Caring to Share

This week’s eNewsletter feature
was written by Rev. Raymond Hylton,
FPCE Senior Pastor.

Dear friends,

I meet with our Evanston pastors at least once a month for fellowship, prayer, support, and to share general concerns about events transpiring in our town. Evanston is a very diverse community, and leading a church in this social context brings many challenges, frustrations as well as blessings.

Sometimes, in the course of our meetings, we talk about the state of the Church in our modern culture.

One of our pastors reminded us that the biggest challenge facing the Church in our secular culture is not diversity, intolerance, or rejection. The biggest problem is that most people just don’t seem to care. Faith and God are not consequential to them. People living in our communities simply do not see the need. Clearly, in our culture today, the greatest challenge to the church in North America will not be persecution so much as apathy.

We all agreed that people in our communities do not hate our churches or their pastors. People are experiencing a deep and general indifference. Our neighbors are simply happy living for goals and pleasures that take no account of God or spiritual transcendence.

The real source of our indifference (and by the way, this indifference is very much alive in the pews) stems from self-sufficient humanism. In other words, our highest good and greatest quest in life is personal well-being, happiness as physical satisfaction, self-determination. Hence, Church, God, and Christian community are peripheral—cultural accessories that we fit in if there is time.

When Dr. Andrew Root comes for our All Church Retreat in two weeks, March 13-14, he will help us unpack what it means to be the church, making disciples in an anxious age.  Please click that link for registration details.

While Dr. Root is with us, you will hear him talk about this in terms of the “buffered self,” a term coined by Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor.

There was a time when the human family felt vulnerable to spirits both good and evil, and was aware that there was something or someone beyond the physical world.

What the pastors in Evanston are lamenting today is the loss of sensitivity and vulnerability to the One who is truly beyond us. Please don’t misunderstand me — our neighbors may well still claim to believe in God, but they no longer need God for meaning and significance. We end up with what Robert Bellah calls “expressive individualism.” This form of individualism sees its highest devotion to personal human flourishing — no god(s) really needed. 

At our pastoral meeting, the clock moved closer to noon and our clergy meeting was ending, but we didn’t leave dispirited or glum about the future of the Church. As our neighbors continue asserting their autonomy and personal perception of God on their terms, this path is unsustainable. The human self cannot survive on a diet of selfish autonomy. Even as we may deny it in our daily lives or by the evidence of the nightly news, humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” in the image of God (Psalm 8). Our neighbors are, in fact, intensely interested in spiritual things — they may no longer know it very clearly, or have lost the language. The Church needs to be ready to share the Word and the living water that quenches humanity’s deepest thirsts, just as Jesus did with the unknowing woman at the well (John 4).

Ours is an exciting age, with so much opportunity to show and share Christ all around, and I hope and pray you will join us for our All Church Retreat, March 13-14. Please register here.

Seeking to live a fully God-dependent life,

Pastor Ray Hylton