Six Elephants in the Room
Imagine seeing six elephants in one area. Such mammoth creatures would dominate that particular setting. This image comes to mind when I think of the challenges we face in the U.S. in 2017, challenges that are interconnected.
Elephant 1. The challenge of a geographical mismatch by which most congregations and schools of the LCMS are located in the middle of the country and in rural areas but most of the population lives on the two coasts and in huge metro areas.
Elephant 2. The challenge of the multi-ethnic population in the U.S., of reaching and attracting Hispanics, Africans, and Asians into our predominately Caucasian congregations.
Elephant 3. The challenge of non-church-attendance. Surveys reveal that on any given Sunday only 18% of the U.S. attends a church. There are numerous reasons why over 80% do not attend, but in the end most Americans are simply not “into” church. As Robert Putnam would put it, they go “bowling alone.”
Elephant 4. The challenge of working in a multi-religious environment not only with non-Christian religions but also with many different versions of Christianity. For example, liberal churches typically substitute a radical-left ideology of inclusivity for the biblical gospel. Prosperity groups substitute the demand for “health, wealth, and happiness” from heaven for the biblical gospel. The Americans we seek to evangelize are not tabula rasa. They already have preconceived notions about Christianity, notions that are typically distortions of the Christian faith and life.
Elephant 5. The challenge of biblical illiteracy among church-going Christians. Surveys indicate the prevalence of biblical illiteracy, especially when it comes to Moses and the Prophets but also concerning the Gospels and Epistles. Many Christians cannot speak and think in biblical ways; they only know a few biblical soundbites. Along with this goes an unfamiliarity with theology and doctrine, for Lutherans, an unfamiliarity with the Small Catechism not to mention the Large Catechism.
Elephant 6. The challenge of living in a Christian way in this time and place. What writes the script for non-Christians writes the script for many Christians as well, dominant influences such as the entertainment industry, social media, corporate America, radical individual autonomy, and popular ideologies. As a result, the actual life of many Christians differs very little from that of non-Christians.
Every generation is called to be faithful in its own time and place, to confess the truth of the gospel (Galatians 2:5), to teach the written Word of God in its truth and purity (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:15-17), to walk in the ways of the Lord (Isaiah 2), to proclaim repentance unto the forgiveness of sins to all nations (Luke 24:44-49). With such huge, overwhelming, elephant-like challenges facing us, we are tempted to lift up our hands and cry out in utter despair, “What’s the point?” But it is 2017 anno domini, in the year of the Lord. Jesus the Messiah, crucified and risen for all, is Lord. Therefore our labor in his name is not in vain.
Are there other elephants in the picture? What elephants do you see in your context?