Billy Crystal once said (in the movie City Slickers), "When you’re a teenager you think you can do anything… and you do. Your 20’s are a blur! 30’s ….you raise your family...You make a little money...
And you think to yourself….”what happened to my 20’s ???”
40’s - you grow a little pot belly...You grow another chin...The music starts to get too loud...One of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grand mother! 50’s - you have a minor surgery...You’ll call it a procedure…but it’s a surgery. 60’s - you’ll have a MAJOR surgery...The music is STILL loud...but it doesn’t matter because you can’t hear it ANYWAY.
70’s - you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale...You start eating dinner at 2 o clock in the afternoon...You have lunch around 10...Breakfast the night before...You spend most of your time wandering around malls, looking for the ultimate soft yogurt, and muttering “how come the kids don’t call! how come the kids don’t call?” Your 80’s you’ll have a MAJOR stroke...You end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can’t stand, but whom you call MAMA."
That kind of middle-aged rant is the sort of thing Christians today ought to pay attention to. You might think that believers in Jesus would have a more positive view of life. But none of the believers I know do. That's because the Church in Western Culture is like Billy Crystal's man turning 40. Except we're turning 60 or 70, and we're all getting cranky.
The Western-Evangelical-Church was in her 20s back in the 1920s and 30s. That's why evangelism back then boiled down to "Jesus saves, he keeps, he satisfies." And that's why going out on mission seemed like such a natural, uncomplicated thing. With the idealistic abandon of a 20 year old, believers started churches, opened missions, lovingly embraced the poor and the down-and-out. And we did it all on faith and a shoe-string.
World War II made the church "grow up" -- or at least think it was growing up. The 1950s were a time of incorporation. Those fledgling ministries that folks were doing out of their livingrooms back in the 30s took on a corporate presence after 1950. Many expanded into international operations during that time. So did the liberal church. It was then that evangelicals really began to shun what was now being called "social gospel" and to embrace an educational model that, frankly, had somehow lost a whole lot of the idealism of the younger part of the movement.
In the 60s we all complained a lot about how the music was getting too loud and hung tenaciously onto ways of doing things that had worked well for our parents, so surely they'd work well for us. And in the 70s we had a major mid-life crisis and started throwing out all the old ways because they weren't working, like a middle-aged man who buys a motorcycle (I did -- at 45) and then tries to dress, talk, and drink like his children's friends. Of course, the problem with that kind of thing is that the body of a 50 year old simply doesn't bounce back the way it did in its 20s.
I have been hearing since around 1985 that revival is coming to the church. This is what happens after the mid-life crisis. Those on the high side of middle-age somehow know that things will never be the way they once were. They also know that they've gotten too old to party with the kids. And so begins the cycle of diets and wrinkle creams, of putting in an 8 hour day because you still have to, but the excitement has gone out of it all. Though you say, "I'm getting better every day," you're really waiting to retire, not revive.
For the past ten years or so I have made a habit of trying to listen to what's going on in the church, and like a lot of other listeners, I have been really worried about the ol' girl. Eighteen hundred pastors a month leave the ministry because of burn-out, discontent, moral or ethical failure. Churches everywhere have For Sale signs on them. The only place where the church in America is growing seems to in recent church plants and alternative churches. When's the last time you heard of a church with a pipe organ and pews that was bigger and better this year than last?
Grandma is in her 80s now and she's not looking all that well to most of us. To hear her talk is a litany of her aches and pains; of the pills she has to take every day just to keep going; of dwindling finances and lost hopes and dreams. And she has taken to rearranging the old furniture rather than buying new pieces. Revival? She hasn't been truly evangelistic in years. I think she's waiting to die.
What's to be done, assuming that Jesus' return isn't just around the corner?
Grandma has an inheritance of prayer, a memory of God's provision, a legacy of faith lived in the vital moment that she can share with the fledgling church planters and ministry entrepreneurs who are coming along. But in order to share it well, she will have to give up her grump and focus her attention for a moment to have the conversation. She may even find a few who enter into dialog with her whom she'd like to leave a legacy with when she goes. What they do with that money and with the buildings and property she will leave behind needs to be a matter of trust on her part; trust in a good God who is able to provide in unique ways for the next wave of his grace just as he once did for her.
And God will have a next wave. He always does. But it won't be a wave of REvival. It will be a wave of those in desperate need discovering a God of desperate love. It will be a VIVal, if you will. Yes, I can show you examples of churches in their dotage that planted a new daughter church. But I believe the crisis is not yet upon us. It is close. And when it comes, it will look very much like the church has failed and disintegrated. And out of the ashes and the need of people's hearts will rise an entirely new church that we have not yet seen and none of us yet knows.