Islam dominates a territory that stretches from West Africa, through the Middle East and Central Asia, down to Indonesia. Islam grew quickly, from 12.3% of humanity (1900) to 24.3% (2020). Most Muslim growth comes through high birth rates, but conversion plays a big part in West Africa, Indonesia, and the USA. But Islam faces significant internal crises. The violence and terror tactics of radical Islamists horrify the world, including many of the peace-loving Muslims who make up the majority of Islam. More Muslims than ever have turned to Jesus, but many Muslims decide to abandon religion altogether. Muslims have become a large minority inside many Western countries, but communities struggle with the social and spiritual effects of secular culture on their faith, especially among young people. Pray for the small streams of Muslims who come to Christ to become rushing rivers all over the world!
Maintaining a clear witness to the uniqueness of Christ in the midst of growing religious pluralism and post-modernity. Even among Christians, a creeping universalism can be observed as gaining ground. The convictions of believers regarding the uniqueness of Jesus, and His claim to be the only way to the Father, are being challenged from within and without the Church. In a world where relativism dominates, Christians will increasingly be criticized for being "intolerant" and for holding to their exclusive truth claims regarding Jesus. Relativism, subjectivism and existentialism that deny the existence and primacy of objective reality are a threat to the authority of Scripture and the truth of the gospel.
Sustaining the centrality of the Scriptures in today's world, when many Christians and even evangelicals, especially in the West, are becoming uncertain in their convictions or compromised on the authority and inerrancy of the Word of God. Believers' thoughts, values and worldviews are often shaped more by the prevailing culture, philosophies, superstitions and religions of the society around them than by the Bible. This undermines and contaminates Christians' faith, it robs them of spiritual power, assurance and joy and it sidetracks believers into focusing on secondary or irrelevant issues. There are several areas where the Church is divided on the right way to live and serve:
- Issues of culture and compromise with the world. Where contextualization ends and syncretism begins is hard to discern. This is as much a challenge for hi-tech, postmodern secular Western contexts as it is for more primitive subsistence cultures where the spirit world is a profound part of everyday life.
- Prosperity theology, which can range from a healthy recognition that God wishes to bless His people to a thinly veiled avarice that uses the Lord as a mere vehicle for personal enrichment. This is no longer confined to a few slick American televangelists; it is a central issue for the Church to address on every continent. No one can serve God and mammon; may every church, every leader and every believer understand this.
- Gender and sexuality. The appropriate role of women in the Church is one area of differing convictions. The issue of homosexuality, its nature and its practice, will possibly be one of the most divisive issues among Christians in coming years, even in cultures that have traditionally been very conservative regarding sexuality and gender roles.
The effective functioning of local congregations. Each should be an organic entity, a community where all members participate in body life. Each believer has gifts to contribute to the up-building of the whole, yet rarely do congregations function in this way. Mobilizing the laity remains a great challenge for most churches. All kinds of new forms of church life are being attempted. For evangelicals, everything is being tried - from a return to liturgical forms to restorationist movements to trendy modernistic styles to radically new expressions. Pray that each unique congregation might serve to build up believers, draw in the unchurched and glorify Christ. Pray for wisdom for church leaders to know how to best achieve this for their congregation, whatever its context. When the Church fails in this duty, nominalism becomes widespread.
Leadership development is the crucial bottleneck to Church growth. There is a worldwide lack of men and women truly called of God and deeply taught in the Scriptures to lead the churches, people willing to suffer the burdens and responsibilities of leadership for the sake of the Saviour who redeemed them; in many contexts this means deprivation, scorn and even risk of death. Those who accurately and effectively expound the Scriptures are few, especially in areas where the churches are growing rapidly. New methods and means of multiplying well-trained, godly, effective leaders must be developed; traditional methods alone will not suffice to produce the number and quality required to meet the need. Ministers who are seminary graduates are often the least likely to have a biblical worldview. Pastors, ministers and elders all need constant upholding in prayer.
Discipleship is regarded by many Christian leaders as the greatest challenge facing the Church today. In regions such as Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia, where the Church has grown remarkably fast, there are literally millions of new believers who need to learn the Word and the Christian walk. Shaping their worldview and lifestyle biblically will form growing, mature followers of Christ; failing to do so will cause many to fall away into unbelief, false teaching or spiritual lukewarmness. While this is an urgent crisis in places where the Church is rapidly increasing, it is no less important in areas with a long Church history. There is, as ever, a genuine need for effective Bible study and teaching in Christians' heart languages, genuine fellowship and a commitment to involvement in ministry.
An outward emphasis that remains focused on outreach, evangelism, mission and community engagement is essential for healthy churches. Where believers are a small and despised minority, or in countries where there is widespread decline in commitment to the Lord, Christians are often intimidated, fearful or just apathetic. Both the Bible and history demonstrate clearly that witnessing churches are growing churches, and the Lord of the Harvest promises that His Word will not go forth in vain. Pray for all Christians to become vibrant witnesses for the Lord.
A holistic ethos that sees the Church engage society on all levels. The transformation that the invisible Kingdom brings should not be locked within the four walls of a church. Both congregations and missions are recognizing that the gospel can change not only individual lives, but entire communities and societies as well. Many initiatives and streams pray, mobilize and work to see the power and love of Christ made real in the following areas: the Church, family, education, government and law, media and communication, the arts and entertainment, business and finance.
Young people. In this modern age, many drift away from the Church and into the passions of youth (or often, the apathy of youth!), even after a Christian upbringing. There are a host of theories and explanations as to why the younger generation is leaving the Church in droves. This dynamic plays itself out much more widely than just in the post-Christian West. The temptations of the world are more accessible than ever, and the pressures they place on believing young people are intense. Every new generation needs to be evangelized afresh.
The vitality of Christians' spiritual life - privately and corporately - is a subject always worthy of prayer. Whether it is referred to as renewal, revival, awakening or transformation, what matters is the need for the Holy Spirit to be active in the individual and corporate spiritual life of the Church. Any group that obeys the Word of God and welcomes the Spirit of God will inevitably see the power and love of God made real to them and through them. However, the longing for the move of God's Spirit has also led to an unhealthy chasing after signs, the emphasis on spiritual power rather than godly character and the cheap commodification of the Holy Spirit rather than a humble submission to the Third Person of the Godhead.
The rise in levels of persecution - especially for Christians. The end of the European colonial era, the end of Christianity's status as state religion in most of the West and the resurgence of religious sentiment globally, especially fundamentalism, all mean that Christians generally no longer operate from a position of power or privilege. Christians are subject to persecution in much of the world. Evangelicals are subject to even more due to their proselytism and commitment to the uniqueness of Christ. The presence of persecution and hardship in the life of the Church appears to be normative in Scripture; contexts where persecution does not exist at all should be as much cause for concern as places where it is intense.
- The main offenders:
- Muslim countries and regions - the rise of extreme Islamist interpretations of the Muslim faith and the association of Christianity with "the Great Satan" have made Christians vulnerable to heightened religious violence coming from radicalized Muslims. The increasing application of shari'a law creates a climate where harsh persecution can easily occur. In a handful of countries, the courts may sentence a national to death for becoming a Christian; imprisonment awaits in several other nations. Beyond the government stance on such apostasy from Islam, community leaders and family members pressure new believers to revert to Islam and, occasionally, will murder those who will not.
- Marxist/Communist states continue to make life very difficult for Christians - this is especially true in North Korea, where profession of faith leads to imprisonment and death, and in Laos, Vietnam, China and Cuba, where unregistered Christians have suffered severely.
- Hindutva philosophy in India and radicalization of some Hindus in Nepal have led to heightened pressure and acts of terror against Christians in parts of these countries.
- Buddhists have persecuted and maltreated Christians in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bhutan.
- Christian governments, or government structures that endorse only one form of Christianity, have often been among the harshest persecutors of evangelicals. Examples of such instances include Eritrea, Belarus, southern Mexico and Russia.
- Secular governments - most notably in Western Europe - in their attempts to safeguard against dangerous sects and to further erase religion from public life have passed laws that make life difficult for believers to publicly practice their faith. Pluralism in such contexts apparently requires tolerance of every lifestyle and value system - except for biblical Christianity.
- Christians' concern for the persecuted Church is growing. There are several networks and ministries mobilizing prayer for and support of Christians suffering: Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, Release International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, International Justice Mission, Barnabas Fund, Christian Freedom International, International Christian Concern, WEA Religious Liberties Commission and many others. The annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is coordinated globally by WEA. Open Doors maintains a persecution index for the world's nations, updated once a year.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.