Forces in modern culture have combined to make many people both inside and outside the church very busy. In most families both parents are expected to work. Children are expected to complete an ever increasing mountain of homework and extracurricular activities, sports, music lessons, etc. Media vies for our near constant attention. In the midst of all this we are expected to build relationships and spend time with other people.
Secular culture has dealt with the increased demands marginally better than the church simply by placing some of these activities at times formerly reserved for religion. Sports games are scheduled on Sunday. Daily devotion and prayer are replaced by media consumption.
Christians feel the pressure more acutely as we try to meet the expectations of our culture and the expectations of the church. There are simply not enough hours to accomplish all these tasks and we cycle repeatedly through overwork, failure and guilt. We compare our religious accomplishments with those of the early Christians and find ourselves wanting. However, the early Christians in the cities of the Roman Empire lived in a culture with more free time than we imagine. Only men worked, perhaps as little as 20 hours per week and nearly half the days of the year were considered holidays. Their example indicates that some amount of free time is necessary for the cultivation of a life of faith and for the advancement of the Church.
While we should not abandon culture and must meet some of the expectations it places on us, Christians today must find ways to free up time. We must employ the Biblical remedies to busyness, not as laws but as dynamic practices we choose to structure our lives around. These remedies include Sabbath, Jubilee, simplicity, fasting, silence and retreat.
Sabbath is perhaps the easiest to implement. Christians should choose a day or other clearly defined period of time in which we regularly do no work. We should abstain not just from the things we do to earn money, but from anything that feels busy or required.
The rest of these practices can all be understood with respect to simplicity. Christians should choose to live in a way that does not require nearly so much energy to maintain. Generally we should choose smaller houses, cheaper or fewer cars, less shopping, etc. This would result in less need to work for some and in surplus money for others. Christians should choose to become and remain generally debt free and to help others achieve this goal. We should further revive the practices of fasting in various ways, silence and retreat, which can help balance the effects of media and culture on our lives.
Environmental issues have been at the forefront of cultural change in North America for a long time and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. Evangelical churches have missed a great opportunity to be part of this change and help direct its course. This failure has been a significant driver in the decline of organized religion over the past 50 years.
While environmental issues are not the primary focus of Scripture they are present in Scripture and occupy a place of prominence they do not have in evangelical churches today.
In the Old Testament it is clear that Israel was a leader in taking care of the earth, not a reluctant follower. The foundational stories of the Old Testament indicate that the entire creation was good, that human beings were to take care of the creation as their primary work and that problems with the creation are the result of human sin. The jubilee regulations in Leviticus require radical practices of Israel designed to refresh the whole created order, human, animal and earth. On the basis of these and other passages in Scripture the church should have always been working against environmental exploitation as part of its mandate.
However, when the Church failed to lead in this way the cause of environmental care was taken up by groups without a Biblical foundation and whose ethos is secular or even pagan in some cases. Environmental concern became associated with anti-Christian sentiment and so has been opposed or ignored by most Evangelicals. There exists now in the culture of our churches a prejudice against and resistance to most things environmental.
While there are some Evangelicals engaged in caring for creation, there is a great need today for the majority to turn in this direction. Not only is it important that we take care of what God has created, but our prejudice and apathy about environmentalism has created a cultural barrier to the Gospel. Many younger people raised outside the church write it off as irrelevant because of its failure to lead in this area. Many young people raised in the church are embarrassed by the anti-environmental prejudice of their parents and grandparents.
The leadership challenge today is how to move the body of Christ toward Biblical stewardship of creation. We must avoid simply following the lead of secular environmentalists and must speak revealed truth into the debate. We must move fast enough that change is perceptible to the younger generations and at the same time avoid radical moves that would alienate older Evangelicals and cause disunity.
Every November (or sometimes early December) we take our youth group on a Fall Retreat. There is a family connected to our church that loans us their house about two hours out of town. It is a great change from the city, super cheap and perfect for the youth. There are about 20 who go. We go on the same hike each year and have teaching, worship and lots of free time. Part of the idea is to just let them be together and see what happens. Whatever ideas they come up with I try to say yes if possible.
In the past I have always banned devices. I thought it would take away from these guys interacting with each other. I was wrong.
This year I allowed devices, mostly because I finally bought a smart phone and didn’t want to be hassled every time I pulled it out. I thought I would have to keep the youth from playing games by themselves. I was completely wrong. I had underestimated their ability to interact with each other around their devices. They played games together. They played all their favorite music and didn’t once try an inappropriate song. They read their bibles on devices and were more excited about it. They came up with themes for the weekend. They made videos and came up with video based activities.
In addition to all this they interacted with youth who weren’t even there almost as if they were. At one point a txt conversation started with one of the youth who wasn’t there. They passed around the phone and let everyone in the house ‘talk’ for a few minutes.
The end result of this was the most energy we have ever had on this retreat. The energy also lasted longer afterward because of the social media afterglow.
I still think that there need to be times when youth take an intentional break from media and all devices, but I was wrong to think God can’t do his work through them.