Best advice: stay out of the water. But, unfortunately my friends, the fact is we are in the water and the name of this fast moving river is Time. Time is carrying us along at an alarming pace and it does affect the way we do church and the way we think about sharing the Gospel.
So, we've got two choices: swim against the times or swim with them.
Swimming against the times: best example of this, in my opinion, the Russian Orthodox Church. Basically hasn't changed it's service, it's attitude or it's location since old St. Basil came out from Byzantium to get them started with an alphabet and a liturgy. The Church doesn't speak to the culture at all, but it does speak against it frequently. The Church resists change. After all, since nothing has changed in the way we do church for a thousand years, it must mean that we're doing it pretty close to the way the original Christians must have done it. The Church is there to provide an entry point into another world: the building itself is the very lobby of heaven, complete with icons and incense and gold and ceremony and worship. The purpose of the church is to worship God and when people in the world are ready for God they will come to the church and be changed by he church. No evangelism or advertising necessary.
Then theres swimming with the times: The Church in this paradigm goes with the flow and employs the very latest gadgetry and appropriates cultural symbols like music and film and art and redefines them in a God glorifying way. You probably won't find icons but you will find big screens in these churches. The preachers in these churches seek to use current terms to describe ancient truths and always seek to make the Gospel relevant to what is going on in the world today. In this model, the church doesn't wait for you to ask about God and come looking: rather, the Church takes it's message to the streets and pushes people to consider what they believe and why. The downside is that sometimes this paradigm can lose it's Gospel orientation and be subsumed into the culture. (A little like hitting a rock mid-stream hard and going under).
So which one is best? I know I favor swimming with the times. That's why I'm an evangelical and that's why I struggle (as Willow Creek puts it so well) to "remove every obstacle but the obstacle of the cross" so that people can meet Jesus. It means we can't ever rest. It means we always have to be engaged and swimming and let's face it, it is tiring. It's hard to stay current and it's hard to stay relevant. But it can also be exciting.
A couple of things reminded me this week that, once again, I have to get with the times. In the pre-marriage class I referenced "All in the Family," that famous sitcom featuring Archie Bunker, his wife Edith and family. Nobody in the class (5 or 6 couples) had ever heard of the show.
Today I got my hair cut. The young stylist and I had a good conversation. What do I want my hair to look like? "Well, like the Pet Shop Boys," I said. "Who?", she replied. Exactly.
I'm only 41 and already I can't play Catch My Reference with the 20 somethings.... The River Time is rolling on. And we have to keep swimming because we have a Message to deliver to the next generation.
I think it was exhaustion with staying relevant and swimming to keep up with the times that made some of our Latvian friends desert the Evangelical Church and become Orthodox. No more prayers to make up, no more creative sermons to write, no more need to make every message count or to explain every point for the seekers and the new believers. Nope. Just do it like they've always done it because it isn't about us, it's about Him. It's a very comforting thought that He isn't dependent on us. But on the other hand, he did invite us to share in the mission of getting the word out. And so everyone, back into the water, it's time to keep on swimming until the whole world knows Jesus is Lord.