Article by Steven Lester
Pastor of Crossroads Church and writer at sowerspouch.blog
I love this area. I have had opportunities to move but this is my home. For all my love for these mountains and the people, I think we all know what the research has shown about Southwest Virginia in terms of high poverty and drug abuse. Another statistic that blew me away is the number of children living with/being raised by grandparents. Yet it does not take a statistician to figure out we have a lot of churches. Probably more than any other part of the state per population. I've been thinking about these figures and what they mean. Why are there so many churches yet so little attendance? Where are the next generation of church goers? What, if any, correlation is there between drugs, poverty, absent parents and the state of the church? I don’t think I have come to any hard conclusions. But have several thoughts that have come out of this meditation.
My first thought is that these statistics are fruits of deeper roots. I believe the deeper problems are spiritual problems. You can’t legislate these issues away, or counsel them away, or elect them away, or provide healthcare them away. Only the Gospel is the answer. The Gospel is the only means that changes the very nature of men which in turn changes the behavior of men. This is an easy observation in my opinion. But there's more.
Fighting for the Gospel is where the trouble begins. Paul says the Gospel to the world is foolishness. (I Corinthians 1:23) They are opposed to any message that calls men into account to a Holy God and strips them of their sovereignty in saving themselves leaving their salvation solely in the hands of a crucified Jew. Society hates this message. It is archaic, offensive, and contrary to natural man’s inclinations about social progress. Those that hold and preach this message are not well received. Hence the persecution that arises. More on that.
There are several dangers in this world about being a Christian. History has shown that Christian have faced persecution, torture and death by the hands of ungodly and sinful men. The scripture plainly teaches that those in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (II Timothy 3:12) Persecution is a result of the hatred of Satan and evil men against the Christ.
Hebrews 11:35 Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two,[a] they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
This is, in my estimation, a blessed state. To suffer for Christ in body is certainly a mark (not the mark) of being in Christ. If we suffer with Him we will reign with Him. (II Timothy 2:12) Jesus says we are blessed to be persecuted with Him. (Luke 6:22)
Persecution is not the state of American Christians, for the most part. Yet, we find ourselves in a more dangerous spiritual situation than outright physical persecution. Western Christians are under an insidious attack. An attack from a subtle yet devastating cultural push toward secularism. This is the battlefield we face today.
Secularization will result in persecution and powerlessness of the church. It is already happening. Our worldview is being formed in a fundamental, core way through culture. Disney, NBC, have become hubs that are producing shows and personalities that directly oppose the christian worldview.
In the vacuum of a destroyed Christian worldview, secular thoughts are taking its place. Christian thinking and ethics are fading away, replaced by secular thinking and ethics. We are now seeing a whole generation who have grown up in the secularization of America. The results are devastating. There is no way that I know of to measure the devastating effect of having hundreds of sexual partners before the age of thirty. Or the effects of mixed gender identity. Or the effects of abortions on the soul of a young girl. Or the consequence of the logical result of atheism. I do think we see these results, somewhat, in statistics like I linked above.
What about the church? The American Church (Southwest Virginia Church) by and large is engaged in a cultural crisis and the Gospel is in the thick of thorns. Worldly care, cultural sensitivity, postmodernism, political upheaval, a desensitization of Americans because of social media imagery, has so choked the Gospel in people’s lives. The Gospel has been dismantled and put back together in an easy chewable form. The result is no power. Only a sovereign work of God’s Spirit can move the church in Southwest Virginia into revival.
The truth I face as I write this is there is nothing new that I can offer as a Pastor or we as a church that can change the people. This to me is frustrating, but hopeful. Frustrating in the sense that our efforts are limited and in vain. Hopeful in the sense that I think we may be on the precipice of revival that is not based upon culture, hipness, music, fashion or anything that man can conjure up. We have come to the end of our ability and now we can only rely completely on God.
I believe that our area is unique in terms of being evangelized. We are, to borrow a term, post-christian. Meaning that our area has been heavily evangelized. The christian language is spoken here. The Bible is taught here, songs are sung here, Churches are built here, and they are attended. But they are dying. Young people are turning away from the faith. People in our community have hundreds of churches, Christian TV, access to millions of items of online resources, live streams, tracts, blogs, vlogs, websites, e-books, and many other means of evangelism. Yet for all the progress there is little conversion.
It is my observation over the last 20 plus years in ministry that churches grow in and out of vogue. They get large and popular, then they get outdated and people leave. The church then is left with a large building, debt, and burned out pastor. The cycle goes on. Churches rely on mimicking large popular churches like Hillsong, Elevation, Saddleback, Bethel and so on. Sermon series are taken directly from these type of churches. I believe that people are weary, sinners are weary of this. I am weary of this.
But is that the problem? No, I don’t believe it is. There is nothing wrong with building churches or singing new songs or implementing new things. Personally, I hoped our website, or blog, or new sign would generate buzz about our church. Did it? Maybe only superficial interest.
My point is that we have done all that we can do. That does not mean we stop. Or regress or fight about means. But it does mean we have to change paradigms. I mean that time, energy, money should not be spent in excessive proportion on flowing with the cultural tides of American society. That is to say the church should not strive to evangelize through social media, dress in modern style, have I Phones, or watch TV. But we must wholly be hopeful in God as a sovereign savior.
We have come to the place to where I am most hopeful. The most hopeful and peaceful I have been in years. Water is poured on the sacrifice and God must defy the odds and answer by fire. (The account of Elijah in I Kings 18 is an amazing illustration of God changing the heart of His people by unlikely means) Only through a sovereign work of God will there be any spiritual change. I am hopeful in this. I believe he will do a work that forgoes the use of popularity. It will not be a work that uses blue stage lights, or has foundations in the change of a worship set. It will not be in whether the Pastor now live streams services or has a change up to casual dress. It will not be based upon the coolness of the children’s ministry or taking teens to concerts. His work will be in the most unlikely of ways, with the most unlikely of people, with the most basic presentation of a pure, offensive, foolish Gospel. I am hopeful for this. I am extremely hopeful for this.