Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Being Missional From the Margin

As a follow on from my last article “Making Disciples in the First World”, I thought to script some thoughts on being missional from the margins.

In the First World context we are finding that Christianity is being pushed more and more to the margins of society. Studies and surveys have found that majority of people in the West have no intention of ever attending church. Now we don’t ever get over concerned with statistics, but they are worth looking at. Besides, we need to reach people in these groups that are being surveyed, and it helps to listen to what they have to say. We never water down the gospel to reach them nor make the gospel subject to the culture, but we do need to find ways to get the gospel to them.

In a society where Christendom is coming to an end, many approaches to evangelism are still coming from a Christendom mentality and style. In the past people would “come” to church when the bells were rung. Everyone dressed in their Sunday best. All business, shops and restaurants were closed on a Sunday morning when I was growing up in South Africa. Everyone was at the church service so there was no need to have anything open. Sunday is now one of the major trading days for any shop or restaurant (even in South Africa). We can no longer expect people to come to our Sunday services in the droves (unless or until a great awakening occurs in our nations). But for now, most of the people in our nations are disconnected from “the church”. Many will try to change what we do in our Sunday meetings to try reach these people. Changing the music genre, add some lighting, meet in coffee shops, restaurant type settings, up the kids programs, use more multimedia. All these things are helpful in and of themselves, and there is nothing wrong with any of this; but is this reaching the unsaved people out there. We may reach unchurched or de-churched Christians (and this is a legitimate field as we need to see these brothers and sisters find a community, get connected in, find their destiny and gifting, solidify their relationship with God, and serve Him and one another in the context of a local community), but we don’t reach many truly unsaved people. Even those who “give their lives” on a Sunday once they hear the gospel preached, when we talk to them we find that they had once made a “commitment” to Jesus and attended church a long time ago. Its great that they have come back into the church family and want to make a commitment to walk with Jesus, but they are still those who have had a “Christian” background. We need to start reaching the unreached in our nations, those who have not heard the gospel preached, nor seen it in action. (This may be different in the middle eastern context. I know that when we were there we saw many truly unsaved give their lives to Jesus).

We need to shift our focus from attractive events that try to lure unsaved people in, and become attractional communities of devoted disciples that live out among society in such a way that it draws people closer to “taste and see that the Lord is good”. We are losing the ability to reach people with church activities. The church has moved from the centre of society to the margins of it. And we now need to learn how to be effective from this place. We should not be worried that all is failing. The Kingdom is forcefully advancing. God is always doing a new things, whether we are comfortable with it or not. We just need to learn how to move with what the Spirit is doing. The church will always hold the answer for the world’s problems. Getting the answer to them is the skill we need to explore. Remember, they not coming to us, so we need to go to them. And the soapbox, handing out tracks method is not working anymore either.

What is in fact happening through the fall of Christendom is that the institutional church is in fact being marginalised. Unfortunately in the eyes of society all of the church is placed under the same umbrella. Because of this people who are now having difficulties in life or facing crisis, or even some who are looking for God, no longer come wondering into “the church”. Having our Sunday services is no longer sufficient for reaching society.

In a Barna Group survey in the UK and Australia, they found that 70% of those involved in the survey said they had no intention of ever attending church in their lifetime. This means that new styles, forms, programs etc. will not reach them. They are not attracted to these things. We might be able to give away prizes at Christmas and Easter services to get people in, but it does not mean that we will reach those people on a deep intimate level with the gospel so that they will make a decision for Christ.
Tim Chester says: ‘It’s not a question of “improving our product” of church meetings and evangelistic events. It means reaching people apart from meetings and events”

Many churches are growing through transfer growth, which is not a legitimate way to grow as they are simply drawing people out of other churches, often by trying to offer a better “product”. Others are growing through reaching the unchurched/de-churched Christian, which is a legitimate way; but we still need to reach the unsaved.
Our nations, that were predominantly “Christian” in the past, are finding themselves to no longer be so.

As alarming as all this looks there are many signs of life in the West. Churches are being planted, there are many healthy churches, and there is a re-imagining taking place. Many are moving from traditional Christianity to Kingdom focused Christianity. They are desiring the greater things that God has promised. The gospel is becoming the centre of the talk again as people move from preaching their church traditions, models, denominations, and are starting to preach Jesus (sounds strange, but many were not preaching Jesus for a long time). The Gospel is still powerful and the Kingdom is still advancing. The Holy Spirit is having more prominence in the church and through the church.

Steve Timmis says: ‘we cannot claim to be faithfully proclaiming the gospel to the lost through our Sunday preaching when most of the lost do not attend church. We need to do mission outside the church and church events.’

It was reading this that got me thinking, and the reason for writing this article. We have been trying to reach people through the preaching of the gospel on Sundays to a group of people that already know the gospel (as mentioned earlier, this many not apply to some contexts such as the Mid-East, or maybe it does now. But it does apply here in Australia, and it will in western Europe, the USA, and quite possibly more in South Africa nowadays). I have looked at this and seen that if we have born again believers in the church we lead then our Sundays should become more of an “equipping with Kingdom life” time rather than a gospel preaching time. If we can equip the believers in our church to become radical disciples, then they can reach the people in their spheres with the gospel. I know we will all say “we know this and are doing it”. If you are then that’s great, but how well are you doing it. How well are we doing it. Only the fruit will tell, and this will be seen in time. We need to reach people where they are. And they are not in the church anymore. We need to do church and mission in the context of “doing life together”.

Many leaders focus on the Sunday meetings because this is what we have always known. This service becomes the main event. Our view of church needs to change because it will impact how we plant. If we focus more around the Sunday meeting then we will place all our effort in that two hour event. many church staff spend their whole week focused around this event on Sunday, they really have no time to do anything else.

George Hunsberger says: 'Churches are called to be bodies of people sent on a mission rather than storefronts for vendors of religious services and goods. We must surrender the self-conception of the church as a voluntary association of individuals and live by the recognition that we are a communal body of Christ followers, mutually committed and responsible to one another and to the mission Jesus set us upon at his resurrection.'

Sharing life together as believers and drawing unsaved people into that life is going to become the most effective way of reaching the unsaved in society. In this context of life they will hear the gospel in our everyday language. They will see kingdom in how we love each other and lead our families. They will get the opportunity to see us pray for each other, hear testimonies of healings and life transformations; and possibly even ask for prayer themselves. Disciples do this. They do life together. They breath the kingdom message. And those around them get a firsthand taste of it. Being on the margin of society will require a very different mindset on how to reach people with the Kingdom message. Jesus modeled this well. He was a friend of sinners, he ate with them as well as his disciples. He drew both sides together; the saved with the unsaved. And both enjoyed being around him. The religious got angry and frustrated with him. But the unbelievers were amazed. Surely we can learn from this.

We cannot become anti-culture. We cannot stand in discussed at it, judging it. They know no better. We certainly don’t accept nor bow down to the culture. We don’t dumb down the gospel to fit with culture. The gospel is radically confronting to culture. But we must seek the peace of the city we live in. Jer 29:7 says “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” We need to seek the peace. We need to bring the peace. Jesus said that we must let our peace remain. If it returns we are to move on. But we need to first let it go out from us. In order for this to happen we need to firstly not be judgemental; and secondly, we need to engage our culture by being among people. Many “staffed” leaders often don’t get around unbelievers. They spend most of the time with believers. Then, we have endless courses, programs, lectures, meetings, events, leaders meetings etc. that we require the rest of the church to attend. This then pull them out of society so they have less time to reach them. For example: A young man seems to be reaching unsaved friends. He is a likeable guy. He also relates well with others in the church. He does a great job discipling some unsaved friends from his soccer team and others in the church. So we invite him onto the deacon team. But because he is on the deacon team we require him to now be at more of our stuff. In order to do that he has to give up soccer. But its for the “better” good of the kingdom, we tell him. All of a sudden he doesn’t seem to be doing what he was at first when we were looking at him for the deacon team. How can he? We have just removed him from the field he was working effectively. This is a simple, yet very real, example. We must be aware that we don’t make it all about our stuff. To make disciples and reach the community might be done best apart from our stuff. Its hard to receive this kind of thing. But lets think about it. Are we more consumed with our “stuff” as being the success of the church? It’s a good question that we might have to answer for ourselves.

If we begin to raise radical disciples, even though we live on the margin of society, we can still point to Gods coming Kingdom. Kingdom community is a demonstration of the gospel.

Communities are no longer defined by where we live. They are defined by common interests ie: surfing, golf, soccer, rugby, moms groups, walking clubs etc. We now need to look at reaching people in these new communities. So, as leaders, we need to be equipping believers to go into those communities and reach people there. They need to be “like Jesus” in that community. We cannot pull them out of there to attend our stuff. Which means that in order for us to effectively disciple them we can no longer rely on our Sunday sermons. We will have to do life together with people. This also means that we can only effectively disciple a smaller group of people. Therefore, we need more hands on deck. This is a challenge. We need to be less “tight fisted” with releasing people. Obviously we need to make sure their lives are not in a tragic state. But we need to release people more.

Insecurity can cause leaders to hold on to too much in the church. We just cannot have our fingers in all the pies. We want to have leadership in every ministry in the church. We immediately correct every error for fear people might go astray, and we end up talking at them, become overbearing in solving their problems for them. Or we shut ministries down because we don’t have revelation of that particular thing or we won’t be able to adequately lead it, and we want leadership of it. In doing this we don’t give people time to grow. And we need people to grow so they can reach the community.
We might also become averse to risk, rather playing it safe. Safe always seems better. But Jesus wasn’t playing it safe when he chose the 12, nor was he playing it safe when he left them to continue the ministry he began. We need to take risks with people. Not “safe risks” with safe people. But real risks with some risky people (again, not lunatics who’s life is off the chart), people who push the boundaries a little, who don't accept the status-quo, people who might not agree with everything we say, they won’t be “yes men”. They might challenge us! Good, maybe we need challenging to bring us out of our one-sided ministry fit. Maybe our church needs to have someone completely different to us to add a different flavour. Obviously there needs to be honour. They honour who God has made us, they honour the fact that we have been given a role to lead in this time. They honour our gift and calls. But this doesn’t mean they sit quietly and nod at everything we say. They must not be robots who are there to serve our vision only. We must also honour them. A culture of honour will be key in this.
We want to raise people who might not be “up front”, “pulpit preachers”, or “meeting leaders”. We want to raise people who can effectively reach society with the gospel and release the kingdom because they walk in a revelation and relationship with God that just oozes from them, regardless of where they are.

The church is called to display the goodness of God. It is a community made up of diverse people who have come together to form a family, with a purpose. This is a very unique thing in this day and age. We are the carriers of the Holy Spirit, in Whom is the Kingdom. And we need our society to encounter this Kingdom and be changed by it.

Our status at the margin of society requires us to think differently about how we reach our cities. May we find how to do this with the greatest effect, so that we can see a true transformation of our societies as they come to a knowledge of our great God and receive the life found in Jesus.

Let’s do it. In every shape or form; buts lets do it!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Making Disciples in the First World

“Go and make disciples of all nations…, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”

This well-known command is one that we all hail with the greatest enthusiasm. We teach it to leaders, we preach it from conference platforms, and we lay on our beds at night and quote it to ourselves to remind us of why we do this insane task of planting and/or leading churches.

But, the question is: How do we do this in a “First World Post Christendom Era?” How do we make disciples in a society where people actually don’t want to know Jesus, and many despise His name, the church, and all that He stands for. How do we reach a society that demands that we change our ways to become more “culturally relevant?” Even what I have written below is not sufficient. We will have to journey this road and find our way as The Holy Spirit leads. There is no “silver bullet”.  

Society has become very effective in making disciples for itself. These disciples strongly oppose Jesus and His Kingdom ways. Sadly, many church leaders have agreed to shift their Kingdom stance in a desperate attempt to keep people in attendance. The moment you compromise on one truth, you compromise on others as well; maybe not today, but you soon will.

So we face this challenge in the 21st Century, of planting churches into a first world context with the echoes from the Christendom of the 80’s and 90’s sounding “success = numbers.”

I believe that everything healthy will grow. How fast? Well we don’t know. Tomato plants grow very quickly. Oak trees grow very slowly. Bamboo takes four years to grow the root only, then suddenly shoots up out the ground and within a year it has grown more than two meters. So we really don’t know how fast something will grow; we just know that if its healthy it will grow. Transfer growth is not the best measure, nor is it a true reflection of the leaders capacity. In today’s society people shift around from church to church like they would from coffee shop to coffee shop. If they flooded in because you were the next new thing they will soon flood out when the another new thing comes along.


We do need to realize that God is patient. I believe that in the early years of a church plant God hand picks individuals who will become part of the core of the church, using their gifts to build and serve the local community. I have certainly been blessed to have such people that God has sent us. These folk are ripe for making disciples of. They don’t come packaged, but they do come hungry and teachable. Its these people that we need to pour time into. Too often leaders or church planters will pour endless amounts of time into a Sunday service and the 30min sermon they will present to a crowd (I do believe that we need to prepare well for every message we share. But I also believe that if something is a revelation to us, it will be part of us, and we will be able to share it in any context with great anointing and fruitful outcome). In spending excessive amounts of time preparing for a two our service on a Sunday we leave very little time for “connecting within life” with these prospect disciples that God has trusted us with, and who will become the core of the community into the future.

The days of “build it and they will come” have ended. Let’s face fact here: in the Western World the unsaved people don’t want to come to your service. They don’t see the point. In some contexts, such as Australia, many Christians don’t want to come to your stuff. They have other things that capture their affection. Until a person is a devoted disciple you can expect nothing more. They will come to what they want to come to and when they want to come to it. There is nothing you can do about it, so we need to stop crying and wanting to quit on Monday. We have been placed into a society that is opposed to the gospel; this is why we here. And we have to do something about it.

In the words of Bill Johnson: “A transformed people will transform a city.” Great word Bill. Now as leaders and church planters we need to ask ourselves this serious question: Where are these transformed people who are going to transform cities? The simple answer is: we have to raise them up. We might have one or two, or we might have 12 within our congregation. But however many there are we need to get to the “disciple making” process as quickly as possible. It took Jesus three years to raise up twelve. Do we think we can raise up 60 to 100 in year. Our Sunday attendance might be 60 to 100 in a year, and we could stand back and be pleased with our success, but I can honestly tell you, those are not disciples. There are potential disciples in that crowd, but it’s up to us to develop them alongside Jesus.

Disciples are not made by processing them through a series of church courses or programmes. They are not created through Sunday services. In order to make disciples we need to be “doing life together.” Disciples are not disciples of us nor our churches; They are disciples of Jesus. I don’t want those I am trusted to disciple to wear chino pants with an untucked button up shirt, smart casual shoes, and carry a shoulder bag, with some highlights in their hair. They must not look aesthetically like us. They must look like Jesus. I know we know this stuff, and we will all say we are setting out to make them reflect Jesus; but look in the rows of chairs in your church, listen to the way people talk, and you will be surprised how many are “Sr Leader Disciples.”

It is true that people will model off us. But I want them to model off Jesus in me rather than me, my style and my quirks. If they model off Jesus in me they will retain their own style, gift, charisma, yet they will begin to shine life and light from within them that radiates what we see in the scriptures of who Jesus is.     

It is now these disciples who will transform cities. They will go into the spheres of life they are placed in and they will reflect Christ. They will release Kingdom and they will shift atmospheres. Then the amazing will happen: They will draw people to Jesus and begin to make disciples of them. Some will draw many, others will draw one or two. It doesn’t matter how many each can draw in their capacity, as long as they are drawing them to Jesus and making them disciples of Jesus. Each devoted disciple will be one who releases heavens reality into his or her spheres of influence. This is how the church grows, both in number and in influence. This is what I believe Jesus meant when He said “I will build my church.” This model is unstoppable. It does not depend on where you meet, how you meet, when you meet, what your budget is, what your facilities are like, how fancy your pulpit looks, what courses or programmes you run. It is real!

People in the West are looking for something real. Reality TV has the highest ratings. Why? Because people are tired of scripted shows, they are boring and predictable once you reach season two. But reality is exciting, its diverse and its captivating. We, the church, Christians, we have the greatest reality of all. It’s time to show the world what this superior reality is all about.