It’s difficult to predict the trajectory of a pitched baseball. Nearly impossible if the ball is lopsided. Richard Rohr says Western Christianity is lopsided. What’s the trajectory?
Spring training is right around the corner. Pitchers and catchers report first—mid-February. This is necessary since the variables involved in predicting the trajectory of a pitched baseball are vast. Heat, humidity, altitude, spin of the ball—all affect ball flight. And if a baseball’s lopsided, well, it’s outa here.
Richard Rohr says our Western spirituality is lopsided. He attributes this to so few prophets in local churches. It’s the role of the prophet to disrupt and help us die. They ought to work alongside priests. Priests show us how to live fruitfully—what we ought to be. Prophets acquaint us with reality—the way it is—including our false notions.
Ought and is represent half of the “four-chapter” gospel. In scriptures it’s creation-fall-redemption-restoration. On the street, it’s ought-is-can-will. Without prophets, churches are like baseballs with a quarter of their hide cut off. Makes for a lopsided ball.
Lopsided churches are long on what we ought to be and short of recognizing where we’re missing the mark. Rohr says too many priests confuse maintaining order with renewal. Prophets point this out, but we don’t like hearing painful news, especially about ourselves—or our church. It’s just human nature. “This is always painful at some level,” writes Rohr. “But part of us has to die if we are to grow larger.”
That’s critical, as the church’s influence in the Western world is getting smaller. As a result, the church is, spiritually speaking, in exile. It’s outside the upward trajectory of religious “Nones.” In fact, the church is on a downward trajectory while, by 2030, 50 percent of the US population will likely be nones.
Prophets seek to address this. I presently am collaborating with a handful of pastors, mostly millennials. They sense that the church, for all the good it does, is not on a trajectory to intersect nones. I help them come to grips with why.
For instance, I help pastors see why many religious Nones are open to the gospel but not to church. This is largely due to churches using old models (developed by baby boomers) that worked for years with the unchurched, says Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. Nones are not unchurched. They’re dechurched. They’re not coming to church. Been there, done that.
Prophets see this. They’re not superior to priests. In fact, they’re inferior. That’s what Jesus meant when he described John the Baptist as “the best prophet you’ll ever hear” (Mt. 11:9-11, The Message). But in heaven, “the lowliest person is ahead of him.” In eternity, we’ll be a royal priesthood, perfected. No gap between ought and is.
Until then, prophets are necessary. Right now it’s nearly impossible to predict the trajectory of lopsided churches. One thing for sure is that they’re not in the game when it comes to nones. But they could be. All it takes is priests and pastors collaborating with prophets. That would correct a lopsided church’s trajectory.