Research has shown over the last few years an increase in the number of atheists as well as an increase in the number of religiously-unaffiliated Americans, a sign to some that Christianity is on the decline. However, others argue that the number of convictional Christians, compared to the number of cultural Christians, remains stable. But how long will that stability last? And how can Christians remain relevant and authentic witnesses in an ever-increasing post-Christian America?
Tony Evans, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, and president of The Urban Alternative, recently took on this issue in an interview with The Christian Post.
1. Contextualize the truth without compromising the truth, which means churches must roll with the times by embracing technology. "This is not your mother's generation," says Evans.
2. Never pit righteousness against justice. As Evans explains, "You have to balance the two consistently, ongoingly because the two don't compete. They're the great compliment of Scripture."
3. Create clear paths to leadership. "Churches need to be intentional about reaching the next generation by creating templates for young people to see that there is a stepping stone for leadership in this church," says Evans.
4. Handle the Word of God rightly and engage the Holy Spirit for unity among people, races, and cultures.
5. Make a distinction between membership and fellowship. According to Evans, "You can fellowship with people you can't have membership with."
Watch the "CP Newsroom" discussion with Pastor Evans in the video player, or read the transcript below:
CP: There are reports of young people dropping out of churches, and at the same time, atheists being more outspoken. It seems like Christianity is on a decline in America. What are some things churches and Christians need to do to revitalize the faith?
Evans: I think first of all, is we have to recognize that this is not your mother's generation. This is a different generation. Technology has changed how people communicate, how people relate, the speed at which this takes place. To ignore that, in the name of preaching the Word, is to forget that we're to preach the Word to people. Therefore, you cannot ignore the people you're trying to reach with the Word you're trying to reach them with. That means contextualizing the truth without compromising the truth. So that young people hear us speaking to their issues, hear us speaking to their concerns, hear us speaking to what they're facing in their schools ... which was different than when I was coming along where creation was a normal option and where values clarification was clear, we didn't need that much clarification. But that's not the context in which the media is impacting this next generation. So using the media, using technology, using a relevancy and application of the truth of God's Word is key to this generation seeing that the truth of God speaks to them today where they are.
CP: It seems young people are increasingly engaged in social justice issues. Some churches maybe have a problem balancing righteousness and justice issues. What are your thoughts on that?
Evans: I think the key word is "balancing." The Bible balances the two. The Bible says from God's throne comes righteousness and justice. [In] Genesis 18:19, God tells Abraham raise your children in righteousness and justice. So the two should never be pitted against each other, nor should they be in competition. Righteousness has to do with the vertical standard that God gives us to please Him. Justice has to do with the horizontal expression of that righteous standard in the lives of others.
So we are to, in justice, consistently apply God's moral law to others, while in righteousness keeping the standard of that law. You do both at the same time. You never have to choose between the two, because if you do you'll have a divided church. If you emphasize righteousness, you'll be like a lot of the Anglo churches that emphasize how we live before God. If you only emphasize justice you'll be like a lot of minority churches that emphasize fairness and equity among men and how you're treated. One may give up justice and the other may give up righteousness, when God gives up neither. So you have to balance the two consistently, ongoingly because the two don't compete. They're the great compliment of Scripture.
CP: What about investing in future leaders? Do you see that a lot when you travel, that there are resources and attention given to that issue?
Evans: Not nearly what it needs to be. There is a great need for investment in leaders. In fact, that's one of the major tenets of our ministry, The Urban Alternative, is to invest in pastors through our pastors' wives ministries, invest in pastors' wives and show them how to invest in their leaders, particularly the next generation of leaders. Churches need to be intentional about reaching the next generation by creating templates for young people to see that there is a stepping stone to leadership in this church. You don't just luck into it. But that challenge creates an inspiration and opportunity, so a light touch on the shoulder and say, "You have potential. Why don't you go through this track?" We're in the process of putting a track together through The Urban Alternative to help churches do that.
CP: What about some difficult issues that divide churches, specifically on racial and cultural insensitivity? Would you say Christians are all-embracing of the other?
Evans: Well, the beautiful thing about the Body of Christ is God created it. That there would be the Jew and the Gentile, there would be in the church at Antioch in Acts 13, people from Africa as well as people from Jerusalem. Yet those bring tensions. Acts 6, where the Greek-speaking women and the Hebrew-speaking women were at odds with one another. But that's where leadership comes in. Leadership has to recognize those differences, meander through those differences, come up with divine solutions to those differences so that people can live in harmony as we worship our Lord Jesus Christ.
I often say in mayonnaise, mayonnaise is mainly oil and water, and oil and water will never get along. So you have to put an emulsifier in there, and that's egg. So you put egg, and egg grabs the oil and egg grabs the water, and keeps it together. People from different backgrounds may not have natural affinity, but when the Word of God is treated right and the Holy Spirit is allowed to engage, it can bring together things, people, backgrounds, histories, races, colors and cultures and hold them together in a way that natural affinity may not be able to do.
CP: What about doctrinal issues? How do we get over those to work together?
Evans: The issue of doctrine is, which doctrine are we talking about? There are certain non-negotiable doctrines: the authority of Scripture, the deity of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, salvation by grace through faith. Those are non-negotiables. Now, different denominations may have different nuances of emphasis that differentiate them. But we must make a distinction between membership and fellowship. You can fellowship with people you can't have membership with. So fellowship with all. Be members of those who hold the doctrinal distinctives that you hold dear.