Just one hundred years ago, church leaders looked ahead to what many affectionately dubbed the “Christian century.” The twentieth century was to be a time of unprecedented influence and growth for Christendom. The “church triumphant” entered the present century with confidence and perhaps even a bit of bravado.
My, how a century changes one’s perspective. In some ways, those nineteenth-century clerics were on the money. The twentieth century has been an era of remarkable church growth, though not in the way many of them had expected. The greatest growth in the church, particularly in the post-war era, has been among the evangelical and charismatic churches, particularly in the Third World countries of Asia, Africa and South America. Those mainline Protestant churches which had expected so much from this century are, at the end of it, sitting on the sideline of the American religious scene (with the exception of the booming evangelical churches with-in their ranks).
And who could have predicted a century ago the growth of non-Christian faiths — such as Islam and Buddhism — which have stepped onto the American religious stage with remarkable energy. Such faiths are driven by immigration, while emerging movements like the New Age communities are driven by a society that hungers for spirituality without demands.
So as we prepare to enter the twenty-first century, no one is issuing predictions of a “Christian century.” Too many churches and Christians are “hunkering down” for a long slide into oblivion or irrelevance.
Yet I am convinced that the century that lies ahead of us has the potential to be one of the most exciting eras since the apostolic age. Indeed, like that first century, the twenty-first promises to be the “missionary century” in a way that is unlike any era since the early church. That is because we face a unique set of circumstances that create a fertile ground for Christian witness and proclamation.
For example, the death of the “modern” worldview — with its cynical attitude toward faith — has given way to a postmodern perspective that is quite open to faith, along with everything else. Those of us who are called to be ambassadors for Christ have the opportunity to enter the public square and contend for the faith in a way that has been all but impossible for generations.
As we go, we must understand that we face a world much like that encountered by the first-century apostles, who carried the good news of Christ into a pagan culture. If there is any word that accurately describes western culture today, it is “pagan.” But it is also a culture that is open to spiritual issues and hungry for some deeper meaning and purpose.
May we go forth into a new century as a band of “missionary preachers” carrying the gospel of Christ into a pagan world — which includes many of our own congregations. We go with confidence that the same Holy Spirit which filled and empowered Peter and Philip, Paul and Barnabas, Silas and Timothy, is the same Spirit who desires to speak through us today. May we enter this new century yielded to His will and responding to His call.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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