THE POWER OF A CREATIVE MINORITY
We have talked about what God did in the early church in revival. Today, we want to reflect on how God used the early church in the surrounding culture as an agent of renewal. Consider the uphill battle the church was facing. The upper room they prayed in before Pentecost was the same upper room used as a hideout for the disciples after Jesus’ was essentially…lynched by a mob. The same leaders that killed Jesus were looking for them. And they were a tiny persecuted minority in the midst of a vast, mighty, invincible Roman Empire. The early church was facing an existential crisis. Its back was against a wall.
In our time, in New England, in Providence – the Church is facing a similar uphill battle. We have for some time been in a state of spiritual decline and are moving into what is known as post-Christian culture. Post-Christianity is a culture which has been in essence vaccinated against Christianity. It has developed a kind of immunity to the gospel. Mark Sayers says that post-Christian culture is marked by a desire to have “the Kingdom without the King.”
The trends are not good, from a demographic perspective. Affiliation with Christianity is declining faster than at any time in our national history. And some of this is with good reason. The Church, from the Catholics to the Baptists, to celebrity pastors has faced scandal after scandal, leading to a widespread loss of trust and a crisis of spiritual authority. This in turn has led many Christians to deconstruct and lose their faith in recent years.
What is the response of the people of God to this existential crisis? What will keep the Church from slowly withering away?
The Church has essentially five options.
- We can give up. We can slowly manage the inevitable decline of Christianity in the west. Trying to coast as long as we can on the inertia of the past until we close up shop. This doesn’t sound attractive…so what are the other options.
- 2. We can try harder. We can work smarter. We can be more strategic. We can import the insights from modern business theory to the church. We can ask for more out of our pastors and leaders. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. The only problem with this is that we are all exhausted. Especially pastors and church leaders. The rate of burnout is hitting historic highs…for many in society but especially those who are leading the church and carrying the emotional loads of so many others. Just try harder is actually a recipe for disaster. You can paddle as hard as you want…but you will never canoe over a mountain.
- We can fight back. We can respond to the slow loss of the perks, power, and privileges of Christendom by trying to hold on as long as we can to power. We can try to place our hope in the political system to return us to some notion of past glory (even though we have never been a Christian nation). Like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, when we sense a threat to the faith, we can take up the sword. The Lord will say to us, however, what he said to Peter. “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the father has given me?” The reality is that the Kingdom never comes through force or politics, but through cross and resurrection.
- We can retreat and hide. We can run for the hills. We can pull ourselves away from meaningful engagement with the surrounding culture. This instinct is not altogether wrong. The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher explores the need for cloistering in times of spiritual decline. There is a holy circling of the wagons to go deeper in discipleship and hold onto our unique identity as believers in a culture that is caustic to historic Christianity. However, we can’t hide forever. The faith will die with us if we do. We cannot hide our light permanently under the bushel (Mt 5:13-16). Jesus did not hide from the world, he engaged it fully.
- We can camouflage. We can mix our faith so thoroughly with the spirit of the age so that it feels relevant and unthreatening to a secular world. Those aspects of our faith that are stumbling blocks to the post-Christian secular culture around us we can hide or abandon to try to make the faith as “up-to-date” as possible. The theological word for this is syncretism. The only problem with syncretism is that it is never honored by God in revival. Jesus said, “you are the salt of the earth…but if the salt loses its saltiness…its potency and distinctiveness, it is no longer useful for anything.”
So…what can we do, as the people of God in the face of a secularizing culture in spiritual decline?
We can become a creative minority. In their book, Creative Minority, Heather Grizzle and Jon Tyson point out that, especially in seasons of spiritual decline, the church is called to be a creative minority that operates within the surrounding culture as a redemptive influence within it. The Bible is full of moments where the people of God became or acted as a creative minority. Daniel and his friends in Babylon. Israel among the nations of Canaan. And of course, the early church in the book of Acts. Before God sends revival, he raises up a creative minority…which he then empowers and positions and uses to bless and advance his Kingdom in the surrounding culture.
A creative minority can be very small and still incredibly powerful in the hands of God. In the upper room before Pentecost, there were only 120 believers, praying and seeking God and waiting for the power of the Spirit. They were still but a tiny minority of Israel which was a backwater region of a Roman Empire which numbered 60 million souls. But by the fourth century, this creative minority had not only survived, but had grown (under persecution no less) to be by some estimates a third of the Roman Empire…20 million strong. A creative minority can start very small but grow very big and transform the surrounding environment. Jesus’ parable of the yeast…and the mustard seed…are creative minority parables. The Kingdom is like something very small, but very potent, that grows to be huge and impossible to miss.
As we look around today, what is the solution to the spiritual decline we see around us. God is calling his people, once again, to become a remnant he will use in revival. A creative minority like the early Church, that even under persecution, he will use as a redemptive influence in the surrounding culture.
- What is your response to the decline of Christianity in America? In Providence? Is it apathy? Bewilderment? Despair? Or is it not something you commonly think about?
- What response do you identify most with to the decline of Christianity? Is it trying harder? Fighting back? Running away and hiding? Is it syncretism or jettisoning the parts of the faith that feel out of date or out of vogue?
- What excites you about being part of a creative minority? What scares or frightens you?
- Pray for Sanctuary and other churches in Providence and New England to become creative minorities.
- Pray that churches and believers will “retain their saltiness,” holding on to historical Christian theology and practice, even when people think we are weird or strange or don’t fit in. Pray that we will be willing to be different and at times not to fit in. Pray for the children and the next generation to be willing to be made fun of, perhaps even persecuted, for being Christian. And that their relationship with Jesus will be strong enough to help them live in the tension of being in the world but not of the world.
- Pray that churches and believers, while being faithful to engage in politics, will stop placing our trust in our political system to save us. Pray that God will destroy any idolatry or ways that Christians have made unholy alliances with political parties or political systems. Pray that we will stop worshiping politics or parties and worship God alone. Pray that our bonds as Christians will triumph over political differences. Pray for any who have, in the name of Jesus, taken up the sword to repent and put down the sword. Pray that we will embrace the way of the cross as the only way to life and redemption.
- Pray for believers and churches whose temptation is just to escape from a world that seems like a slow moving trainwreck. Whose primary response is to disengage and find some sort of safe Christian bubble to hide in. Pray that God will cause us, in response to his love and mercy, to engage meaningfully with a broken world around us.
- Pray that God will raise up a remnant in our time, and in the next generation, that he can use to steward and lead revival in our culture. That God will use the church as he did in the first three centuries of Christianity, to transform the world around through their patient ferment as a creative minority.
- Pray for the Sanctuary Conference – that God will equip and inspire us as we hunger to be this kind of creative minority in a city that needs God, his redemptive power, and his love.