Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics won Christianity Today’s 2013 “Best Book of the Year” award in “Christianity and Culture” for a reason. Check out this stunning quote, pasted on the back of the Fall 2013 Issue of Comment Magazine:
“This turn boded ill for Evangelicalism’s long-term future, because although the ‘para’ groups were immensely successful at religious mobilization, they weren’t as effective at sustaining commitment across a life span or across generations.
“They were institutions for an anti-institutional faith, you might say, which meant that they were organized around personalities and causes and rarely created the sense of comprehensive, intergenerational community…You couldn’t spend your whole life in Campus Crusade for Christ, or raise your daughters as a Promise Keeper, or count on groups like the Moral Majority of the Christian Coalition to sustain your belief system beyond the next election cycle.
“For that kind of staying power, you needed a confessional tradition, a church, an institution capable of outlasting its charismatic founders.”
As one who’s now launching another one of those ‘para-church groups,’ this quote struck a chord. Some immediate takeaways for me – and maybe for you if you’re a part of Evangelicalism:
(1) Build inter-generational (and intercultural) partnership into your organization. The powerful para-church movements of the 20th century were great at reaching college students, political interest groups, or middle-aged men, but not at building deep partnerships between generations and cultures. Woe to us if we don’t intentionally create teams of leaders who are different from us! Double the woe if we serve our narrow market niche and consign ourselves to yet another “tribe” in social media land – while ignoring the rich diversity of Christ’s body.
(2) Quit building movements and organizations around charismatic leaders. I don’t think this is the intention of ministry leaders, but it’s what happens when we’re not more institutionally-minded. It happens when we build great conferences, praise great speakers, and publish great books, but neglect the time-consuming work of crafting policies, habits and practices that are intended to outlive their founder. Please, serve the vision, serve the organization, serve the ideal – but let our leaders become servants who become less while others become greater.
(3) Love the church. Go to church. Serve the church. Attend the church. Give to the church. Pray for the church. Quit criticizing the church. Join a church. And remember, when companies, non-profits, and even states pass away and are long forgotten, the Church will still be there. And oh yeah, if you’re in business or a non-profit, listen to the leaders of the church. The stewards of the mysteries of Christ may just surprise you.