A few weeks ago, I was listening to an episode of Backpack Radio (featured on our recommended reading/listening roundup) that featured an interview with John S. Dickerson. Already an accomplished investigative journalist and the recipient of numerous national and regional accolades, Dickerson brought that background, training, and mindset with him into his life and work as senior pastor of a congregation in Arizona. The interview dealt with his new book The Great Evangelical Recession: The 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church… and How to Prepare, a call to the American Church to heed the signs of an impending collapse similar to the one our economic system suffered in the mid 2000s. Far from being conjecture and theory, Dickerson sifts through hard data to expose the patterns of decline already long evident in mainline denominations and how they have been exhibited among evangelical churches now for years.
What effect is this having on our culture and how will those trends continue? What will the real world repercussions be for the way the Church in America currently looks and functions? How might we prayerfully begin to lean in, and prepare for what is to come, if our current bearing doesn’t change? In no way a simple doomsday rant, this book aims to analyze the American Church’s current standing in an honest and practical way, and to look to Scripture for possible answers as to how we can focus on being the Body of Christ rather than a man-made religious institution. As Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has stated, “Christianity has nothing to fear. We have the promises of God!” Williams, however, made this assertion while discussing the very real fears facing Anglicanism, and the church in England more generally.
This work seems to me to be a part of a movement in evangelicalism led by folks who recognize that much of what we have built the American expression of the Church upon is actually a shifting-sand, culturally influenced foundation. As congregations continue to decline, tithes and donations continue to dry up, and our culture slowly becomes either more hostile towards or entirely apathetic to the Church, what will be left to plant our feet on? The easy and eternally true answer is Christ, but if we’re honest with ourselves, is that what we’re really standing on? Neil Cole, church planting and discipleship expert, shares a wise saying concerning the American Church, “The system we have in place is perfectly suited to give us the results that we currently see.” In other words, if we don’t change what we’re doing, we’re a bit foolish to expect different results.
These questions surfacing in this book resonate with me as I consider the future of the Salvation Army. We too are facing mounting overhead costs from buildings and programs without congregations to sustain them. Each year, we have genuine (and growing) concerns about having enough officers to fill appointments. And what of our respectable image? Will the day come when we will be forced to choose between integrity/mission and government grants/corporate gifts? I bring all this up not to point a finger at The SA, or to advocate for some specific reforms that will solve all our problems. Rather, I believe that if God chooses to ordain the continued existence AND fruitfulness of The Salvation Army, then he will continue to provide everything we need to carry out the mission he has given us. And I would contend that he, in fact, already has.
We are an Army rich in both worldly resources and intelligent, passionate people. The answer is not more money, more soldiers, more officers, or the like; the answer is a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence in each of our lives! The answer is more sensitivity and submission to God’s leading, over our own interest and self-preservation. The answer is a more radical abandonment of our earthly loves and concerns, for the sake of God’s will finding fruitful expression in the lives of every soldier and officer. Let’s encourage and spur one another on towards that. Let’s get on our knees often, and stay on them long before our God who has already made wonderful provision for his people.
God bless The Salvation Army. Otherwise, we’re toast!
- What is the single greatest need you see in your TSA community?
- How are you prayerfully seeking the Lord’s will for your life and your ministry?
- Where are you seeing fruit born out of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in your ministry, and how can you focus more time and attention on those areas?