Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America. (NY: Doubleday, 2010).
North America can no longer be described as Christian. While Christianity once dominated the conversation, we’re now relegated to the margins. Some would like to see us move further away.
Lyons is familiar with the landscape, having helped lead the study which produced the book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity . . . And Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007).
In The Next Christians, Lyons offers a path forward in this new terrain. The path holds challenges, but Lyons calls for hope in God and summons the church to “re-envision” our Christian faith.
The book begins with Lyons’ picture of the changing landscape and a glimpse of way forward, captured in the word, “restoration.” Restoration marks the essence of the “next Christians,” the term Lyons uses to describe those who will create a new paradigm for Christianity in a post-Christian society.
Part two describes the six characteristics of “next Christians.” They are:
- Provoked, not offended
- Creators, not critics
- Called, not employed
- Grounded, not distracted
- In community, not alone
- Countercultural, not “relevant”
At Kingswood University (kingswood.edu), we are currently retooling to provide church leadership for a post-Christian North America. Lyons’ list provides a good overview of the kind of leader we hope to develop.
My only quibble with this book concerns Lyons’ third characteristic: “Called, not employed.” I wholeheartedly support his contention that “next Christians” must approach ministry as a calling, rather than just a job. That should always be the case for those called to minister. I also agree that ministry in the 21st century will involve laypeople serving Christ through their calling and that these laypeople should shed any feeling of being second-class citizens.
Unfortunately, Lyons makes a common mistake here. In an effort to rightly correct the misunderstanding that only some are called, he implies that all are equally called. Scripture, church history, and the personal experience of many make clear that while everyone is called to ministry, some are privileged—one might say burdened—with the responsibility of serving those who serve. The two are not mutually exclusive.
This fault is minor compared to the tremendous contribution to be gained from Lyon’s latest counsel to the church. Readers will benefit from this prescription for future ministry impact.