Understanding the Times

Joel Nelson

Director of Church Strengthening, Converge North Central

  • Church strengthening

I was scrolling through my twitter feed, when I saw an article written by Ryan Burge. He first came on my radar a few years back when he spoke at a conference I was attending. He’s a university professor, pastor and author who does research and makes graphs on religion. Perhaps you’ve seen his book, The Nones: Who They are and Where They Are Going.
The article was titled, We know Americans have become less religious. Surprising new data shows us where. What really caught my attention was the subtitle of the article which identified Minnesota and Iowa as states showing the greatest drop in total religious adherents of at least 10%.
As a minister involved with churches in this area, the news wasn’t what I would want to hear. But, it’s also not surprising. The harvest remains ripe.
You’re probably familiar from the Old Testament the story of David building his army of supporters. I Chronicles 12 provides a roster of who was signing up to be on David’s team. The people from each of the 12 are described in terms that you want to be a part of your army. There were archers who could shoot either left or right handed. There were valiant warriors who were expert with shield and spear. Some were described as having faces like lions and were swift as gazelles. The “worst” commanders from the tribe of Gad was formidable opponent for 100 people, while the “best” would be a match for 1000.
If you wanted an army of warriors, well trained and experienced, this was your team. They had the temperament, the tools, the training, and the tenacity to get the job done. Each tribe supplied thousands of men.
Nestled in this list is a tribe that only contributed 200 chiefs. The tribe of Issachar. But what made this small group so valuable was the description given to them. They weren’t warriors or soldiers. They understood the times and knew what Israel should do. ( I Chronicles 12:32).
I’m guessing compared to everyone else that made up David’s army, these guys were a little nerdy. Their hands were soft. They liked books and maps and charts and graphs.
We need more people in our churches that are like the 200 from the Tribe of Issachar. People who understand their time. It might not be to the extent of those who joined David’s ranks, but we all can make ourselves aware of the times, culture, and contexts in which we live and minister and let that influence our lives and our ministries.
While I’m no expert, I try to keep up to date on things that are happening around me. A part of this is following people and sources online which I believe provide factual and impartial data to help me better understand my time. If one of my regular sources leans one way, I often try to identify another source that may lean in the other direction.
Here are a couple webpages and twitter accounts I find myself going back to with some regularity to help me understand the times.
Ryan Burge: I mentioned him above.
https://www.thearda.com: The Association of Religious Data Archives is a fascinating place to spend some time. You can dig down to your local county in the map section.
https://usafacts.org: The founder of Microsoft wanted to have factual demographic and other data that was non-political and impartial in one place in order to make better decision on his philanthropic spending, so he created and funds usafacts.
Klon Kitchen: Nationally known expert on all things tech and national security….and a Jesus follower.
David French: Journalist, NY Times columnist, army vet….and a Jesus follower.
Brady Shearer: How and why churches can and should use digital media.
Dave Adamson: All things social media for church ministry. Plus, he’s from Australia so he has a cool accent.
There’s more on my list. Men and women. Ministry minded people and some focused on organizations, current events, and culture.
Karl Barth said, Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.
I bet the Tribe of Issachar would agree with him.

Joel Nelson, Director of Church Strengthening, Converge North Central

Director of Church Strengthening

Additional articles by Joel Nelson