Modern. Progressive. Evangelical. Balanced: Part 5

This is the fifth installment of a six-part series. Scroll down to read the previous posts.

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

For a month now I’ve been sharing my vision for the kind of church I’d like to see thrive in the 21st century. As a church we’re just beginning the process of re-engaging our Strategic Plan from 2012, and one of the ways to shape collective vision is to share our individual visions. So I thought I’d lead by sharing mine. In the last three weeks I’ve done my best to outline what I think it means for a church to be modern, progressive and evangelical. Today I’m outlining what it means to be balanced as a congregation.

The world around us is changing and changing fast. That leaves most churches with LOTS of questions. How do we make ourselves at home in a shifting culture? How should we set ourselves apart? How do we keep from being stuck in the past? And how do we avoid being swept along by the current? These are some of the questions that ought to guide our future-oriented approach to church.

And because the world is changing so quickly, these aren’t questions we can ask just once. These are questions that ought to guide our approach to every new season of the church’s life. Somewhere in the middle of fitting in and standing out--somewhere between stuck and swept along--is a balanced approach to church life. Thriving churches in the 21st century are balanced churches.

Thriving churches are balanced theologically. Theological balance doesn’t mean that we’re theologically centrist or that we’re theologically diverse, although thriving churches may be both. Being theologically balanced means being theologically honest. Theologically balanced churches are honest about what they believe and open about the struggles and doubts that go along with the Christian faith. They are willing to wrestle with the challenge of hopefully proclaiming a world where God is in control while facing the reality of a world where God too often appears absent.

Being theologically balanced means that we exist somewhere between dogmatic certainty and outright skepticism. We leave room for doubt and questions and disagreement, but we’re also willing to stand for something. Thriving churches embrace revealed Christian truth and acknowledge authentic Christian doubt.

Thriving churches are balanced programmatically. Balanced churches understand that time is the scarcest of commodities and that time is growing scarcer by the minute. Longer workdays, increased commutes, longer distances between extended family, more single parent homes, more families with two working parents, and more programmed activities for children and teenagers all lead to less available time in the average schedule for church.

So balanced churches make reasoned choices about what they ask of their families. Balanced churches carefully weigh how many times a week they ask people to come to church and are intentional about what they ask them to come to church for.

Balanced churches no longer expect habit or duty or guilt to bring people to church. Instead, balanced churches understand that for most people to stay engaged, every moment at church must be a moment well invested. That means that programmatically balanced churches focus on quality over quantity. We have to maximize opportunity and experience so that every trip to church, without exception, offers a meaningful opportunity to serve, a valuable opportunity to learn, or a memorable chance to experience God.

Thriving churches are balanced emotionally. Churches are living, breathing organisms. They have collective emotions and feelings and heartbeats and rhythms. Churches can live and grow and thrive. Or churches can be sick and dying.

Emotionally balanced churches manage feelings and emotions in ways that allow them to thrive. They have healthy ways of dealing with conflict. Emotional balance means not taking ourselves too seriously and not taking our mission too lightly.

Balanced churches invest their emotional resources in the right kinds of things—things like unity and justice and righteousness. Emotionally balanced churches fight for each other, not with each other.

Thriving churches have a balanced culture. They actively work to be in this world but not of this world. Culturally balanced churches understand that in an increasingly post-Christian culture we have an evangelistic responsibility to compete in the consumer-driven marketplace for ears and eyeballs and attention.

But they also understand that our goal is not just to attract consumers; our goal is to make disciples. Balanced cultures acknowledge both responsibilities. Culturally balanced churches are willing to accept people where they are in order to move them closer to where God wants them to be. 

Balanced churches will thrive in the 21st century.  They’ll thrive because they will attract new people to Christ. Emotional, cultural, theological and programmatic balance are attractive. They’ll also thrive because balance is freeing. Balance is indicative of clear identity and balance frees up energy for authentic Christian witness in our neighborhoods and communities.

Modern. Progressive. Evangelical.  Balanced. Four characteristics of the kind of church I’d like to see thrive in the 21st century.

Next week in part 6, I’ll wrap up my thoughts with a summary of the previous posts. My thoughts are out there. I’d love to hear yours, too. What resonates with you? What gets you excited about the future of the church? How will you—how will we all—be part of God’s future at Heritage? I can’t wait to find out.

See you Sunday.