What I’m Currently Reading – The Great Evangelical Recession (Part Two)

20140130-151257.jpgIn the previous post, I outlined John S. Dickerson’s Six Trends of Decline he presents in his book, The Great Evangelical Recession.

As I stated, I believe the picture he is painting regarding the Evangelical church in the U.S., while inauspicious, is a fair representation.  I was surprised to experience the forthrightness with which he wrote and it reveals to me that this brother is genuinely concerned about the state of affairs in the Evangelical world.  I can appreciate both his candor, hard work in preparing this book and his heart in doing so.

The author’s heart and intention is revealed as genuine as he takes the second half of the book to offer, Six Solutions for Recovery.  He even encourages the reader moving forward in the process to put the book down at times and pray that God’s agenda would take preeminence over man’s agendas.

Under the heading, All We’ve Learned Is No Help If We Don’t Act on it, Dickerson offers the following: (pages 124-125)

It takes great resolve and moral energy to be proactive and strategic rather than reactive and manic. Changing the course of our ministries will be difficult. It will be misunderstood. It will be demanding. But times of crisis require leaders to lead.

George Barna has written about the future of the evangelical church: “The changes that so many lament today will give rise to a more nimble, alert, discerning and adventurous church…. Shifting from the known to the unknown is always uncomfortable, but intelligent and responsive changes will birth a church better able to minister effectively in the new millennium.”

Aware of the need for proactive, strategic change, we now shift gears. From researching to planning.  From observing to preparing.  From absorbing facts to prayerfully leading.

The Six Solutions for Recovery are listed as follows:

1.  Re-Valuing –  In comparing the 21st century church to the 1st century church, the author brings a call for evangelicals to reconsider means and methods currently being used and to abandon “our” strength.  He encourages an acknowledgement of our weakness and the necessity of depending on the Holy Spirit and His “power”.  He quotes the great missionary J. Hudson Taylor to bring clarity to his call:

We have given too much attention to methods and to machinery and to resources, and too little to the Source of power, the filling with the Holy Ghost.

2.  Good – The author suggests that in order for evangelicals to effectively live in an ever increasing hostile host culture, they must put their best foot forward.  Essentially, he intimates that the church must proactively offer God’s goodness (love) to hostile groups in culture rather than a religious, judgmental attitude.  He spends the majority of the chapter in reference to the homosexual community and how the church should interact with that particular segment of society.

3.  Uniting – In this chapter, Dickerson sets forth The Simple Formula for Evangelical Unity.  Basically, he presents “the essentials” for faith/doctrine that must be agreed upon within the movement.

These are: the Trinity; the depravity of man; substitutionary atonement; Christ’s complete humanity and complete deity; the sufficiency and exclusivity of Christ’s work; the need for a personal relationship with Christ.

He then takes space to set forth the crown jewel of the essentials – the essential doctrine of the authority of scripture.

In all “non-essentials”, the author encourages charity as the ingredient in the unity formula.  While these non-essentials are important matters, such matters should not be so important as to divide the church and we should be able to graciously disagree while continuing to walk together.

Finally, in this chapter, the author briefly addresses the division that can be caused by political stances and issues. Here the writer calls for respect and consideration for differing political views within the church but that the top priority among believers remain Biblical unity.

4.  Solvent – This chapter’s sub-heading is How to Recession Proof Your Ministry, Financially.  Dickerson sets forth the following 4 steps for the evangelical minister to survive in the face of a continued downturn in donations.

  1. Hybrid Ministry: Learn and launch ministry models that do not depend solely on paid staff.
  2. Conservation: Avoid debt obligations beyond the next ten years.
  3. Preparation:  Teach mature givers about the evangelical recession and create legacy vehicles, such as bequeathals or ministry trusts, so their gifts can outlive them.
  4. Abandon: Disciple the church in life surrender and biblical giving.

5. Healing – The author suggests that the evangelical church is hemorrhaging members because its leaders, its servants and its people have forgotten how to make disciples as Jesus described and modeled.

The church must first heal leaders, remove false burdens of responsibility and expectations from them and then permit them to return to shepherding and discipling members of the Body.  The way this is to occur, the author suggests, is through the biblical model of shepherding which is not for the Lead Pastor and ministry CEOs to know every single sheep but to know a core of under-shepherds who do know the sheep and who lead and feed the sheep.

6. Re-Igniting – In the final chapter of his book, Dickerson explains how to restart the sputtering engine of evangelism in the church. Essentially, he expresses the need to continue to engage non-believers through “big hitter” evangelists and seeker events but to add what he terms, “long tail” evangelists, to evangelism efforts.

He enlists the term “long tail” from various fields of industry that have identified that there are elite resources which compose the “head”of an organization or industry and then there are more common resources that make up the “long tail”.  When you engage the more common resources as a whole, it has a reach and compound effectiveness that can be, though different than the “head”, effective in its own way in accomplishment.  For clarification, you can have a Billy Graham crusade (head) for evangelism and you can teach engage all church members (long tail) in evangelism.  Both can achieve results and both are needed rather than just utilizing one.

Further explanation regarding the “Long Tail” idea can be seen in Dickerson’s own words: (page 214)

My point here is not to sell you on one method of modeling or training personal evangelism. My point is to convince you simply to elevate personal evangelism as a priority – first for staff and leaders, and then for every individual disciple in the Long Tail.

Long Tail evangelists aren’t Sunday Christians who heard a good pep talk or attended a workshop. Long Tail evangelist are radically transformed disciples who are so passionate abut Christ that they don’t hesitate to explain Him – to coworkers, to family and to neighbors. These are the average Joe Christians we see setting history ablaze with the gospel in the book of Acts.

Conclusion – Finally, Dickerson exhorts the reader to consider the heritage of 20th century evangelical leaders – Billy Graham, Harold Ockenga, Carl F. H. Henry – and historical Reformers – Wycliffe, Calvin, Luther, Zwingli – as they recognized where the church veered from God’s plan and were willing to pay the price to return.

He adds this admonishment: (page 218)

We stand at the hinge of a great moving in Christ’s church. God, in His plan, placed us at this time of historic opportunity. His most valuable possession – His Bride – is ours to guide gently and boldly through the 21st century. She will either draw closer to His heart and plan, or drift further from it. Her spiritual decay or restoration depends, in your sphere, on you and your leadership.

We do not know every solution to the church’s many problems. What we do know is this: The United States church is moving with speed and momentum in a direction that includes lethargic discipleship, sputtering evangelism, abandoned unity, pending bankruptcy and failed ambassadorship to the lost. We are in need of a historic course correction, lest we run aground.

Well, that concludes the summation of The Great Evangelical Recession by John S. Dickerson.  In my next post, I will offer my perspective about the book and some of its key points and suggestions.

Keep your peace!

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