World’s Biggest Problems

What are the world’s biggest problems?  Have you ever tried to name them?  I recently stumbled across a portal on the website of the think tank Arlington Institute called World’s Biggest Problems (WBP).  The mission of WBP is simply to inform you and me about the biggest problems facing humanity.  The 2 criteria used to determine these problems are that they must be global in scope and have the potential to rapidly escalate into crisis.  Here are the world’s biggest problems:

  • Economic Collapse: The world economy is currently in a very fragile state.
  • Peak Oil: Many experts believe we may be reaching a permanent peak in oil production.
  • Global Water Crisis: Because of pollution, poor civic planning and unsustainable agricultural practices, our overall water supply has decreased.
  • Species Extinction: If animal and plants species continue to go extinct, it will affect our human food supply and thus our very existence.
  • Rapid Climate Change: While its causes may be debatable, global warming is a reality and affects every corner of our world.   

What I found most interesting about the website is that the staff of WBP does not seek to persuade people to do anything about the problems but only to educate about the problem.

Are you aware that Earth Day 2009 is this Wednesday, April 22?  Knowing that negotiations for a new global climate agreement are approaching in December, organizers of this 39th Earth Day are marking the beginning of a year long emphasis called The Green Generation Campaign.  The goals of this campaign include:

  • Working toward a carbon-free future based on renewable energy and lessening our common dependency on fossil fuels.
  • Urging commitments from individuals for responsible, sustainable consumption.
  • Creating a green economy that not only provides green jobs but transforms our global environment.

The difference between the World’s Biggest Problems portal and the Earth Day network is revealing.  The mission of Earth Day organizers is not simply to educate and inform but to “protect the world and its people every day” and be a catalyst for positive change.

What do you suppose are the church’s biggest problems?  When I overhear conversations in local churches, it would be easy to come away with the impression that our biggest problems include:

  • Putting words to hymns on a screen instead of using hymnals
  • Ushers who don’t wear ties    
  • Outside groups that don’t clean up after themselves
  • Too many special offerings

Admittedly, these “local” problems can rapidly and astonishingly escalate into crisis.  However, they have to be classified as “petty in scope,” not “global in scope.”  If I were asked to name the church’s biggest problems, this is what I would choose:

  • A 40 year membership decline: we’ve watched an entire generation of young people leave our churches without so much as batting an eyelash.
  • Irrelevance: we are unable to speak to and connect with our culture.
  • An inward focus: rather than address the world’s biggest problems, we have been preoccupied with our own institutional survival.
  • We’ve lost our vision: we no longer have a passion for witnessing to our faith and making disciples by sharing the love of Jesus Christ.

Like the World’s Biggest Problems, these church problems are global in scope and have demonstrated potential to rapidly escalate into crisis.  Unfortunately, like the WBP’s desire only to inform, The United Methodist Church has for many years chosen only to lament and gather statistics about the problems rather than address them directly, set achievable goals and become a catalyst for change. 

We’re finally getting it, however!  The fresh wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing through The United Methodist Church.  Denominational agencies, annual conferences and local churches are joining together as never before to address the church’s biggest problems by tackling the world’s biggest problems.  We’ve rediscovered the secret to our survival: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)  When we lose ourselves in mission, we become co-creators with God in bringing salvation and redemption to our world.

The United Methodist Church has decided where to focus its energies and has developed strategies with achievable goals in 4 areas: developing clergy and lay leadership, starting new churches and transforming existing churches, being in ministry with the poor, and participating in global health initiatives to fight disease.  

Most exciting to me is our denominational welcoming and publicity campaign called “Rethink Church.”  By now each of our local churches should have received a DVD to roll out the campaign.  Rethink Church follows up on our 8 year old welcoming and advertising campaign, “Open hearts, open minds and open doors,” by encouraging congregations to reach out beyond the walls of the church to impact the world.

Rethink Church is beginning to engage our culture through social networks like Facebook and Twitter as well as Google, billboards, TV and magazines.  The campaign also offers creative ideas for local churches to go out into their communities to share the hope that we know in Jesus Christ. 

Are you ready to rethink church?

What if church were not a noun but a verb?
What if church were less about Sunday and more about the other days of the week?
What if our faith engaged the world?
What if church were thousands of doors, each opening up to a different concept or experience of church?
What if the church were actively creating solutions for the world’s biggest problems as well as the problems of daily life? 
What if we, the church, invited the world to join us in solving them?

Blessings, Laurie

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