While many are thinking about what resolutions they wish to make for the New Year, Christians find themselves facing many difficult challenges as they face the upcoming year. Many challenges exist for the Christian church. However, one will find that the following challenges rank among the most important as the church enters its 1,984th year of existence. The following is a top-10 list of challenges that this writer sees as the most pressing issues facing the church in 2014. The reader may find other issues to add to this list. Feel free to add any additional challenges and how the church can meet those challenges in the comment box.
The tenth challenge according to this writer that the church faces in 2014 is the challenge of apathy. Apathy is defined as, “lack of interest or concern” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). When it comes to issues of God, there are a growing number of individuals that have become apathetic. There is even a term for this called “apatheism.” Apatheists are just disinterested in issues pertaining to God. How does one reach such individuals? William Lane Craig suggests that the Christian defender shows the apatheist the importance of such issues. As Craig states, “…’IF Christianity were true, what consequences would it have for your life? What difference would it make?’ I think that if Christianity is true, then it is hugely relevant to our lives” (Craig 2013, 56). Craig also suggests, “I strongly suspect that the self-styled apatheist is usually just a lazy atheist” (Craig 2013, 58). I would agree.
However, more troubling is the apparent apathy that exists among many Christians today. It appears that many church-goers have become apathetic when it comes to doctrinal truth. Others had rather “go with the flow” or simply do not care to know the truths of Scripture. This really came alive to this writer with issues concerning the theology of popular televised teachers. This is especially troubling when considering that cults have risen out of popular teachers who are opaque and require blind faith. This is something that must be confronted by biblical teachers and preachers.
9. New Age Infiltration
A growing influence upon the church is that of New Age doctrine. Dan Story defines the New Age movement as,
Actually, the New Age movement is not new. It is simply the resurgence of ancient occultic practices mixed with Eastern pantheism (in particular, Hinduism) in a recipe tailored specifically to feed the spiritual hunger of Western secularized man. The New Age movement is secular humanism with a cosmic ingredient. It maintains the humanist motto that “man is the measure of all things” and the humanist goals of global peace, prosperity, and unity, but, to make humanism more spiritually palatable, it sugars it with ‘God’ (Story 1997, 189).
One does not need to look far to find New Age infiltration. Powerful entertainment icons such as Oprah Winfrey and elevated teachers such as Deepak Chopra promote New Age ideology. A case could be made that such an effort seeks to promote a one-world religion.
To combat this infiltration, it is not necessary for one to become obsessed in ultra-legalism and conspiracy theories, which in this writer’s opinion can become dangerous as it could lead to unnecessary paranoia. Simply getting back to the basics of truth and doctrine will help one stay within the boundaries of biblical teaching. But this requires work. Quite frankly, many a modern Christian has become lazy and disinterested in biblical truth (as addressed in the section speaking on “apathy”).
8. Changing Ministerial Demands
I read somewhere that even newly established churches begin to adhere to church traditions after about 20 years. The problem is that ministerial demands change with the times. The message of the gospel never changes, but the methodologies used to reach individuals for Christ must change. At a recent Baptist associational meeting, it was projected that half the churches in the particular association was not expected to be operating in 20 to 50 years. Why? It was due to the fact that churches are not equipping themselves to meet the needs of current and future generations. Certain statistics show that an average of 75 churches closes their doors each week. Thom Rainer said at the beginning of the year, “I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the numbers reach the 8,000 to 10,000 level” (Rainer, “13 Issues for Churches in 2013”). There are many issues involved in this problem. One, the society has become so fast-paced that one set time on Sundays and Wednesdays does not always meet everyone’s needs. It could be that alternative services need to be held. Also, online communities are imperative in this technical day and age. Two, many churches tend to zealously hold to unnecessary traditions. Bluegrass gospel is a beautiful form of music. However, it may not be the best thing to employ if you are trying to reach urban youths. Three, there are issues with the lack of apologetic training in leaders. This, however, will be dealt with in more detail later.
7. Youth Exodus
Recent studies have shown that 75% of young adults leave the church when they leave for college. A substantial number of these young adults do not return. This has been labeled by some as the Youth Exodus. Could it be that these young adults are unprepared for the onslaught of anti-Christian attacks from secular humanism? Or could it be that the young adults are caught up in the fast-paced nature of society? It could be that they are simply “sowing their wild oats” as some call it. Whatever the case, the church must seek to minister to these young adults by providing them with the ability to ask questions and search the deep truths of the faith. Churches near educational institutions have especially a good chance to minister to collegiate adults.
Anti-intellectualism is a rejection of higher learning and/or a rejection of learning deeper truths concerning the Bible. Fields that are rejected sometimes include the learning of biblical languages, systematic theology, apologetics, philosophy, biblical historical studies, and scientific fields. According to the anti-intellectual logic, one must only read the Bible, particularly a certain translation, to understand the Bible. The problem is that in order to properly conduct biblical exegesis, one needs to understand the history and languages of the text. This movement probably came about because of the liberal movement that influenced many seminaries and universities in the early 1900s. One older church member explained years ago, “I have seen good men leave to go to college or seminary, and then come back teaching garbage.” The liberal movement in some colleges and seminaries created distrust among many in rural areas. In Baptist life, there arose two systems of tradition: the Charlestonian tradition (highly educated clergy and more liturgical) and the Sandy Creek tradition (less educated clergy and more emotionally driven). This, along with the Revised Standard Version’s break with tradition in translating the Hebrew word “almah” as “young woman” instead of “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14, probably helped stir the King James Only controversy that still affects some rural areas today.
More serious is the lack of ability for the anti-intellectual to answer the challenges of the skeptic. Worse yet, some educational institutions educate their students to become non-intellectuals…particularly in unaccredited church colleges. Educating to be uneducated…that would seem to be a self-defeating principle. This is even more serious when one understands this writer’s predicament. I left the ministry for seven years due to doubt. When I asked church leaders, some who were anti-intellectual, on how to answer the challenges of the Jesus Seminar (a seminar that charged that the words of Jesus in the New Testament were inauthentic), I received the following answer, “The Bible is the Word of God because it says so.” That answer not only did not help me resolve the issues that were being faced; it propelled me to a level of doubt that led me out of the ministry. It was by the Spirit of God leading me to the works of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and a host of others that my faith was strengthened, and my love for theology and apologetics blossomed. The church must meet the intellectual needs of its congregants.
Syncretism is the blending of multiple religious thoughts together. This stands opposed to tolerance. Tolerance is defined as, “the allowable deviation from a standard especially: the range of variation permitted in maintaining a specified dimension in machining a piece” (Merriam-Webster). By definition, tolerance allows for differences in opinion. To be tolerant does NOT indicate that one agrees with the conclusions of another. It does indicate that one can (to use cliché) “agree to disagree.” Tolerance is promoted by this writer and this website. However, it is something entirely different when individuals seek to combine differing opinions to create a non-exclusive thought pattern. It is not feasible. In the end, these attempts are performed by individuals who show no real passion for truth and a passion to keep from offending. We should not seek to offend anyone. Don’t miss the point. However, every person has the responsibility to seek the truth and discover it for him or herself. As David said,
“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9, NIV).
God reveals His truth and the person responds likewise. However, when we find the truth, it is irresponsible to think that the truth is not the truth. If the truth is not the truth, then it was never true. We should respect individuals of different perspectives. Actually, it shows a lack of trained understanding of one’s own perspective when conversations denigrate into shouting or violent spells. The church must stand steadfast to its convictions while loving others of different perspectives. It is imperative that the church gets this right.
4. Lack of Trained, Empowered, Apologetic Leaders
Recently a friend of mine on social media asked for prayer. He said that a local pastor had been bombarded with a verbal assault by an atheist. The pastor did not have anything to offer except, “You have to believe in the Bible and in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He was unable to offer why one must believe in the Bible and in the Lord Jesus Christ. The atheist said that he was coming back with some friends. The pastor said, “Okay, I’ll have a trained apologist here with me (my friend) when you come back.” The atheist did not return. This showed me something that I have already been convicted of in past days. We must have more trained leaders IN THE CHURCH!!! Perhaps it is due to the anti-intellectual movement among some in the church, but there seems to be a disconnect between apologetics and church ministry. THIS MUST CHANGE!!! Apologetics is the new form of evangelism and church leaders must be trained to handle the problems brought forth by earnest seekers. Remember, Peter said,
“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame (1 Peter 3:14-16, NASB).
For the church to minister to a growingly secular community, the leaders must be able to provide such a defense for their faith as Peter states. Gone are the days where one could simply say, “You know you need to be in church” or “You know you need to come to God.” There may be a desire to know God within the person, but whose God are they seeking? Why should they be in church? Why should they trust the Bible? These are issues that pastors, youth leaders, and the like must address.
3. Issues of Marriage
The issue of marriage has become a “hot-button” topic in recent days. Marriage is being re-defined by organizations like the LGBT and GLAAD organizations. However, the issue of homosexual marriage is not the only issue where marriage is being redefined. If same-sex marriages are allowed, the next issue on the books will most likely be that of polygamy and polyamory. Polygamy is where one person has multiple wives or husbands. Polyamory is defined as multiple lovers within or without a marriage connection. My question is this: where does it end? The church must define the biblical roots of marriage and where it stands on these issues. The church must ask such questions as: What is marriage? Why is there a marriage covenant? What is this church going to recognize as marriage? Regardless of whether you like it or not, your church is going to deal with this issue sooner or later. Ministers must also decide what constitutes a biblical marriage. Some ministers have even noted that their days of marrying anyone may come to an end (this writer included, although I have not settled my intentions completely). In a land where bakers are being sued for not obliging certain forms of marriage, ministers must ask themselves what they will do if they are approached by a couple desiring to marry and the couple is in a relationship that the minister cannot approve. One thing can be agreed upon by everyone in ministry; it is far more complicated to be a minister in our modern times.
However, on the flip side, Christians need to watch how they address these issues. The worst thing that can happen is for the Christian to make a homosexual person an enemy. Too many times, Christians have hammered on the issue of marriage so much that gay and lesbian individuals have committed suicide and have felt like outcasts. Let us not forget that we are called to love each other, especially those whom we have differences. Remember the words of Jesus, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45a, NIV). This is not to say that homosexuals are Christian enemies. This is to say that the Christian must not make an individual his or her enemy. We stand against principles and principalities…not people.
(Note: an example of an organization that supports polygamy and polyamory can be seen in the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness. According to their website, Harlan White delivered the first sermon advocating polyamory on Sunday, July 10, 1994 at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu. For more information, see their website at: http://uupa.org/index.)
2. Religious Freedom
In the United States and across the world, the church has dealt with increasing restrictions placed upon its religious freedom. The United States of America was built upon the principle of religious freedom. However, those freedoms are being impeded by secular organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. Christian businessmen and women like Elaine Huguenin of Elane Photography in New Mexico and Jake Philips, a baker from Colorado, have been sued and, in Philips’ case, could face jail time for exercising their freedom of religious expression. (For more information concerning the Philips’ case, see http://christiannews.net/2013/07/12/attorney-for-colorado-christian-baker-jail-time-possible-for-denying-wedding-cake-to-homosexuals/, and http://www.christian.org.uk/news/us-baker-faces-jail-over-gay-wedding-cake-refusal/. The church has survived times of religious restriction. Consider that Christianity was not an officially recognized religion of Rome until the 300s. The church began with the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus circa 30AD. Someone once said, “We’d better proclaim the gospel message while it’s still legal.” But, my question is, will the true Christian keep proclaiming the message even when it’s not?
1. Religious Persecution
Lastly, the global church must deal with persecution. The second problem leads into the first. The lack of religious freedom almost always leads towards religious persecution. In Kenya, 59 Christians were slaughtered in a shopping mall. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have suffered some of the worst times of persecution since the 1300s. In Syria, Christians have been killed in numbers, many by being beheaded. One cannot forget Saeed Abidini an American Arab pastor who is imprisoned for his faith in Iran. In Iraq, churches have been bombed. These are not distant individuals. They are our brothers and sisters in the faith. Yet, many American churches remain silent as these atrocities occur. We should…and in fact must…lift up one another in prayer. As Kirsten Powers writes,
“Lela Gilbert is the author of Saturday People, Sunday People, which details the expulsion of 850,000 Jews who fled or were forced to leave Muslim countries in the mid-20th century. The title of her book comes from an Islamist slogan, “First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People,” which means “first we kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians.” Gilbert wrote recently that her Jewish friends and neighbors in Israel “are shocked but not entirely surprised” by the attacks on Christians in the Middle East. “They are rather puzzled, however, by what appears to be a lack of anxiety, action, or advocacy on the part of Western Christians.”
As they should be. It is inexplicable. American Christians are quite able to organize around issues that concern them. Yet religious persecution appears not to have grabbed their attention, despite worldwide media coverage of the atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East” (Powers 2013).
Again, may I remind Christians worldwide…we are ALL brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. We will all go to the same heaven. We must pray for our afflicted siblings in Christ. It may one day be us. As this website has reached the world, I want to remind our brothers and sisters that you are not forgotten. May I remind American Christians that we need to wise up. Christian persecution is a serious thing. All the disciples, save the apostle John, died as martyrs. If it affects a Christian brother or sister, it affects all of us regardless of his or her location.
The church faces some daunting challenges in the year ahead. However, God will see us through. For as the apostle Paul writes, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NIV). Let us prayerfully join together and meet these challenges for the cause of Christ.
Praying God’s blessings upon you in the upcoming year,
Craig, William Lane. A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity and the Bible. Chicago: Moody, 2013.
Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.
Rainer, Thom. “13 Issues Facing the Church in 2013.” ChurchLeaders.com. Accessed December 29, 2013. http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/164787-thom-rainer-13-issues-churches-2013.html?p=1.
Powers, Kirsten. “A Global Slaughter of Christians, but America’s Churches Stay Silent.” DailyBeast.com. (September 2013). Accessed December 30, 2013. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/27/a-global-slaughter-of-christians-but-america-s-churches-stay-silent.html.
Scripture noted as NASB comes from New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
Scripture noted as NIV comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.
Story, Dan. Defending Your Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1997.