On Thursday night, I attended the Baccalaureate Ceremony at USC. The theme of the night was resilience. The graduating class went into the pandemic lockdown during their freshman year, and their hopes for college experiences were shattered. The night was a celebration of their resilience.
With each speaker, the differences between academia and religion’s resilience became clear; academia talked about human ingenuity, while religion talks about survival.
Academia’s resilience was not merely enduring but investing in the future. They worked to better fulfill their mission in the post-pandemic than pre-pandemic. The leadership imagined a new post-pandemic academia and focused on building an institution with relevant education for the post-pandemic world. USC talked about investments they made to ensure that students are experiencing hope and joy. They spent $1 billion dollars during the pandemic on student care and announced a new $1 billion computing center project. I thought I was in a church service.
It is clear that their effort is paying off. This year they had the largest application pool ever, they took the largest incoming class in their history, the historically low admissions rate, and the historically high rate of accepted students committing to attend in the fall. Since the beginning of the pandemic, USC has all new vice presidents and all new deans, but one. The changes were led by the new president, who started six months before Covid hit.
So, I found myself wondering, where are the visionary leaders of the churches today? Where are the people who will help make the message of Jesus relevant in the world that is becoming increasingly distant from the values of the ancient church? More than 50% of the church attendees are not returning to worship in the U.S. post-pandemic churches and hundreds of churches went out of business, and thousands more are on the brink of closing their doors. We need to reimagine the church to make it relevant, not only today but tomorrow.
When will the church realize it is preaching an ancient cultural God of a bygone era of millenniums ago? When will the church realize that the outdated message of an ancient God is the message of false gods of our time? When will we accept that the ancient agrarian representations of Jesus are today’s heresy, and the post-modern generations are asking for a valid, accurate, and timely interpretation of the Bible and Jesus of post-modernity?
Is it possible that God is using the pandemic to “purge” the weed from the wheat? Is it possible that Jesus may be allowing the weed, the message of hate, to exist among the wheat, the message of grace, only until the harvest? In the parable, Jesus protects the weakest wheat by tolerating the strong weed. Is it possible that the mega-conservative evangelical church churches are the weeds?
Wheat needs to ignore the weed and focus on being resilient. In the end, we will be judged by our fruit. Not how many we produce but by how the fruit we produce embodies the grace of Jesus.