As a church leader, I realize the popularity and seemed importance of what I do has declined in recent years. Culture no longer values the voice of a pastor as the history of our nation would record that it once did. Even this week, the news of Louie Giglio’s exit as the pastor to pray at the inauguration of President Obama served as a sobering reminder…things have changed.
This is an interview with John S. Dickerson. Dickerson’s new book The Great Evangelical Recession identifies six factors of decline in the American Church and offers six solutions for leaders. Dickerson is a nationally awarded journalist and Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Prescott, AZ. His work has appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Q: How would you summarize your book, The Great Evangelical Recession?
A: Culture is changing faster and faster. The conflicts around Louie Giglio, Chic-fil-A and Hobby Lobby demonstrate this. Rapid change in American culture is already shaking evangelicalism, but it’s going to worsen because the rate of change is accelerating.
As shepherds we must identify where the Church is struggling to adapt. Then we must look to God’s Word to find solutions for our day. The Great Evangelical Recession does this by documenting factors of decline—and then by building Scripture-based solutions for each area of decline.
Q: Is the homosexual-evangelical conflict an example of this cultural change? And if so, what sort of solutions does your book suggest?
A: Yes, the conflict between the evangelical and LGBTQ communities is case in point. The book documents that in the last 15 years Americans have entirely reversed their views on homosexuality. Furthermore, each younger generation is radically more pro-homosexual, so this trend will accelerate as older Americans pass away.
My solution chapter argues that we need to start treating non-evangelical “tribes” in America the same way our missionaries treat foreign tribes in Africa or New Guinea, by suspending judgment, serving and modeling unconditional love–so Christ can reach their hearts.
The chapter grows from a word study of the Greek word “good” in the New Testament. “Good” is about deeds. It’s more nuanced than this, but here’s the gist of that solution:
1. Take God’s good deeds directly to the homosexual tribe in your life and community. Don’t wait for them to come to you.
2. Refuse to classify the homosexual tribe as some worse class of people. This is unbiblical and showcases poor theology.
3. As with any tribe, don’t focus on changing behavior. Focus on changing relationship to God through Christ.
4. Don’t be surprised when you are hated and misunderstood about this issue. You will be.
5. When you are hated or misunderstood, don’t defend yourself or other evangelicals with words. Instead, let your quiet good actions eclipse any accusations (1 Peter 2:12).
6. Keep on demonstrating God’s good-ness and unconditional love—to the homosexuals closest to you.
The book includes Scripture and examples, but that overview gives you a taste.
Q: Your book identifies six trends of decline in the American Church. Is every ministry declining in these ways?
A: Typical ministries will find many trends of decline apply to them, while some don’t. Take the funding crisis for example. On average, 76 percent of evangelical gifts come from the oldest two generations. Many ministries are unprepared for the decline of donations in the next 15 years. That trend won’t apply to young-demographic ministries—like Reality LA, but other trends will.
This book is really a tool for ministry leaders. It helps leaders identify which negative trends are at play in their specific ministry. The book then gives practical Biblical solutions to adjust course in any areas of weakness.
What do you think? How have your seen the culture and church change in your lifetime?