In early June I read about a man named Jan Grzebski, who lives in Poland. Grzebski fell into a coma in 1988 after an accident and woke up recently to democracy and a free market economy. He cannot believe the changes that have taken place in Poland in 19 years. Describing his memory of communism, Grzebski said, “When I went into a coma, there was only tea and vinegar in the shops, meat was rationed and huge petrol lines were everywhere. Now I see people on the streets with cell phones, and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin.”
Imagine how our world has changed in the past 20 years. Globalism began in earnest when the Berlin wall came down in November, 1989. I studied in West Berlin, Germany, in 1974-75 and experienced first-hand how our world was divided into two economic systems: communism and capitalism. I saw two different ways of living. I saw freedom and repression. I saw vitality in West Berlin and drabness in East Berlin. I saw both richness and poverty in the west and a limited but secure life in the east.
It was just a wall – or was it? Couple freedom of movement, which was now possible in former communist countries, with the advent of computers, which facilitated a free exchange of information and ideas, and the world became a much larger – or smaller – place.
One of the greatest gifts technology has brought to the 21st century is its sense of empowerment. Through the internet, teenagers in Vietnam, China, Lithuania and Chile have the same tools, information, software and knowledge at their fingertips than we have in the United States. As of last year, Google was available in 116 different languages. There are one billion google searches every day (up from 150 million just 3 years ago), with only one third of those searches from the United States and less than half in English.
Granted, there are still areas of our world, like Africa and the Middle East, where the Internet has not yet made great inroads. However, there is no doubt that in the future, our world will be led by people who are much more diverse than today. Being American no longer gives us an automatic advantage. Our youngest daughter, Talitha, who is in the business school at the University of Michigan, testifies to the global nature of the “B” school. A few years ago, she was the only Caucasian in one of her classes – most of the other students were from India and Asia.
I am concerned that many young people in America today don’t have the same drive as young people in other parts of the world. Call it a feeling of entitlement, call it too many video games and TV, or call it having the wrong heroes. We don’t seem to have the same hunger as young people elsewhere who have never had the money and privileges many Americans have.
In his book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman gives this advice to his daughters, “Girls, when I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, ‘Tom, finish your dinner – people in China and India are starving.’ My advice to you is: Girls, finish your homework – people in China and India are starving for your jobs.” (p. 277)
We have even grown complacent in the church. The United Methodist Church is becoming more globalized every year, yet the U.S. church is not keeping up. Who would have ever thought 30 years ago that in 2008, there would be 44 General Conference delegates from Nigeria and 38 from North Katanga, but only 6 from West Michigan? The face of our denomination is changing.
We don’t live in the 1950’s anymore, when all we had to do was open the doors of the church, and people flocked in. Church growth doesn’t just happen in local churches. The first step is to decide we want to reach out and grow. The second step is to develop an intentional plan to make disciples for Jesus Christ. And the third step is to allow God to set ourselves on fire with the Holy Spirit.
As a denomination, we must put more emphasis on starting new churches. It’s not going to be enough to start one new church in our conference every year. In addition, we all have to actively support our new churches through financial, prayer and human resource support.
At the same time, we need to find ways to revitalize existing churches and reinvent how we do worship, evangelism, education and outreach. We need to create a permission-giving environment where church members are encouraged and given the tools to start new ministries.
Finally, as pastors, we can no longer rely on guaranteed appointments to carry us along into retirement. Good is no longer good enough. We must pursue excellence in ministry if not for our sake but for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
People in your towns are starving to know the grace of Jesus Christ. Just as people the world over have become empowered by technology to improve their lives, so people right next door yearn to be empowered by the Spirit. They need the faith, hope and love that we can offer.
Are you willing to reinvent who you are as pastors and congregations to reach them?