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Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Shepherd's Heart: What about the harvest

Thursday, October 8, 2009

In my neck of the woods, there seems to be a lot of talk lately about the harvest. Seems to be looking good so far.

But what about the other harvest? You know, the one spoken of in the Bible. Jesus himself said the fields were "white unto harvest" and bemoaned the fact that the laborers to bring in that crop were too few.

According to the Associated Press, Christianity is plummeting in America. The AP cites The American Religious Identification Survey as its source and states that Protestants now represent only half of all Americans, down almost 20 percent in the last 20 years. The survey also stated that in coming months America will become a minority Protestant nation for the first time since the Pilgrims landed here.

But I wonder what the survey truly shows.

Yes, it shows that more Americans are claiming no religious affiliation -- up to 15 percent, double what it was in 1990. It says that non-believers now represent the third highest group of Americans, after Catholics and Baptists.

Other noteworthy notes from the survey:

The number of Christians has declined 12 percent since 1990 and stands now at 76 percent, the lowest in our nation's history.

The growth among non-believers comes primarily from men, with 20 percent of men showing no religious affiliation while just 12 percent of women expressing the same.

Young people are fleeing the faith, with nearly 25 percent of Americans in their 20s professing no organized religion.

But I don't think we can take the survey at face value. Why? Because all of the numbers cited were based on terms such as "organized religion" and "religious affiliation." What that says to me is that organized religion and institutional Christianity may be missing the boat when it comes to relating to our generation and those that follow. The survey itself bears this out, showing that many believers aren't quitting on God, they are just abandoning their traditional denominational structures.

The folks portrayed in the survey as "non-believers" aren't anti-Christian. In fact, the number of Americans professing Atheism as their belief system still hover around 1 percent, as do Agnostics. The "non-believers" portrayed in the survey say they have a belief in God, but maintain they have no interest in organized religion or a formal faith tradition.

The bottom line is obvious: Americans are interested in God (82 percent of Americans say they believe in God) -- it's just that they don't think existing institutions are helping them to draw closer to God. In other words -- we're not relevant.

Does that mean we need to water down what we preach or teach?

Absolutely not!

We need to stand firm on our convictions concerning the Word of God and the teachings of Jesus. We need to spend more time advancing the Kingdom of God and less time pushing the teachings of men. We need to drop the trappings of denomination and tradition and lift up the banner of Jesus.

But we must represent Christ through methods that reach out to the hurting and unbelieving as well as those within the church who are feeling left out or who are looking for more of Christ and less of institutionalized Christianity.

In the agricultural community we've seen harvest methods change dramatically over the past 100 years. Isn't it time we start to seek new methods and techniques where the spiritual harvest is concerned?

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BOB G. STEWART, Columnist
The Shepherd's Heart