I recently returned from Auburn Hills, MI, where I attended the “Human Experience” event. If the truth be told, it has represented a real shot-in-the-arm in my spiritual journey over the last couple of years, and that truth is supported by the fact that I’ve been back three times. There’s always so much to masticate and decompress, that it often takes me a little while to wrap my head around all the concepts, ideas, and amazing stories of gospel-induced life change, which is why it’s taken me this long to post on it.
In addition to the typically invigorating brain storming sessions at this event, Michigan in October served to heighten my sensory experience. I couldn’t help but admire the verdant greens and the vivid reds and yellows in the turning trees, and it all served to remind me of just how much I miss the changing seasons, and indeed how important seasons are to the cycle of life. Anyway, I digress…. One of my favorite discussions at the event was centered around the idea of mobilizing the Church to engage our 21st Century world, instead of working so hard to bring people “back to church.” Let me begin by putting out a disclaimer here: My thoughts are exactly that… my thoughts! As I process through these ideas, feel free to make your own contribution to the conversation so that we can all benefit.
- Jesus didn’t come to start a movement of Christianity but to reconcile the world to Himself by making the world more human again. The first time people were called Christians was at Antioch in Acts 11. Prior to this specific occasion, there were both Jews and Gentiles who were finding a relationship with Christ. What were they becoming once they engaged in this new relationship? I suggest that they weren’t making a horizontal or lateral transition from Judaism, Secular Humanism, or Atheism to Christianity, but a vertical relational transition into being Christ-followers.
- Even if we somehow bucked the current alarming statistical trend of 150,000 people a week leaving the institutional “church” and somehow managed to mobilize millions to come back and start attending a local gathering… so what? Would that somehow solve the issues that our world is contending with? Would that make people better at living out the ethos of being Christ-followers? What about the billions of others who didn’t respond to the “back to church” trend?
- Is our mission to “repair” the Church so that people are attracted to our institutions, or is it to become the Church by following Jesus into the world and engaging people right where they are? I’m reminded that, though Jesus did visit the synagogues (local churches) and read from the scrolls of Isaiah and the prophets, His greatest work in the hearts and lives of people was done at the Wedding in Cana; by the Pool of Bethesda; at Jacob’s Well with a broken, destitute woman; on the opposite side of a hostile crowd calling for the head of a woman who’d been caught in the “very act of adultery” (while the man somehow mysteriously went awol). I could go on and on but I’m sure you get the point.
- Instead of focusing our attention on trying to get people back to church, should we be mobilizing the Church forward to engage the world? If so, how do we get the Church to move forward into mission? Is reaching the non-Christian really a function of getting people to switch their religious affiliations or is it calling all people, Christians included, to encounter the risen Christ and follow Him?
Your orientation to the future and to these questions will largely determine how you engage culture and community. As you process through these questions you’d do well to remember that they are not meant to be divisive but are meant to form the framework for healthy conversations that answer the question: What’s the starting point for a conversation about God in today’s world? With that in mind here are a few parting thoughts:
Would we be more effective in our mission if we viewed the local church as a staging area for a cosmic battle in which Christ-followers are the foot soldiers that heaven is marshaling against the enemy of our souls? You see, every army that strategizes and prepares for battle, must have a camp or staging area from which to wage its war, but we’d also do well to remember that no army has ever won a war cowering in camp! Even when Israel cowered in their tents in rabid fear of Goliath, it took the exploits of a brave, ruddy faced, young lad to go into battle against him, remembering that his and Israel’s deliverance lay in the hand of God and not in his own. He was privileged to merely be an instrument of battle.
Had David not been present when Goliath issued his laconic challenge to God’s (Israel’s) army, Israel’s story may have been told differently. By the same token, the establishing of the local church is not the end of the Great Commission, it is merely the beginning. It is simply the staging area from which we wage the war in which we are embroiled against spiritual forces which seek to block the good news of the Gospel message from reaching the hearts and ears of those who are seeking truth. Remember that the crepuscular effects of Satan’s strategies are designed to keep us busy about the “local church” (doing good stuff) and less engaged with fulfilling our mandate of making the world more human again (doing our mission).
Finally, guaranteed safety cannot be a prerequisite for participation in this battle. As Christ-followers we’ve been called to “die daily.” Whatever this looks like from where you sit, it still comes with the ineffable parentheses that makes it abundantly clear that your life is not your own. When you don’t own something, you have no absolute claim in determining its direction, use, or purpose. That, is truly one of the great benefits in being a “friend” of Jesus’. Now it’s your turn!