Europe – a matter of perspective – 3
PERSPECTIVE 3 : DISCIPLE THE NEXT GENERATION OR PERISH
There are two main observations that come to mind as Albania, an eastern European country thinks about the EU. The secular observation focuses on the hopeful economic development that EU countries could extend over to our country. Yet the Christian perspective—a sad one, is that of a shrinking church especially in some of the major EU countries. The latter is also observed in a correlation with the moral decay and deterioration which runs as deep as the most basic cell of society—the family. The Biblical values that once shaped the European society are rapidly declining and being despised. A spiritual hunch buzzes that this will eventually, if not already, have implications in the economy, politics, the media and beyond. Europe is coming to a tipping point, together with some other greater world economic powers.
We should ask the right questions, while visiting churches at some of the once great Christian nations of Europe; countries from which revivals sprang out to the ends of the earth. Why are most churches shrinking? Why is the majority of the membership at an older age? Why are some of the church facilities being sold to bars, social clubs, or worse? Why are there fewer and fewer European missionaries?
We are losing a generation. We are not discipling our children. Yes, the European church has values but it is failing to pass them on to the next generation. Yet children and youth are a third of the European population; a great potential; our present future, and within such an easy reach in the Christian family context. Sadly many Christian families are surrendering this sanctified responsibility to the local church. On the other hand many local churches are stressed out more with corporate events and are failing to disciple. Who is then discipling our children? Statistics say that most of the youth and children have access and are active receptors of internet media, committing a great deal of the potential character-shaping time to it, on devices bought by their own parents. By doing so, parents are avoiding their responsibility in spending time discipling their own children. Taking them to church for one hour a week will not outweigh the time that this world’s media disciples the next generation in our very own home.
There is some excitement that due to the economic migration, many other Christians are moving to Europe as well. The reality is that some of the larger churches in Europe now are the African, Latin American, Korean, Romanian or Chinese churches. Yes, in that aspect Christianity is being sustained in Europe. Yes, they have a lot to offer, but until now they have been strikingly nationally centered. Whilst it is legitimate to hope that these churches will eventually evangelize some of the unreached European nationals, on the other hand the European church should not expect that missionaries will also disciple the next generation of the existing European Christians. That task belongs first to the Christian families within their churches. This false expectation I think is another blind spot of the European church.
If we asked Jesus (and we still can) what is His vision and mission for the church he would again tell us to go and make disciples from our context all the way to the ends of the earth. Could it be that “the ends of the earth” is not just limited to a geographical expression but encompasses time as well? When did this mission and vision for His church end? If not, why are we struggling to find a vision? We have blind spots because at the present we are small and incapable to see the big picture. A greater risk in addition to the problem of having a unified vision, and blind spots, is the risk of being blindfolded. The European church is not lacking a vision—in general we are just looking in other directions, or not looking at all.
I rejoice in the fact that Proverbs 29:18a, “Where there is no vision the people perish…”, has been a theme in the past articles. Interesting enough, the whole book of Proverbs is expressed in the context of a father passing wisdom for everlasting life to his own son—the old generation to the new. The passage itself is sandwiched in the context of verse 29:17 “Correct your son, and he shall give you rest; yes, he shall give delight into your soul” and verse 29:18 continues: “but he that keeps the law, happy is he”. Even though our hearts are troubled for Old Europe, yet there are promises in God’s word. If we keep his commands, our Father will fulfill our hearts’ prayer. It will take a miracle of numerous miracles to transform Europe, so let us actively believe in God and see the fulfillment of the vision that Jesus has for his church, even in Europe. It already happened once, when one man, Jesus, discipled just twelve. The rest is the history that the Church of God in Europe should redeem.
Church Planter, VP of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance and founder of the International School of Theology and Leadership, Tirana.