Pray for willingness in the Church to confront social and economic injustices in a biblical way. A holistic approach to social justice and the gospel is one crucial benchmark of evangelical effectiveness in the 21st Century. The potential role of Christians in societal transformation is limitless, but addressing needs positively must accompany recognition of previous failures - including slavery, genocide and Christianization done with cruelty and insensitivity. A humble approach to reconciliation and reparation for sins of the past will empower believers to minister into the present day. There are countless contexts where the forgiveness of God, the discipline of a biblical lifestyle and the support of the body of Christ can have a massive redemptive effect.
The influence of the Church is simultaneously waning and waxing. The religious forms once dominant in the Americas – Catholicism in Latin America and former French areas, mainline Protestantism in North America and much of the Caribbean — see a marked decline in their relative influence. Secularism, the growing presence of other world religions and the increasing personalization and subjectivization of spirituality all gravitate against classical Christian orthodoxy. Simultaneously, evangelicals and charismatics continue to grow – although not as fast as they once did – and play a greater role in both public life and social transformation.
The Roman Catholic Church has passed through 50 years of tumultuous change, in part spurred by the growth of evangelicals. The traditional monolithic structure that once dominated most of the continent has gone forever. Even South America, the world's most Catholic continent has gone from 92% Catholic in 1960 to 77% in 2010. Many regret the misused four centuries of monopoly that bred complacency, condoned syncretism and, more recently, endorsed the now largely discredited liberation theology. In recent years, an emphasis on Bible reading, the charismatic movement and efforts to make Catholicism more accessible to the masses have slowed its decline. Various powerful movements are discernible:
- The charismatic movement. As many as half of Hispanic and Latin American Catholics gravitate toward charismatic expressions. The more egalitarian nature of this movement and the balance between adoration and activism give it a vitality lacking in much of the Catholic Church globally.
- Traditional Catholicism. As a result of the conservativism of the last two popes, traditional Catholicism has re-emerged as a strong force and is leading to a further cooling of relationships with evangelicals. Pray for Catholics to come to a personal faith in Christ. Millions still strive to earn their entrance into heaven and gain temporal blessings by their pilgrimages, works and ceremonies.
- Folk Catholicism is still the prevalent expression of spirituality for most Catholics. Heavily syncretized with pre-Columbian religious influences, this is a faith of saints, fiestas and hoped-for miracles, an escapist expression rather than one that engages the sources of the suffering from which its practitioners seek relief.
Maturity in the churches is a great need. Growth is undeniable in terms of numbers, finances and influence, but sanctification and maturity are often lacking. Churches that grow spectacularly often decline in the same manner. Pentecostals and charismatics demonstrate admirable evangelistic zeal and impact the poorer classes, but they have at times been weak in discipleship, interchurch fellowship and statistical and financial integrity. Of special importance:
- Moral purity and sanctification that yield Christ-like character and holy lives and living for all to see. The prevalence of immorality and godlessness - in handling of personal finance, in sexuality, in family life, just to name a few - in countries with large evangelical populations and Christian majorities is an affront to God.
- Discipleship and spiritual development. There is often a lack of commitment to this painstaking process of intangible growth, as well as a lack of the methods and structures to do so. Those congregations offering a high-energy show can be weak in the long, slow effort of discipleship.
- Consumeristic attitudes toward church, where people attend based on what they can receive and therefore change churches frequently according to taste and mood. Such shallow attitudes undermine congregational health as well as personal Christian growth.
- Theological depth and biblical understanding of the Word of God are lacking. Few churches place solid grounding in God's Word as a priority. Sermons can be Christian self-help messages rather than plumbing the depths of Scripture. As atheism and other religions assert their claims, believers must be equipped to retain confidence in the claims of Christ and to respond effectively to competing worldviews.
- Prayerfulness must be cultivated once more in evangelical circles. The greatest periods of revival and growth routinely come on the back of prayer movements. The prayer meeting is disappearing as a normative expression of church life. Thank God that new prayer movements are rising up; pray that they might be rooted in congregational life rather than being parachurch alternatives to it.
- Evangelism is an alien activity to most evangelicals. The passion for lost souls and the willingness to proclaim, to witness and to live out the good news must be reclaimed. Confidence in the universal truth and life-changing power of the gospel must be recaptured.
Issues within evangelicalism in the 21st Century. Pray about these issues:
- A reigniting of the flame of the Spirit to bring back revival and growth. While still increasing, evangelicals are growing at less than half the rate of 25 years ago. This can partly be explained by slowing overall population growth rates and by overall sociological/demographic principles. But genuine biblical revival is too rare and is often replaced with glitzy showmanship, and what church growth does occur tends to be transfer growth from other churches.
- Evangelical nominalism, a threat to every region of the Americas. The disconnect between notional assent to the claims of Jesus and living them out blunts the Church's cutting edge and creates a distaste for Christian hypocrisy among non-believers. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the US, where there is a gap of over 22 million between those who identify themselves as evangelical and those even remotely connected to church life. Pray for the integration of these millions into active and meaningful involvement.
- Prosperity theology - a baptized acquisitiveness that can justify selfishness and focus on things of this world. It can turn God into a heavenly sugar-daddy who exists to bless us rather than a loving Father who wants engagement in every area of our lives. It syncretizes the gospel with materialism and stunts the potential growth of the Christian.
- Training for present and future leaders. The majority of Latin and Caribbean evangelical congregations are led by pastors with little or no formal theological training. Many of those who do have a degree get it from sub-standard, unaccredited institutions. Lay leaders get even less by way of equipping. Pray for means by which biblically sound and culturally appropriate training can occur, from introductory-level modular training to doctoral-level education.
- Leadership patterns that perpetuate the authority of one anointed leader-figure rather than promoting the life of the whole body of Christ. This gives great influence to father-figure pastors who function more as CEOs than shepherds. It excuses the laity from full participation in their biblical responsibilities, creating a performer/observer dynamic. It also often alienates and frustrates younger emerging leaders, whose development is held back by those refusing to loosen their grip and share responsibility and power.
- The full enculturation of the gospel into minority churches for both indigenous and immigrant peoples. Appealing to the lowest common denominator in churches or defaulting to the prevalent expression of church is a great threat to the indigeneity and effectiveness of Christianity in each unique culture. Pray that believers and missionaries among these peoples might have the wisdom to see culturally appropriate expressions of God's Kingdom planted and growing in each distinct people.
External concerns that Christians in the Americas face include:
- The wise handling of social influence and political power by evangelicals. This is an old tune in North America, but a new one in Latin America. There is increased awareness among evangelicals of their cultural, economic and political clout. Such power can divert believers from evangelism or stifle the Church's prophetic voice in a society in need of moral absolutes and ethical standards. The lure of such power often entices evangelicals to seek political power and brings discredit to the cause of Christ. Evangelicals are increasingly being voted into the highest offices of their respective countries.
- The challenge of false teachings. These are expressed in many ways. In every case, training in apologetics and grounding in the Word for both pastors and believers are crucial to guarding against deception.
- Pluralism and secularism teach that Jesus is only one option among many. The uniqueness of Christ and the universal validity of the gospel must be instilled at every level of Christian life and worship.
- New Age teaching, the occult and personalized (but unbiblical) spirituality. These can appear harmless but nevertheless contain dangerous deceptions. The trend among young people to accept the legitimacy of magic, sorcery and witchcraft due to popular culture is a concern.
- Syncretized Christianity that compromises the biblical message with whatever prevalent values and trends occur in local contexts, whether materialism, hedonism, spiritism or animism.
- Spiritism in its many forms is resurging. It is especially present in Brazil (Afro-spiritism such as Candomble, Umbanda and others), in Cuba (Santería) and in Haiti (voodoo), but exists throughout the Americas.
- Marginal Christian cults. Both Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons continue to grow and spread.
The evangelical missions movement has had an enormous impact on the world - firstly from North America and now increasingly from Latin America. Caribbean missions vision is still young but is now increasing. The maturing, evangelical, Latin American missions movement has expanded and organized greatly since the 1980s. Pray for:
- Congregations to learn the privileges and responsibilities of being part of the Great Commission and of supporting cross-cultural outreach within their own lands and abroad.
- Financial support of workers, the lack of which is a major limitation. The failure of congregations to understand the need to support their workers will limit the potentially incredible harvest force from Latin America.
- Alternate sending patterns to the methods traditionally adopted by Western European and North American churches. Tentmaking and mission-oriented communities on the field are possibly more feasible alternatives.
- The development of viable and locally applicable sending structures and training programmes that result in fruitful long-term missions involvement. The time and expense of theological training, of learning English and a field language, as well as slow or negligible church growth in unreached fields, can cause possible supporters to baulk.
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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.