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Some 30 years ago, I was given a video to watch about “paradigm shifts.” It was a video prepared for business leaders, and it showed what happens when a paradigm shift occurs. One of the most telling examples of a paradigm shift involves watches. Up until a generation or so ago, the major manufacturers of watches were in Switzerland. Then a new type of watch was introduced that didn’t depend on springs and gears. The strange thing was it was invented by Swiss watchmakers who didn’t bother to copyright it but instead showed it off at an exhibition. Texas Instruments and Seiko of Japan saw this new invention, grabbed hold of it, and changed the watchmaking industry. Terns of thousands of workers in Switzerland lost their jobs as those two new companies took over the sale of watches. One of the lessons to be learned is that when a paradigm shift occurs, everyone goes back to zero. You start again. You have to embrace new ways of doing things.
WHAT IS A PARADIGM?
A paradigm is a pattern or a model of thoughts and actions. It is not only something that happens in the business world, but it also occurs in the church.
AN EXAMPLE OF A PARADIGM SHIFT
Ministries have had to recognize and adjust to paradigm shifts. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has had to adapt to a new world. For years one of their major outreaches was the radio program: “The Hour of Decision.” In addition to other things they are still doing, like crusades, etc., they now also emphasize internet evangelism. Their “Peace With God” internet evangelism program, during 2020, received more than 6 million visits. More than 1 million of the people who visited indicated making a decision for Jesus Christ (billygraham.org). Recently, Will Graham conducted a meeting on the internet, and millions people around the world tuned in to the program.
PARADIGM SHIFTS IN THE CHURCH
If you stop for a moment and think about paradigms in the church – specifically Evangelical, Charismatic, and Pentecostal church life – you will see paradigm shifts that have taken place in recent times.
Up until the 1960’s the paradigm for church life remained basically the same. A one-hour Sunday morning service following your denominations pattern. You sang hymns, and many churches had a Sunday night service as well. However, over the last 60 years, paradigm shifts have occurred approximately every 20 years.
1960s – 1970s
In the midst of the counter culture of the 60s, a new form of church life began to come forth with the emerging of the Charismatic Renewal and the Jesus Revolution. This was particularly seen in the change in music and consequently worship. Spiritual songs replaced hymns, guitars and drums replaced organs. In the midst of this, denominational churches that initially didn’t embrace a paradigm shift lost members, and the new evangelicals increased in numbers.
1980s – 1990s
This period saw the emergence of the seeker-friendly form of worship, pioneered by churches such as Willow Creek in Chicago (Bill Hybels) and Saddleback Church in California (Rick Warren), with a message of a purpose-driven life. The emphasis now was on reaching out to the nonchurch people in the community.
2000s – 2010s
This period saw the emergence of many mega-churches across the nation. Until then, if you had a church of 1,000 people, you had a large church, but now it moved beyond that. The largest mega-church at this time is Joel Osteen’s church in Housten, Texas, with over 40,000 congregants. It was also the beginning of campus churches, with the main church linked by video to many campus churches across a given area.
Not always, but most times, a paradigm shift in the church affects the shape and structure, not the essential beliefs or doctrine of the church.
It relates to the wineskin, not the wine. Also, I am not drawing attention to the various revivals that have taken place in locations such as Toronto, Pensacola, etc. Those were usually for a short season of time.
2020s & ONWARDS
We are now in the midst of the paradigm shift that will reshape the church to come. Lee Grady, one-time editor of Charisma Magazine, wrote that there is “evidence of a sweeping tsunami that will reshape the church in this decade. All across this nation and the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reevaluate our core priorities. It has shoved us into an uncomfortable realization that business as usual will never work again. God is using this crisis to prune away dead branches, so we can bear more fruit. Are you ready for the shift?” (old.charismamag.com).
SHAPE OF THE CHURCH TO COME
Let me share three ways of a paradigm shift in the church:
1.The Digital Revolution – Probably the most far-reaching change will be the effect of the digital world on the shape and structure of the church. I am from the old generation of people who grew up without even television. We initially did not have a telephone, and the closest thing we had seen to a cell phone was the cartoon character Dick Tracy’s wireless wristwatch which seemed farfetched at the time. I have had to realize that was then, and this is now. I have my children and grandchildren to thank for helping me relate to a new world of computers, the internet, and social media. Young people today have been brought up with computers. With the restrictions brought about by COVID-19, they have even had to learn online via their computers as they could not go to school in person. We have a whole generation that will increasingly be a large percentage of the church in the days to come who live their lives on cell phones, tweets, YouTube, and Facebook. We may see deficiencies in this way of life, but it is the reality of today.
Those churches who were already moving towards using the internet are pressing on while others are playing catch up. This changes many things, including staffing, either paid or volunteer. It means a recognition of the importance of the computer staff. I know of several churches that have internet positions on full-time staff, including internet pastors.
2.Retaining the Personal Touch – If there is a downside to the digital age, it is that it has reduced the importance of face-to-face contact with people. We need to recognize the importance of this as part of the shape of the church to come.
Lee Grady, in an article titled “Get Ready for the Biggest Paradigm Shift Ever,” writes, “Churches that already had strong small group ministry before the pandemic have thrived during this last year. But churches that put all their resources into big congregational events have been shut down or have lost huge percentages of their membership… There’s nothing wrong with big gatherings. I love to worship with a crowd… [However,] People don’t effectively grow if their only input comes from a weekly or monthly 30-minute sermon. They need discipleship in a close-knit environment with supportive relationships” (old.charismamag.com).
3.Build a Counter-Culture Community – We live in a day and age where the values of the church are running fowl of the present culture, which is becoming increasingly anti-Biblical Christianity and conservative values. In the days to come, the church will have to take a stand; otherwise, it will be submerged in a secular society. Laws are being proposed that would significantly affect religious freedom. The family of the basic unit of society is under attack. The schools are now presenting curriculums on sexuality which is out of step with Biblical values. The internet giants are censoring speech and conservative viewpoints, even to the point of banning Donald Trump and other conservatives from Twitter. Christians are being considered enemies of the state. In many ways, we are living in days like what happened in the 1930s, as Nazi Germany began to rise in that country. By and large, the church has remained silent and left it to the politicians.
The title of R. Edwin Lutzer’s book “We Will Not be Silenced” is a call for all true Bible-based believers to stand up before it is too late. The church needs to be intentional in building a counter-culture community. (This will be a subject of future Langstaff Letters).
There are many other dimensions of the shape of the church to come, but here are three to start with:
- The Digital Revolution
- Retaining Personal Touch – Small Groups
- Building a Counter-Culture Community Church
Bear in mind, we are considering the shape and structure of the church. Many of the values of the church will remain the same, but the way they are put into action will change. Core values and beliefs will remain, such as preaching, teaching, fellowship, prayer, life together, praise and worship, sacraments and evangelism, etc.
The leaders and the church will need to be led by the Spirit in how they put this all together.
Also, we need to note that not all churches will make the change. Like the watchmakers in Switzerland, some churches – because of the leadership and the people in their congregation – won’t handle these changes.
Thomas S. Rainer, in his book “The Post Quarantine Church,” writes, “The post-pandemic era may prove to be one of the most challenging seasons for churches and leaders. . . Without a doubt, the world has changed. Without a doubt, western culture has shifted; and it has shifted largely against churches. Without a doubt, most church leaders have not been trained and equipped for this new season. Still, it is a season of opportunity” (Rainer 2020, 110).
Remember the words of Isaiah 43:18&19a (NKJV), “Do not remember the former things, Nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing. Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it?”
Remember what I always say, “The Best is Yet to Be.”
Rainer, T. S. (2020). The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation. United States: Tyndale House Publishers, Incorporated.