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It’s time for strategic thinking

The Church needs to prepare for the new world disorder

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It’s time for strategic thinking
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I don’t need to tell you that we are living through what the old Chinese curse calls “interesting times.” In this particular curse, “interesting” has negative connotations. Christians should not assume a posture of despair because of this, but they should be shrewd. And that means thinking strategically about the future shape of ministry and Christian institutions.

Many of the assumptions that have undergirded the Church’s strategic thinking in the West can no longer be taken for granted. Stable liberal democratic political systems, the free trade utopia of neoliberalism, and the America-dominated international world system, are crumbling at varying rates. These are three significant examples, and more could be added.

Changes of this magnitude require a reassessment of the landscape for Christians and the Church. Rising hostility from governments, big business, and big tech raises questions about the Church’s place in the public square and the methods she uses to preach the gospel. In large swathes of the Western world, Christians are no longer welcome to fully practice and express their faith in public.

The Church’s institutional setting also looks increasingly unstable, given the huge demographic shifts that will play out over the coming decades. We are likely to see a numerically smaller, financially poorer Church. Anything can happen, of course, and God has a wonderful habit of unexpectedly altering the course of Church history in ways that also alter the course of world history. But that is no cause for complacency.

Instead, Christian leaders should think hard about how their churches can adapt to the emerging world disorder. And they should do so with urgency. The old assumptions no longer holding might mean that the old ways and old institutions need to be rethought. The church should remain what Paul calls it in his letter to Timothy—“a pillar and buttress of the truth.” But much can change whilst remaining faithful to this mission.

The essence of the Church must remain the local congregation. Churches need to continue to preach, pray, and administer the sacraments. They need to continue to train up-and-coming pastors and elders. But how they do these things can, and should, be rethought. The aims of the church can remain stable while reconsidering the institutional scaffolding that supports those core activities.

Congregations may need to be prepared, both financially and practically, to pivot away from the brick-and-mortar model that dominates today.

There is a lot of careful thinking and planning that needs to be done. But let me gesture towards two key areas of institutional reform. Local congregations, supported by their denominations, need to become what the philosopher Nassim Taleb calls “antifragile.” And denominations need to rethink the institutional setting for theological education.

First, the local church. Congregations may need to be prepared, both financially and practically, to pivot away from the brick-and-mortar model that dominates today. A house-centric model that is still linked to traditional denominational structures is one way of conceiving this shift.

Moving towards this kind of model could direct resources away from maintaining expensive buildings and staff teams, and towards face-to-face discipleship in house churches. At the same time, the newly available financial resources could provide more opportunities for the church community to support and equip congregation members in the face of a hostile culture.

Second, denominations need to engage in a long-term consideration of Christian education. Traditional institutions, with their buildings, libraries, professors, and administrations, could become obsolete within decades. For any number of reasons, they could become impossible to maintain in the cultural and economic climate. A new kind of institution-building takes on urgency, given what the Church likely faces in the future.

Jesus said that we should be shrewd in our dealings in the world. His illustration, from Luke 16, was particularly to do with money. But the principle could, and I would argue should, be generalized. We should use worldly wisdom to navigate the future, while always prayerfully relying on God, trusting in His goodness, sovereignty, and providential care.

Interesting times do not give us cause for despair. Far from it. As Carl Trueman argues, Christians have plenty of reasons to be hopeful. We also have reasons to think very carefully about how to shepherd and steward the institutions God has given His church to carry out his mission in this unpredictable world.

Simon Kennedy

Simon Kennedy is a research fellow at the University of Queensland and a non-resident fellow at the Danube Institute. He is also associate editor of Quadrant Magazine.

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