When They Will Not Come” (WTWNC) names the social dilemma of the church in post Christendom when we can no longer assume non-Christians will come to church even when they are seeking God. This new cultural condition forces us to change the way we think about every aspect of the church. WTWNC is a series of posts that reflect on the ways the practice of being Christ’s church/church planting must change because of this new cultural dilemma.
Illustration by Ben Sternke of http://benjaminsternke.typepad.com.
How do we lead a church community to engage mission as a way of life? How do we steer a congregation out of evangelism programs into everyday missional living? How do we train a congregation out of Christendom habits and instill post Christendom virtues (character for living faithfully in post Christendom)? I think leaders walk along and among their communities. Along the way, they lead by consistently (and kindly) rejecting some old habits and directing the imagination towards other possibilities. This is the never-ending work of cultivating missional habits of imagination among a people. Here’s my list of what to reject (slowly put to death in a congregation) and what to direct (nudge people forward) a congregation’s imagination toward. I’ve learned a lot of these things from missional thinkers/practitioners but have found all these things to be surprisingly simple and possible in my own life.
1.) Kindly Reject doing Outreach Events. Instead direct imagination towards ways of connecting with people where they are. Outreach events take up much time, planning and enormous “congregational capital” (if I may put it that way). In post Christendom outreach events rarely “work.” And you simply cannot compete with the local Park District or Megachurch event planning neutral site events. Instead, with little effort or cost, direct the people’s imagination towards seeing the ways you can connect with people in their everyday situations by going to the same place at the same time every week. Stoke imagination for the way ordinary life is the stage of God’s working. Visit the same places at the same time every week (this is easy for me because I am pathetically boring and love doing the same thing everyday). This has revolutionized my missional life with not a single ounce of extra-expended energy spent on my part. I believe the same could be true for every member of our church Body. Thanks to Alan Hirsch for teaching me about this.
2.) Kindly Reject evangelism as a one time hit on a target with a preconceived outcome. Kindle imagination toward seeing mission as part of regular daily, weekly and monthly life rhythms where out or regular life God works to use your life to impact people for the gospel in unforeseen ways. There is no precision strike technique, instead we need to train our eyes to pay attention to our life rhythms and be ready to minister out of everyday life, where God is already working to bring people to Christ.
3.) Kindly reject building multiple use buildings as if by building a gymnasium on the church campus we can bring people into the orbit of the church. Instead stoke imagination for what can happen when we go inhabit the gyms already in the neighborhoods. We should build less third spaces, and inhabit more the ones already there.
4.) Kindly reject one-on-one evangelism and the techniques associated with such apologetic persuasion. Instead direct imagination for inhabiting places in two’s or three’s or more. Hospitals, PADS Centers, the school systems, the park districts and places of hurt and pain too numerous to mention are all places where there are forces at work that can take under any one isolated saint. But two or three Christians together become an undeniable force for the kingdom under the Lordship of Christ.
5.) Kindly reject the Sunday morning gathering as an evangelistic event for it cannot be that in the new post Christendom cultures. Instead fire up imagination for the formation that comes from a communal encounter with the living God in Jesus Christ. As we hover around the altar, in silence, in prayers of submission, in affirmation, in confession, in healing prayers, in the hearing of the Word, and the Table, as we sing in praise and thanksgiving at what He has done, and then as we are sent out by God in the Benedictory challenge, we are shaped for His Life in Mission. It is simple, organic, takes a lot less planning than a mega show, and alot less money. And if any non-believers do happen to come, they won’t confuse this with a Tony Robbins event.
6.) Kindly reject coercive persuasion and argument in our witness. Instead stoke the imagination of your people for seeking “one person of peace” (Luke 10) among the lost of their neighborhoods. Look for that one who, though never having heard the gospel, is dispositionally ready (been readied by God) to receive. (Thanks to Mike Breen at the EcclesiaNet conference this past week for this idea).
7.) Kindly reject presumptuous postures of power as we live our lives among those who do not know Christ yet. Instead direct the imagination towards the way Christ always enters the human situation in humility. So don’t come to your neighbors as the one with the answer, but as the one searching for the answers that always point you towards Christ. Come to your neighbors humbly and in need. Instead of offering them a meal, find ways to participate in a meal with them. If you’re in the suburbs ask them if you can borrow their lawnmower.
8.) Kindly Reject Surveying the neighborhood – Direct the imagination toward exegeting the neighborhood. Surveying looks at the neighborhood as a place to market our church, find out what they are looking for and appeal to it so that they are attracted to the idea of coming to church. Exegeting a neighborhood requires inhabiting the neighborhood, seeing the neighborhood as a place for redemption, discovering where the hurting are and the unjust structures are. See the possibilities for ministering the gospel to those who are lost and through the gospel (over time) seeing that very culture transformed.
9.) Kindly Reject problem solving – instead direct the imagination towards “appreciative inquiry.” We often approach church through problem solving. What is wrong with our programs? What needs are we not meeting? What needs to be tweaked? What are we not doing right? This is negative, mechanical and lifeless. Instead, let’s direct our community’s imagination to noticing where God is working among us and around us, to recognize it, praise God for it and participate in it through the gifts we have been given. Thanks to Mark Lau Branson for this insight.
These are just a few of the ways we can lead our congregations to make our whole way of life a participation in God’s mission. There are many more I am sure. What others do you have?