Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them

Sunday, March 1, 2009, 0:01
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Reviewed by the Rev. Chuck Huckaby

 
lostandfound
By Stetzer, Stanley, and Hayes
Published by Lifeway, February 1, 2009
Hardback, 240 pp.
List Price: $17.99
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A hallmark of classical pastoral care in the Reformed tradition has always been to know one's parishioners. That required extensive and ongoing contact to be familiar with their hopes, fears, and besetting sins in order to minister the word of God more effectively to them and claim them for Jesus Christ and His Church. Whether we speak of Geneva's Consistory, Baxter's parish work at Kidderminster, or the efforts by Thomas Chalmers and others to revitalize the Scottish parish system, these Reformed ministers and their assistants would make as many as 50 pastoral visits per week to those residing within the boundaries of the parish to minister God's word from "house to house" (Acts 20:20). All too often these days, we have given up knowing the souls of those we hope to serve inside the church and those we wish to reach outside the church. In exchange we've simply been satisfied to know what we wish people to know and cringing at the difference. Our Lord's incarnation, in principle though, beckons us to return to the pastoral art of knowing those we wish to reach so that we may most effectively present them with the truths of the Word of God. If one cannot personally make fifty pastoral calls per week to inquire of these souls because we no longer live in a Celtic parish that can be traveled by foot in a day's time, the task must be outsourced - not ignored.
 
It is at this point that works such as Lost And Found: The Younger Unchurched And The Churches That Reach Them by Stetzer, Stanley and Hayes play their part. This most recent summary of missiological research by the Lifeway (Southern Baptist) people focuses on what ministers able to visit and listen to young people who are not participating in the life of the church might hear when asking these people about the well being of their souls. The point of such inquiries is to learn how to best present God's Truth and seek their eternal well being. Such studies must not however cause us to change the Biblical direction of our churches. They are starting points for proclaiming the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, not watering down the Good News. While this research should not change our theology, hearing often legitimate criticisms of Christian people may be used by God to expose our sins of indifference and self-righteousness which need to be rejected anyway. 
 
Specifically, the research shows that minister, elder, or other Christian who hears the excuse "the church is full of hypocrites" for the 10,000th time still has ample hearing. Such kidding aside, Lost and Found does a fine job of discussing the loneliness, fears, and longings of younger unchurched people and reminds us that these are needs only the Body of Christ can address with lasting impact. It is at this point in reading the book where, if we are honest, the deficiencies of many congregations become painfully apparent. The problem confronting pastors and elders comes, then, in fighting a war on two fronts - ministering to the church before our eyes while reaching out to fields "white unto harvest." When young people say they are seeking "authenticity," they don't mean the sound system isn't loud enough. Rather, it is a legitimate critique on our own spiritual coldness. 
 
The balance of the work is composed of case studies of various churches on various topics. These are from churches that statistically are above the average in reaching younger unchurched adults for the Gospel. Some prescriptions will undoubtedly resonate with certain readers, while others won't. The chapter on worship will likely prove most controversial. It's at this point in the book where the whole discussion seems to turn to "what do people crave?" instead of "what honors God?" The prevailing assumption these days is that the Living God is a celestial co-dependent so needy for attention that any crumb of corporate adulation will suffice as long as it is offered by a crowd of humans. Please understand that this reviewer does not believe for a split second that any of the authors of this work believe in such a demeaning view of God. They are simply presenting what they've found. The chapter discussing the ascendancy of expository preaching that follows may cause the heart palpitations to settle somewhat if only because many preachers believe they are already doing this adequately. Whether that is so is a discussion for another day. The chapter on moving people from the "Pews to the Street" in mission is likely to only aggravate those Lutherans who fear that the call to a "one size fits all mission" dilutes the doctrine of Christian vocation. Their concern would be that individuals are called to serve as Christians in their respective fields. Authentic Christian vocation means one does not "ape" the minister in his calling or, for that matter, gratuitously imitate anyone else in their calling. When excellence in Christian vocation does occur, it obviously does not need to abandoned for the sake of serving a program. Until such excellence is common, group ministry efforts will likely serve as models to spur individual pursuits of excellence in Christian vocation. I believe that most churches - however much they may disagree with the chapter on worship - can find common ground on the issue of service. Hopefully that common ground will be under shoe-leather outside the church building instead of inside the fellowship hall in those ponderous rehashings that pass for elders' meetings. 
 
Flying in the face of a generation of "youth ministry" and "educational theory" is something Reformed churches should be saying "I told you so" about. That's the current generation's cry for intergenerational community, learning and ministry. This chapter sounds oddly like a people saying "O that there were a God who would not only bless me but promise to bless my household too!" only to find that Exodus 20:5-6, Acts 2:38-39, and Acts 16:31 ARE in the Bible! American churches - even Reformed ones - have been taking children out of worship for "children's church" and herding them into age segregated classes so long, we have often given the doctrine of the covenant little practical expression in church life. Perhaps this yearning will remind us to embrace the divine promise.
 
Lost and Found raises a host of excellent questions that pastors - and congregations - must learn to address if only to honestly confront the question: "Are we so smug and self-satisfied that our lives make Jesus Christ repellant for reasons besides the intrinsic offense of the Gospel?" Not every case study in the work will be received as useful, practical or lawful in every church situation. What would be helpful would be to see the research broken out by the theological commitments of the respective churches. Because most Reformed congregations are of average size, it would also be good to see similar work done regarding effective smaller churches. <a href="http://www.visionnewengland.org/">Vision New England's</a> research into New England congregations is helpful in this way.
 
Reaching young unchurched adults is the concern of every church. Lost and Found serves a useful purpose in allowing us to move past our opinions of what "should" be and begin to consider the obstacles confronting us in this task. If it moves us to move beyond our pettiness, our coldness of heart, and hypocrisy, by God's grace, it will have been well worth the reader's time. 

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Rev. Chuck Huckaby is an Associate Editor of The Christian Observer. He has ministerial standing in the Calvin Synod of the Hungarian Reformed Church.

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