For those of you who have been following our Twitter feed, we have arrived safe and sound in Campinas, São Paulo, and are now thoroughly enjoying the BMM do Brasil family conference. Tomorrow I will begin putting up some pictures and observations.
For today, however, I wanted to leave you with something to contemplate. I recently received an e-mail from one of our outstanding supporting churches (they are all outstanding!). The e-mail was from the missionary committee, and they posed me the following question:
Our Committee at [name of church withheld] has chosen to concentrate on approaching [name of city withheld] as our mission field. We are looking for wisdom as to how we might effectively begin this approach. In light of your experience, would you please take the time to list a few of the most important things that you feel we should consider in preparing to approach to this “new” field.
After a good deal of thought, I answered in this way:
First let me say that it is refreshing, encouraging, and motivating to get a letter like this. Would that all US churches had the same kind of vision.
Here are some of my thoughts as to what the “most important things” are:
1. We must be very clear as to what our message is.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but I am finding it to be increasingly important, and, conversely, increasingly in doubt. Simply put, our message is the Gospel: the historical fact (narrative, story, whatever you want to call it) of the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross which completely satisfies the righteous requirements of God. Other things (social work, community building, etc) can be outgrowths of this, but should always take a back seat to the faithful proclamation of the Gospel.
One of the big hindrances to the Gospel in our circles is lifestyle. We try to change people on the outside (dress, music, marriage, etc) before they have been regenerated on the inside. Conversely, when someone conforms to the outward standards we assume they are saved–which can be a tragic assumption.
2. We must figure out who needs the message.
Any missionary or church that undertakes to reach its community should look for groups of people that are not being reached (ex. university students, bikers, stamp collectors, etc). It is very easy for a group of believers to become insulated–focusing on fellowship with people “like us” and avoiding contact with “different” people. As you survey your city, try to find groups of people who live completely apart from the Gospel. This will probably not be too hard.
3. Look for ways to communicate the gospel to these groups of people.
This is the tricky part. Getting an audience with people who are different than you, who speak a different “language”, who have a totally different worldview, is not an easy task. One solution is to find people in your church who already have an “in” with the target group and get behind their efforts. If there is nobody, then the “trick” is to be genuinely interested in people without pandering or compromising your message. This can be disconcerting at first.
Are the people in your church prepared to demonstrate love to the guy who is wearing lipstick and nail polish? Or to the girl who has had multiple abortions? Or to the young person whose arms are full of scars from needles?
The first part of an effective communication is demonstrating a sincere interest in people. This cannot be faked. It must be borne out of a conviction that God loves people and therefore I must love people too.
4. Re-educate the church to have a “missional” mentality.
“Missional” is a word that is both greatly overused and grossly misunderstood. Let me see if I can explain the concept, as I understand it.
Christ designed the church to be an aggressively evangelical organization. At the very beginning we were told to “go into all the world and make disciples”. Yet it is easy for us to fall into a “bunker” mentality (especially those of us with a dispensational eschatology). We huddle in our little groups waiting for the rapture and feeling grateful that we are not on the outside. This “bunker” culture, more than any other factor, has hindered the work of missions in our day. The church is the army of Christ, not the hideout of Christians. We are not under siege, we are on the attack–or at least we should be.
Thus, for the church to get behind an effort like the one you are describing, it becomes important for them to understand that this will require much more than dedication to a new project: it will require a complete change in how they see themselves as related to the world around them.
A quote from General Douglas MacArthur might be helpful here. During WWII there was constant tension between the General and the Navy, largely stemming from the fact that the Navy was unwilling to commit ships to conflict on the fear that they might be lost. At one point a frustrated MacArthur asked “Why do we have all that hardware if not to hurl it at the enemy.”
This is the question you should ask the “rank and file” of the church. God has saved them, empowered them with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, put them in a body called “the Church”, and given them unprecedented access to resources and communication technology. What are we supposed to do with all of this if not hurl it at the enemy?
Once a church as a whole understands this, it will be easier to make the strategic changes necessary to insure greater effectiveness in presenting the Gospel.
“Christian leaders are often more in love with the way they do church than they are in love with people in their community.”
I would add that it is not just Christian leaders, but entire congregations.
I hope what I have written will be of help to you in this process. There is much more that could be said. Keep me posted on how things are going!
Talk back to the missionary: What about you? Would you have added or subtracted anything from that answer? Contribute to missional thought in the comments section.
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