The Christian world likes to contend that it’s distinct from the world. But we’re not really that different are we? The same trends that dominate the secular culture seem to dominate ours, though with some lag (especially if you live in Lancashire). Some of that is to be expected, after all sin is common to all, and in the church we should be fighting it, but often seem to settle for masking it or covering it up. Sometimes, because we’re a bit myopic, we struggle to see sin that our own culture makes normal. But we’re also prone to the same trends; craving celebrity, wanting to be entertained, individualism, liquid community that dissolves at the first sign of conflict, and so on.
But perhaps one of the most dangerous is that we are as prone to following the latest trend as anyone else. That is especially true in terms of wanting to be on trend with ministry. When I first came into ministry everything was about church planting. Every conference seemed to be about it, everyone seemed to be doing it, and it was a good thing, by and large. Though I do think looking back it needed nuancing and challenging.
Then a few years ago everything was all about cities. Reaching and planting in cities was the subject of conferences because people were moving to cities and so cities were the way to reach the suburbs and so on. No-one really stood up and challenged that. How has that played out? It has played out in a drain to cities and a loss to the average towns and rural areas. It hasn’t even benefitted every area in the city equally, every city seems to have postcodes within which church planting happens and those where it doesn’t.
Then we seem to have had a trend where it’s cool to plant or think about ministry in tough areas, housing estates, and schemes. And that is much needed, we need to reach out to millions of people who have not heard the gospel. Please don’t mishear me, I’m not saying this isn’t needed, I work in one such area and meet with others who do, and it is needed.
What’s the next trend, well, it looks like it may be rural areas or average towns, I’ll guess we’ll see in what is published and conference speakers address in the next couple of years.
But here’s my point, here’s my problem. The problem with trends is that there is a limited lifespan to the time and energy people give them. Cities do need reaching. Churches do need planting. Estates desperately need the gospel. As do rural areas and average towns. All of those need all of that all of the time. The people in those areas all face eternity, many have never heard the gospel and they can’t wait for the next trend. They need faithful churches holding out the gospel in their midst, doing good, engaging with them, serving them, preaching to them now.
I also wonder if following the trends means we are constantly impoverishing one area in order to serve another. The young, keen, determined, gospel sacrificing go where the emphasis is, what the conferences and training are preparing them for.
We need a better gospel vision that isn’t trend based. That is based on need, eternal concerns, not fashionable trends. We need to stop and examine our cultural bias and ask God to open our eyes to them. Why? Because the eternal destiny of thousands, millions, depends upon it.