Unlike much of the rest of the world (especially the global South), the Western church is no longer playing a “home game” but an “away game” in its relationship with the wider culture. Congregations and faith leaders are, generally, no longer at the center of community decision-making, but toward the edge of the conversation — if invited into the conversation at all.
Of course, there are exceptions to the general rule, often in the form of thriving Christian micro-cultures within the post-Christendom United States. One way to watch (and join) God at work in our changing ministry context is to look for redemptive responses of the church in those micro-cultures which are dealing adeptly with the new post-Christendom road we are traveling. What characterizes a sort of Western “underground” church doing well within a larger context of the church having been pushed to the margins of society?
I propose several clues. One is more “texture” than “structure” — congregations which do well in the post-Christendom West are more and more going to have a cozier relationship with the charismatic stream of Christianity.
Before Baptist folk break out in hives, I’m not talking about malformed charismatic expressions (although there will be plenty of those as well). Malformed charismatic practice is a kind of “new gnosticism” whose adherents claim special revelation and insight from God not available to anyone else. It is false prophecy. Some have at times told me that they believed God wanted me to do something. I usually responded that once God told me, then I’d do it.
But there’s an emerging softer charismatic expression energizing some churches and binding some translocal cooperation that is solidly biblical and completely refreshing. It is more cross-culturally accessible, appropriately expressive and engaged in worship, right-brained in its creativity, and open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in all of congregational life. There is, in particular, an emphasis on and petition for healing which I find to be very much in the stream of the ministry of Jesus.
My New Zealand friend Craig Vernall, pastor of one of the largest Kiwi churches and national leader for New Zealand Baptists, says that the key to the blend is “tying spirituality with pragmatism.” Kiwis are, by nature and culture, modest and practical people. This tamps down some of the stranger public expressions of being filled with the Spirit, while opening up the church to the idea that the Holy Spirit can be immediately and transformationally present in our lives and worship.
I am already seeing this soft charismatic tying of spirituality and pragmatism in local churches. I believe we will increasingly see such a posture becoming a binding factor for how churches and even denominations cooperate in the future. Churches from denominations which haven’t historically worked together will begin — are already beginning — to do so based on a soft charismatic posture that provides the basis for trust and cooperation. The Holy Spirit, as it turns out, is alive, well, and the uniting factor for missional cooperation across denominations in Western post-Christendom.