Tipping Point (noun): the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.
If current trajectories continue, American churches will pass a tipping point. Our congregations will begin a likely unstoppable path toward decline that will rival many European churches of the past century. If there is not a significant movement of revitalization, there will be an accelerated rate of decline and death. The good news is that many leaders are not denying this reality. They are seeking God and responding obediently. (Tom Rainer)
If you attended the New Year’s Eve service you heard me ask, “What are you worried about for 2019?” I’m somewhat worried about the Church. I’m one of the leaders Tom Rainer talks about in his article, “American Churches are at a Tipping Point” because I don’t deny the reality that the Church in America is changing. God brought me into it in the mid-1990s and I’ve been a member of five LCMS congregations of varying strength—from less than 50 members to over 3,000. I’ve seen a lot of change in twenty years, but what’s getting me lately is a seemingly increasing lackadaisical response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps it’s nothing new; I’ve read the church bulletins from 1941 and pastor Meissinger appeared to be dealing with the same thing. And that was even during a time of nation-wide growth in the Church!
At any rate, I’m not too worried because, according to all the current literature on the subject, we’re not on a theological tipping point as far as our congregation goes, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as well. While other denominations (and non-denominations) wrangle with the authority and veracity of Scripture, we still have a solid, biblical foundation and the Lutheran Confessions to learn from. However, even a solid biblical foundation doesn’t seem to be enough to keep people coming to hear the good news about what God has done for them.
I could read all of Tom Rainer’s books and those of researchers like him until I’m dead without having any real answers to the questions about declining church participation. So this year I’m committing myself even more to let Jesus teach me about it. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what he’s trying to teach us when he talks about people being hard soil and good soil. More on that later… We’re entering the season of Epiphany which will go from January 13th to March 3rd. The epistle readings during that time will be from 1 Corinthians chapter 12 through 15. It’ll be a time to let Jesus teach us more about the Church he started and gave to us as a gift with eternal benefits. I encourage you to read from 1 Corinthians ahead of time before the Sunday services. I will also lead us in learning more about the Church and these readings in the lower level of the sanctuary between services.
Below is a snapshot of the epistle readings during Epiphany. I plan to preach on these readings, but please don’t hold me to be strict about it—I may jump off of 1 Corinthians if I feel the need to preach on another text. Like I said on New Year’s Eve, we don’t know everything 2019 has in store for us yet.
Still, I am not discouraged. The tipping point is not inevitable. With whatever years God gives me, with whatever breaths I have remaining to breathe, I ask God to use me to serve Him and you with unwavering commitment. Happy New year with abundant blessings from God,
Epiphany 2 – Jan 20: 1 Cor. 12:1-11
Epiphany 3 – Jan 27: 1 Cor. 12:12-31
Epiphany 4 – Feb 3: 1 Cor. 12:31—13:13
Epiphany 5 – Feb 10: 1 Cor. 14:12-20
Epiphany 6 – Feb 17: 1 Cor. 15:1-11, 12-20
Epiphany 7 – Feb 24: 1 Cor. 15:21-26, 30-42
Epiphany 8 – Mar 3: 1 Cor. 15:42-52, 53-58