Were We There When America Ended?

Alex McManus
Founder, International Mentoring Network
Creator of Voxtropolis and the Culture Pubs
Part of the IMN Global Network

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Washington Mutual Bank failed this week. This is the largest bank failure in US history. Home foreclosures are on the rise.  Lenders are tightening up on credit. The daily news is plastered with news of what may be the most serious economic downturn since the great depression. Many of us grow weary as Republicans and Democrats jockey for political posture while they seek to negotiate a so called “bail out” and keep our economy from crashing.

Of special interest to me, since I’ve chosen to drive from Orlando to Nashville for the Human Event with Gary Morgan, pastor of Mosaic Nashville, next week (Sept 30), is Hurricane Ike. Ike has not only shattered property along the Texas coast, but, because of the impact on the Texan oil industry, Ike also pinched the entire southeast with a gasoline shortage.

I have no choice now. I have to drive. Will I find gasoline on the way? Will I have to wait in line for hours? If prices spike upward will I have the budget to make it all the way there? Will I get stranded somewhere?

All of these kinds of things run through our minds in the context of a hot presidential race with lots of variables.

  • -> Must we win in Iraq?
  • -> Who in the world is Sarah Palin?
  • -> Is our government just a bunch of profession politicians of all colors and both genders that aren’t really there to serve our country?
  • -> Who in the world is Barack Obama?
  • -> Who are the good guys in all this?
  • -> Are we even good any more?
  • -> Where is the price of gas going?

With all these variables, there is a question that may, in a pessimistic moment, cross our minds:

Are we the generation that will be able to say that we were there when America ended?

In 1908 the global currency was the British pound. Today, in 2008, the global currency is the dollar. What will the shape of the global economy look like in 2108? What will be the global currency be in 2108? What will be –if any– the dominant global culture in 2108?

besides the economic issues, there are deomographic issues that are changing the landscape of the western world. The south to north migration from Africa and Asia Minor into Europe has altered the profile of the west. for example:

  • -> Large populations of south Asians in England led me to characterize London as fish and chips meets curry.
  • -> France is a western center for Arabs.
  • -> Turks are now a normal part of the German landscape.

The USA has not been exempt to change. As one standup comic noted, what he learned on his trip to LA is that Mexico must be empty. These demographic shifts have changed the perceived pigment of the face of America. They also effect the age distibution–except for immigrants, the US would be a way older nation– and language diversification — the huge number of latinos make spanish speaking a part of California living.

I was leading church planting seminars in the early 90’s and talking a lot about these things. I still have the Time Magazine Issue, The New Face of America, that came out in 1993. Here’s the cover:

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Times like these tell us that things, really big things, can and do change. Of course, there is no guarantee in history nor in scripture that America will survive until God makes the world new again.  America is not the Kingdom of God, nor is it a nation with a special place in sacred history. If America is special, and I think it is, it is because it has been influenced to a great degree by the story told in the Jewish/Christian scriptures. But historical moments like these when Americans feel their vulnerability should serve to remind us that nations do rise and fall.

So, what do we do in times like these? How do we think? Towards what do we set our compass?

Our task as Christ following people is not to save America as an economic and political entity, even though the health and well being of America provides many advantages to the work of the gospel.  Our task is to take the gospel across cultures and through the generations.

  • -> By across cultures I mean that we are called to make sure that the gospel, which we have received, travels to the end of the earth.
  • -> By through the generations I mean that it is our task to make sure that the gospel travels into the future. Our task is not to make sure that our nation (or our religious institutions) survive(s) but that the gospel travels to and enters in the culture of emerging generations.

We created M, Voxtropolis and the IMN as vehicles for the task of recolonizing the west for Christ. [Not that we leave the rest of the world out]. My sense is that this is a three hundred year project.

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Whatever else the world looks like in 2108 or in 2308, we would like to see millions of Christ following people and tens of thousands of Christ following communities shaping and influencing culture at the grassroots level. To get there, we’ll have to venture off of the beaten and well known paths and seeks new ways forward.

I say this because as I have looked throughout the west, I can see that if we are going to reach the west for Christ, we will have to –in large part –bypass the church.

I remember visiting churches in both the EU and the USA and thinking that they could never reach the world they live in much less the world that is coming. They are too comfortable with their buildings and budgets to worry about the quest to save the universe. But, while our religious structures may have stifled many Christ following people, I have an unrelenting optimism of what could happen when Christ following people are set free <from> bolstering up church structures out of duty <to> following Christ into the world while riding on the emotional energy of their real passions.

I remember walking on the streets of Zurich — supposedly over the vaults that contain large chunks of the worlds wealth — and thinking that I don’t want the west to fall to religious ideologies that will take the world backward. But our wealth, in which the West trusts, is being exposed right now for the false god it is. On the upside, uncertain times like ours can also be times of openness. My hope is that these times of chaos and change may be exactly what is needed to bring out the barbarian in all of us whose trust is in Christ.

My sense is that America is not ending but evolving. Nevertheless, our ultimate trust should not be in the USA. Churches open and close. Our ultimate trust should not be in a local church, a denomination or even in a religion. Where then do we place our eyes? Be alert for and look for the hope that Christ brings. The future that God is making for all of us through Christ is characterized by dancing. Times like these are moments in which we can build our lives, and the lives of those we reach, on He who does not fail.

With Christ in sight go out and vote, preach, feed the hungry, change the world. Do whatever it is that you love to do to call the world to a fiesta hosted by God.

What do you think?

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Join us for The Human Event at Voxtropolis
Orlando, Fl
February 6-7

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17 thoughts on “Were We There When America Ended?

  1. Tony, exactly. When I use “church” here I mean the existing organizational structure and not Christ following people who love God and others with all their heart.

  2. Hi Alex – Really compelling thoughts here. I’m afraid that I agree with you about bypassing the church. That thought, however, does make me sad a bit. Isn’t the church the hope of the world? Of course, I guess it depends on your definition of “church.”

  3. Hi Alex– nice to see your blog again as I have been wandering around the net without seeing you lately. I see you are in Orlando and my parents are in Vero Beach so would love to stop by sometime. I will be home at Christmas for a month or so and have a few flights out of MCO so maybe we can connect.

  4. Alex, Thank you. As a thirty plus year veteran of church ministry – we must bypass the church. As I read the New Testament, and as i read about what the church is to be – my heart races, adrenalin flows through my veins, I get so excited about what could be. However, after ministering in four different “evangelical” denominations, and having been raised in the mainline Protestant church; it is the church that has gotten in the way of engaging and impacting our nation and the world. The bureaucracy and politics within most congregations robs the church of the energy, life and vitality of furthering the Gospel both here at home and abroad. A friend of mine lamented after resigning from the leadership team of his church: “I guess its true that in order to do real ministry I am going to have to leave my church to impact my community.” Sad. These are indeed defining times. May genuine revival come through barbarian believers whose hearts were fully committed to Him and to the world in which they lived.

  5. Very interesting ideas and thoughts in here – Thanks Alex.

    “To get there, we’ll have to venture off of the beaten and well known paths and seeks new ways forward.” As he continues to redeem the planet, this is the path of Christ, and he calls us both to the margins (and beyond) of organized religion by going into the center of humanity.

    Dying or evolving? My money’s on the latter . . .

  6. Very thought provoking Alex. I have worked in 3 different churches of a mainstream denomination that care far more about numbers, and protecting territory than they are about saving the world through Christ. Because I care about the message of Jesus Christ so much, I almost walked away from the ministry that we know. Today, I am pastoring a rebuilding church with few unhealthy foundations. I covet every prayer I can get so that we can keep the main thing, the main thing.

  7. Alex, good thoughts. I actually still have hope for the church “organization” however. Yes, the church is the people, and has little to nothing to do with an organization. But it is also people whom follow Christ and join together in common cause and community, who make up a formally “organized” church…not for the sake of the organization, but as a descriptor of their unity. For me, the issue lies with this thought. In the past, we defined a “church” by what they did on sunday…contemporary or traditional, protestant or catholic, large or small; but in the future, we will define a “church” by what they do monday through saturday. Sunday (or whenever this group gathers) will merely be a celebration of their partnership with God to save the universe, as you say. I admit that this description is not the majority of organized church incorporations in the west. I’m not even sure that it defines the one I lead. But I can say it’s the direction and the aim we are headed for. Perhaps it’s just semantics.

  8. There is a lot of talk in this post about the evangelical church’s failings. The emphasis seems to be about being more outward orientated. For those of you who have mentioned the church’s mission of saving the world, I would like to know your description of this salvation is? I would also like to know how you see it accomplished?

  9. Steve, Thanks for your comment. I write in my post about the failure of banks, economies and even nations. When it comes to the church I write about the inertia of our institutions.

    In order to touch our changing cultures with the gospel, we’ll need to mobilize around inert structures with dynamic ones.

    You asked for an example. I would point to an apostolic team such as the one employed by the Apostle Paul. Church plants are variants (large and cumbersome when compared to apostolic teams but nevertheless variants of the theme).

    You asked “how” it would happen. I’m old school about this. I think this will happen when we take the gospel into the world (vs. keeping the gospel captive within an inert structure) and live it out and express it in such a way that the “not-yet-Christ follower” is included in Jesus (vs. included in an inert structure) and enters into community to journey along with others on mission. So in the end, Steve, we would be creating new communities in which the gospel is lived out by emerging generations.

    You also asked what “this salvation” is…well, it begins with this: God is making the universe right and he is doing so through the man Jesus.

  10. Chad, Good to hear from you.

    You’re right. Community on mission together is the natural result of the proclamation of the gospel. And, I agree with you, the some of the institutional church will [hopefully] rebound.
    The finer point is that, while some may dedicate their lives to the task of “turning” the ship, if you will, we should also make room for those who cannot wait for the boat to turn. In fact, the missional action of those who bypass the church may be just the thing that ignites those parts of the institutional church to action. More importantly, bypassing the church places the priority on those who need to hear the gospel. I think that even churches should decide to bypass themselves for the sake of making Christ known to their communities and to the nations! 🙂 That’s when the fun begins.

    As to “organization”…organization is a tool that when placed in the hands of a leader(s) will help accomplish a task. In this sense, organization is value neutral. Anything involving more than one person must develop some organization. The key is to keep the organization on task.

  11. Hey Steve. Thanks for the questions.

    “the complete picture”…we’re not offering a complete picture. what we do is more like exploring unmapped territory. we draw the map as we go.

    “a social gospel”… i don’t know of any gospel that isn’t social and i’m not sure exactly what you mean by this.

    many Christ following people do not have a “born again experience,” if by that you mean a decisive point of repentance towards God through Christ. my friend, eric sweiven , was just with me leading a human again seminar in Nashville at Mosaic Nashville. he tells me that his conversion was like the frog in the kettle. the water temperature was increased slowly and one day he became aware of the fact that he was cooked. for him, his experience of conversion was more of a process than a point.

    having said that, yes, i do think that each person needs a personal relationship with God. A repentance or turning or realignment away from sin and towards God through Christ would describe what I think every individual needs.

  12. Alex

    I am trying to understand what you are saying, but I still don’t feel like I get the complete picture. I understand what you mean by making things right because you explained that in your post about becoming human again. What I am a bit confused about is the how. Are you talking about a social gospel where people are changed by their association with a Christian community that is reaching out to them? If so, do you see the need for each individual having a “born again” experience, or do you see personal salvation as something different?

  13. Alex

    I am glad that I asked you these questions. There have been times when I have read your posts that I feared that you no longer believed in some of the Christian fundamentals. I apologize for doubting you. I am glad to see that you have a conventional view of salvation. I don’t agree with all of your ideas, but I really appreciate what it is you are trying to. I wish you success.

  14. Thanks for your question, Marti. Yes, you’re right. Sometimes taking a “lost” person to your church can be wrong. Many churches limit humanity as opposed to expand it and confuse discipleship with conformity. But, the gospel is about relationships of love. God loves the world, Jesus tells us to love one another, etc. The gospel creates community and Christ following communities are a way God re-humanizes the world and builds up people.

  15. some people who are on this journey to “bypass” the church are saying it is wrong to invite the lost person into your community and worship–you must disciple them first. You seem to be saying the journey to a personal relationship with God is to be apart of a faith community (church). Can you say more about this

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