Should We Change Our Game Plan? (Part 2)
The sports metaphors continue in Chapter 2 of Should We Change Our Game Plan? as George Hunter contends that the church no longer enjoys the "home-field advantage." In college communities where the football season is sacred, one can easily sense the passion exuded by the fans. Signs of support and spirit are displayed on vehicles, homes, articles of clothing, and in local businesses. There is a sense of pride and knowledge of the local team throughout the community.
For centuries, the church served as the center of communities, and the church influenced every area of life and influenced most of the people of the society. With the rise of nation-states and the development of social and natural sciences in recent centuries though, society has become tremendously secularized, producing secular people. George Hunter unpacks his profile of secular people in Should We Change Our Game Plan? in a way that I find particularly accurate and helpful.
First, there is increased ignorance regarding basic Christianity. I had assumed that most people have a basic understanding of Christianity and the church, even if people aren't Christian or don't attend church, This assumption was shattered at a recent visit to a local park with my son. He began playing hide-and-go-seek on the playground with a couple of other children, so I started making small talk with their mothers, who were sitting on the nearby benches. I happened to be wearing a T-shirt from one of my alma maters, and one of the mothers asked me if I attended the school. I told her "yes," and she commented about the quality and prestige of the school. She then asked what I studied there, and I told her that I went to the seminary and am working on my Doctor of Ministry degree. She looked confused and then asked me to define ministry and what a pastor does. This woman was born and raised in China, but had come to the United States (and the Southeast, no less) fifteen years ago to attend college. I have to admit that I was taken aback that someone in my Bible belt neighborhood had zero understanding or knowledge of church.
Another major shift that has occurred is the movement from community focus to individualism. People have a greater sense of freedom with a consumer society that tells them they can have and be anything they want. While this freedom has allowed some to excel, many others feel their lives and world are spinning out of control. We live in a society marked with school shootings and threats of terrorism that are jolting to people's sense of security. In our "the customer's always right" world, we also find people in a perpetual state of discontent, trying to fill their lives with more stuff, status, and a range of obsessions and compulsions. My husband, a police officer in an affluent, educated community, has been shocked by the rates of alcohol and substance abuse that he regularly encounters. The church has a tremendous opportunity to bring people back into community and ground them in Christian hope of the promised Kingdom of God.
A final shift is the focus from death to life. Before recent advancements in medical science, every sickness and childbirth were crises. In the past few months, I was reminded of the high infant and maternal mortality rates as recent as the 1800s in two tours I took in antebellum mansions. In that world, people needed to hear the promises of life after death. With increased life spans and preventative medicine, people now have the time to ask and focus on questions about the meaning and purpose of life. Since Jesus spent much more time talking about how to live and love than he did about talking about death, the church can offer answers to these significant questions of life.
Now that we have a basic understanding of how the game has changed, and that society no longer plays on our turf, we’re forced to remember that "the true church is a mission whose primary calling is to join the Holy Spirit in finding, loving, serving, and reaching lost people who need to be found; if this does not at least begin on the target population’s turf, it isn’t likely to happen at all" (p. 39).1
Now to move our players from suiting up and sitting on the bench to actually getting on the field and playing the game…