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!