In the last decade, I have taken on the restoration of three old things. I do not bear all of the responsibility for these pursuits, but they have certainly defined my life in matters of time, finance, and, at times, frustration. The congregation I serve is blessed with a beautiful building constructed in 1927, complete with high ceilings, tile roofs, lovely windows, and original plumbing and wiring. My home was built in 1935, with limited storage, 1 bathroom, and lovely floors in desperate need of attention. My “fun” car is a 1977 MGB, complete with two carburetors, wire wheels, and no computers to tell me what’s wrong.
All of the things that make these old things cool and even beautiful require a lot of work on my end to keep them from falling into disrepair. And as it turns out, it’s a pretty apt metaphor for being a Christian in the 21st century.
The Restorationist Mindset
All of the aforementioned possessions not only takes extra care and time: they require a specific mindset. One where I must see myself as a restorationist, as someone committed to making something old work in a new era. I must be paid in the satisfaction of keeping old things working and improving them for others. I must outlast the difficulties and problems they will throw my way. And one where I must be willing to deal with stretches of time when these buildings or this car will be in the hands of craftsmen, costing me money along the way for their expertise. If my mindset is anything less than that, I will fail in my pursuit of restoration.
Contrast that mindset to that of the average American, one formed by a never-ending drumbeat of commercial promises. The mindset of the average American is impatient and busy, and doesn’t have time for broken things that they need to “just work”. This is definitely understandable, and we have engineered modern homes and cars to work most of the time. Fuel injection is a helluva technology. Computers and laminate floors solve a lot of problems. Building codes and safety considerations have made most structures safer, even if less interesting.
There is no denying that newer things are more convenient to own. That is a blessing. I am confident that my Camry will safety and efficiently get me where I need to go, whether to Kenosha or Kroger. But, let’s be honest, it is a pretty boring automobile and it’s basically identical to every other sedan in its class. Modern houses have more storage space and square feet, but the materials are often the product of sawdust and glue or some version of plastic. Let us not even speak of the loss of craftsmanship in all of these trades!
To summarize, most of us will gladly exchange our money to just get what we want: safe, easy, if boring, products. We are happy to be passive consumers rather than active restorers. And given the challenges the Church faces, that mindset won’t suffice.
In order to survive, the Church has embraced the role of service provider while American Christians have become a religious service consumer. Worship is degraded from the “work of the people” (the meaning of the word “liturgy”) to a lame concert. Sermons are not expositions of the Bible, but feel-good ditties. Christian expectations are to embrace God as a therapist rather than Lord. I could go on.
If this accurately describes even a fraction of the Church in America, then it goes to show what kind of a change in mindset is required of Christians. In an era of open hostility to the framework that the Christian worldview has provided, Christians worthy of the name can no longer understand themselves to be mere customers and passive consumers. It is not enough that they throw a few extra bones in the offering plate to pay for other people to do the hard work for them. Because the Church isn’t working well. It needs to be restored.
A Look at the Work that Lies Ahead
So the Christian must understand himself/herself to be a person dedicated to the work of restoration. (No, I am not referencing here the theological movement of Restorationism. That’s a whole other thing.) The work will be slow. It will be frustrating. It will cost money. And it will be unpopular. But it must be done.
The Christian simply must learn to be the kind of person who is up to restoration projects (like old houses) and is committed to making them better than they were before. Mere consumers of new, shiny things who expect everyone else to do the heavy lifting, need not apply for 21st century Christianity. You are not up to the task.
What might we want to accomplish? Here’s a wishlist:
1. Increased church attendance and membership.
2. Churches becoming active advocates and willing influencers in their locales.
3. The prevention of church buildings from being sold and converted to secular space. Nothing wrong with a little dominion!
4. Get Christians elected to political office and bring their distinctly Christian worldview to bear on the law.
5. Establish endowment funds or foundations that siphon money to fund struggling congregations. There are many, many very wealthy congregations that use funds only on themselves. While they grow, smaller congregations close their doors and neighborhoods are deprived of churches.
Though more could be suggested, let me suggest five disciplines that will be needed for the restoration work ahead:
1. Repentance and personal devotion. Restoration must begin within. We must be honest about our shortcomings in following Christ, repent, and rededicate ourselves to the task, daily if necessary.
2. The giving of time and money to build up the church as an ever-present social institution. Serious sacrifice will be required if the Church is to thrive. Sorry, but having <1% of a congregation giving just isn’t enough. If you don’t have money to give, then give of your time and talents.
3. The support of leadership who may have already responded to the call but are afraid of being left alone. Leaders often fail to live up to their title, so encourage them and provide an example. If they know the laity or other pastors have their back, they have the freedom to be more bold.
4. Involvement in the political process. If politics is downstream of culture and if laws make a difference, then Christians need to stop waiting for their favorite politicians to know what to do and why. Support the ones who “get it.” Block walk; vote in primaries, become a poll watcher, hound your reps, etc.
5. Withdrawal from competing social forces: entertainment, public schooling, etc. If Christians stopped living like secularists, we could at least influence popular culture. Christian parents need to take away screens and trash from their children and either oversee or withdraw from public schooling.
Nothing will improve if our mindset and outlook does not improve. Consider this just a stone in your shoe that seeks to challenge Christians to understand this moment in time in which they live. This is not a time for passive consumers, but social and religious restorationists. If you are an American Christian in the 21st century, that should now be your calling.