to Montgomery. With the City of Montgomery’s commitment to revitalize downtown, it made sense for the church to come alongside our city to mutually promote new life.”

2Cities believes when the Church faithfully declares and demonstrates the gospel it will provide the only solution to a relevant problem in every community: brokenness. In downtown Montgomery, you don’t have to go far to see this brokenness, you just need to look. 2Cities believes as they grow in authentic community together the result will make ripples in the downtown culture. “When we think of the word culture, we often think of fine art, the symphony, or possibly foreign culture,” says Brian.  “However, in Genesis, we see God defined a life of worship and service for Adam and Eve as creating culture for the glory of Himself.  He gave our first parents raw resources and commanded them to make something beautiful:  create agriculture [2:15]; create zoology [2:19-20]; create family [1:28]; create cuisine [1:29].”  In light of this all-encompassing mandate, 2Cities agrees with Cornelius Plantinga who said, “Human culture is the sum of what humans produce and of the ways in which they are organized for life together.”

 

 “The fall of man has corrupted our ability to create; for many in this world either promote bad culture or create beautifully only for their own honor,” Brian explains.  “Yet, since God is in the business of making all things new, we care about renewing culture, which can look like cultivating new art and music, restoring a home or downtown building, or starting a new business for the glory of God!”

 

 

Strong Tower at Washington Park – West Montgomery

Terrence Jones has been the pastor at Strong Tower in Washington Park since 2010.  A drive along the streets that make up this historic neighborhood tell a story of gang violence, drugs, lack of education, teenage pregnancy and fatherless families. However, there are always two sides to every story and this community is not without its strengths.  Washington Park is a neighborhood where people know their neighbors and sit on their front porches - reflecting a strong relational spirit. Terrence notes that the community is extremely generous. “People with far less materials of value and monthly income are constantly giving and sharing without hesitation or solicitation.” Resilience is another strong suit. “People daily endure hardships like premature death, poverty, abuse, hopelessness, and tremendous roadblocks to success, yet they keep going.”

 

The location and culture where Strong Tower exists present a challenge to Church as most know it. With vicious cycles of fatherlessness, poverty and dependence, as well as several of the shooting deaths from the past two years taking place in the surrounding areas, there is an urgency in the way Terrence and others who call Washington Park home think about the relevancy of Church. “When we share Christ with a young man in our community it literally could be the last time we talk to him,” says Terrence. “That is a scary reality, yet many opportunities to share Christ arise from just being neighbors to family and friends of victims. I’m never more convinced that people in my community need Christian neighbors who share hope as I am after tragedy strikes.”

This reality helps shape the way Terrence thinks about the relevancy of Church in the context of West Montgomery. “To the degree that Church is about a community of believers who are dedicated to advancing the glory of God by fulfilling the great commission, we are barking up the right tree in terms of relevancy!”  Terrence hopes that the more his community begins to see its members as the church, rather than just Sunday morning as the church, they will become increasingly relevant to the community where he and others have been called to minister.  Terrence explains that Strong Tower was planted primarily for the un-churched and de-churched. As they make disciples in their unique community by entering the lives of the people around them, Terrence says he hopes to see people gain the capacity and potential to radically impact Washington Park. “It is to this end that our leadership and membership are increasingly trying to devote ourselves. We have not arrived, but we are headed in the right direction.”

 

 

Centerpoint Fellowship – Multiple Sites With A Single Goal

When Centerpoint Fellowship began in 2009, pastor John Schmidt thought meeting in a hotel ballroom would just be temporary. Like many pastors, he assumed a traditional building would be in the very near future. However, nearly five years later, Centerpoint Fellowship continues to meet in non-traditional venues and is still building up the community across the River Region through encouraging a relationship with God and others. “This wasn’t the plan,” says John. “And it’s not something we think is better than having a building, but something God showed us as we went along.” Ultimately, this has allowed Centerpoint to be relevant to their community, reach more people within their context and focus on the task they feel God has given them to do: help people center their lives on Christ. John says that he doesn’t know what the future holds, but today, God has this now multi-site church meeting in rented spaces in Prattville, Wetumpka, Pike Road and Montgomery. “With no building, authenticity is terribly important,” says John.  “It’s helped us all realize, quite literally, that Church is not a building. It really is the people.”

 

For John and the people who make up Centerpoint Fellowship, the relevance of Church is found in the importance of relationships. “Relationships have never lost their relevance inside the Church,” says John. “It’s the way the church was made to operate – together and with one another.” For John and the congregation he serves, this belief spills over into the unchangeable and always relevant word of God. “In Matthew 22 Jesus stresses the importance of loving the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. This radical idea has never changed and will continue to be relevant to churches everywhere, including our own.”

 

John believes that if the Word of God is faithfully preached, people have to make a decision whether or not to act on what they hear. “The people in our church want to know how to make the things the Bible says applicable to their everyday lives. Why are we learning it if we can’t apply it?” For this reason, John and the leadership within Centerpoint Fellowship focus heavily on a teaching style that allows things in Scripture to make sense in the context of everyday life.  With this in mind, Centerpoint Fellowship serves as a church for the community as a whole, as it seeks true intimacy with God and thriving relationships with others that will spill out onto the streets and effect change that lasts.

 

Frazer Young Adult/College Ministry – Ministering to Millennials

For the past two years, Patrick Craig has been serving as the College and Young Adult Minister at Frazer UMC. There has been a lot of talk on blogs and websites about Millennials (18-35 year olds) losing interest in Church. Patrick, as a Millennial himself, can testify that what this age group cares about when it comes to Church is not relevance in the sense of making things trendy or “cool”, but substance. “Millennials are not turned off by the gospel, but by the way it’s being presented,” says Patrick. “Growing up with the Internet, Millennials have had access to more information than any generation before them. So, understandably, they have a lot of questions--questions about things like science and the Bible, homosexuality and religious pluralism. This means they also want to find within a church, a safe place to ask hard questions and a place to simply meet with Jesus and others.”

 

Patrick believes that our current cultural situation is more of an opportunity than a defeat, and this gives him great hope for the Church to continue to be relevant and important for people of all ages, even in a shifting cultural environment. “We need to be reminded that for the first 350 years of the Church, Christians were not privileged people. While the tectonic plates of our culture are shifting, I believe when they resettle, the Church will find herself in the unique position to be, once again, a prophetic minority instead of a moral majority,” says Patrick. “If I am right, that will leave the Church in America in a position in which it has nothing to lose…and when you have nothing to lose, all you have left is the Truth. I think this could be a great boon for the faith, and it gives me hope.”

 

Patrick has seen a great excitement come over the community he serves through the opportunities they are given to serve outside of themselves. “If you want to serve young people, give them an opportunity to serve! Increasingly, young adults are captivated by the mission of Jesus who began his first sermon saying, ‘The Spirit of the Lord…has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, release the captive, recover the sight to the blind and set the oppressed free.’”  Twenty years ago there wasn’t a cell phone or the Internet and people did not live in a global context. Today’s young adult is a student of the world and the needs of the world are visible to them. “Millennials are far more engaged, casual and provoked to action,” says Patrick. “Therefore, they love when a body of believers comes alongside them and helps them integrate the gospel into every facet of their lives. When the students I serve pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,’ they aren’t saying it out of habit, but are actively seeking the renewal of all things.”  Isn’t that what we all desire?

 

 

 

Rachel Fisher loves learning about what God is doing in the world and writing about it.

She and her husband Chase live in Montgomery.

 

 

 

 

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 09 July 2014 08:38
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