by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
One of my lesser stated goals for our church is for the church to be smart, educated, and intelligent.
Given the general attitude that evangelicals are stupid and dogmatic, the church today has an uphill battle affecting culture. This is the church’s failure, not the media. The media reports on a hateful church (“God hates homosexuals,” etc.) and the public generalizes. We can’t do much about evangelical’s unpopular image. I not sure public opinion should drive the church’s agenda, even with Jesus’ words, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).
By “smart church” I mean a church that knows the Bible – its history, doctrine, tradition over time, and the Bible’s use for life and mission. Smart church knows the fuller breadth of the entire church’s history. We know something about the first church, the monastic age, the Orthodox era, the western Catholic time, the Reformation, and the American experience of the 19th and 20th centuries. Smart church means each full participant in the church reads at least one spiritual book a year (or listens to a book).
By smart church I mean a church that limits its viewing and listening of national news media, to keep from being driven by fear and entitlement rather than the words of Jesus.
By smart church I mean a church that knows its context: “What do we do well?” “What is the mind of Christ for our time?” I always like to find the right question to ask. And a perennial question must be “What time is it?”
What time is it in your life? Is it time to sit at the feet of Jesus or is it time to start a new rule of life? Is it time to be still and know God more deeply, or is it time to activate? Is it time to “re-pour” the Bible into your mind and heart? Or is it time to pour out?
What time is it? This question and my illustration of it must be qualified with what I call the trap of “exceptionalism.” Exceptionalism is the mentality that says, “When soccer season is over we will eat dinner together.” “I will revive my relationship with Jesus when I go on retreat next month.” “I will read a book after the summer ends.” Be careful of exceptionalism: “change happens only when it is the right conditions.” …And when are conditions right? Never!
I believe it is time for the church to be smart. This is not a small statement. It is a large statement about the condition of the church and our mission. Just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer sought a smart church when Hitler was rising to power, (and we currently don’t have anything that dire) we too need to be striving after a smarter faith, a smarter spirituality, and a smarter church experience.
Why a smarter church? It isn’t for church growth. It isn’t for popularity. It is for faithfulness. Smart church is all about knowing Jesus. If we grow deeper roots we will know how to most effectively engage the culture around us.