I am reading Ecclesiastes 3 in preparation to teach this Sunday morning and I find myself pondering the implications of these words for the church today.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;…a time to break down, and a time to build up;…a time to keep, and a time to cast away…” (3:1-2, 3b, 6b).

Nothing is immovable or impervious to change – except, it seems, the sacred cows of the traditional church. The approach to ministry and culture by the Western church over the past century has served the Kingdom in the West well, although we began to see cracks in the foundation in the early 1960’s. But with a century of cultural traction gained by a society that for decades embraced traditional Judeo-Christian values comes the false security and assumption that the way the gospel has always been communicated within the context of Western culture is the way that it should continue to be communicated; they way that people have been discipled in years past remains the way to disciple in the 21st century; and the language people have long-sense adopted to speak about God still resonates in the hearts and ears of the hearer.

But the reality about Western culture is that it is post-Christian, post-modern, secular, religiously diverse, and intolerant of a comprehensive, expansive view of life governed by God and applicable to all people. This means the assumptions of the traditional church – speaking of the structure and approach of the church, not the gospel – and the nature and efficacy of an out-dated contextualization, can no be assumed as effective.

The challenge, as I see it, is in seeking God’s wisdom to know when: what has planted may need to be plucked up, and even re-planted; what has been discarded may need to be rebuilt; what we have long kept and treasured as sacred may need to be discarded. The question is then: what is on the table? What, within our traditional structure, is “out of season”?

I think there are multiple things up for consideration ranging from:

  1. when the people of God gather
  2. how often the people of God should gather weekly
  3. what should the people of God do when they gather as it relates to discipleship, ministry, evangelism, worship and mission
  4. how should we express ourselves to God in our affections through corporate worship (hymns, choruses, instrumentation, drama, media, etc)
  5. what is the best use of our time regarding discipleship (does Sunday school still work?)
  6. how do we maximize Christian fellowship when we gather (small groups or no, that is the question)
  7. how do we best communicate the gospel in our community
  8. where should we take the gospel in our community
  9. how are we spending our resources
  10. what is the role of the teaching pastors and other pastors? are they professionals and in what way should our expectations be shaped by culture? in what ways are we ignoring the burden Scripture places on our pastors and replacing the burden with a humanly conceived, culturally-dictated expectation?

The questions are many. I bet you even have some you could add to this list. What are they? We need God’s wisdom to know what season this is for the church in the West, and God’s humility to lay aside our comfortable, preconceived, packaged ways of contextualizing the Gospel and seek the Spirit’s leadership and boldness to reinvent ourselves with God’s help for the good of all nations – including our own – and the health of Jesus’ church.