Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The third question

Yes, of course, anonymous is right to say that there's a deeper question. It's the third question that I was coming to (honest!). It's the question about what it means to be missional (to use the jargon) or more simply, how do we persuade those who aren't followers of Jesus to become followers of Jesus.

The reason for the intermediate question is that being a follower of Jesus is about belonging to others who follow Jesus, meeting with them. The New Testament and Christian tradition doesn't really recognise solo disciples. So gathering together is important. And I guess I think we need to ask what such gatherings would be like that attract those who think they might want to follow Jesus but don't know where to start.

The stats on other religions are unclear and hard to come-by. The best research suggests that Islam and Hinduism are growing almost exclusively by birth-rate and migration - certainly in the case of the latter; and probably in the case of the former, though there are isolated examples of westerners converting to Islam. The figures for Buddhism and other Eastern religions just aren't available in any accurate form. Not that that has hampered the media in rushing to judgement on the issue!

What is certainly clear is that Christianity is not profiting as much as one would expect from a rise in the levels of interest in spirituality that we've witnessed over the past decade or so. Part of the reason for this is undoubtedly that Christianity is seen to be associated with a past that the West has left behind; we've done it, been there, got the tee shirt. Other faith options appear new and untried and thus attractive in a way the Christian faith isn't.

That's a challenge the church needs to rise to rather better than it has so far.

There are Christian heroes and role models out there but by the nature of the beast, they tend not to be flashy and high profile. In the area of knife crime, there's the wonderful Les Isaacs of Street Pastors fame who is doing lots of serious work among communities in inner London, Birmingham and Manchester aimed at reducing violence. He occasionally surfaces in the media as do the pastors and priests of various areas blighted by high crime rates.

But this is certainly an anonymous statement that's worth pondering:

'From an outsider's perspective, I wonder if the church actually went back to simple fundamentals and addressed the very human needs of poverty, pain, suffering and wretchedness it might gain more recruits?'

I wonder that too. What would happen if we got hold of Acts 2 in these times of economic hardship and shared our goods and opened our homes to one another and ensured that no one was in need? Would people join us?

What if we took God at his word and sought his Spirit to move in power among us so that things happened that were beyond explanation - except that God did it; would people join us?

Often Christians cry for a return to signs and wonders. And I echo the cry providing we get both of the above - miracles and economic sharing. But then, I'm not sure you get one without the other.

And why should anyone be bothered? Because God has set a day when he will call all people to account for their lives and he's appointed the one who will be judge on that day by raising him from the dead - Jesus.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh dear.

Will using words like "missional" and "solo disciples" help your non-Christian friends? And the word "gathering" is about as appealing as a cold sprout on Boxing Day. That's my point really. The church is so out of touch with ordinary people that they question its importance. For example you mention signs and wonders and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. What on earth is anyone who isn't involved in the church going to make of that?

It's all very well telling people they need to be prepared to meet their maker and think about eternity. But you can't even get people to think about saving for their retirement - so good luck talking to them about their after lives.

Richard Dawkins seems achingly successful at telling people why they don't need to believe in God. I don't know anyone who is as persuasive with the contrary position.

Now, you've come up with some interesting questions and identified challenges that the church is facing. That's great.

But what are you actually going to do about it? What are the practical measures you can take to put it into practice?

What will you talk to your congregation about on Sunday? Are you going to give them practical tools to help talk to other people? Are you going to show them how they can face the world as Christians and make a difference?

Or are you going to just take them through a Bible passage and talk about how lucky they are to be Christian and have a jolly old sing song?

I know I have a jaundiced view, and that I do feel as if I've "been there and done that". And I'm sorry if you think that I'm having a pop at you. I'm not. I just get so tired of reading about lily-livered Christians who are so wrapped up in their own world that they forget that the church was founded on radical teaching, extraordinary views and immense practical change.

I can't imagine what it would be like if Jesus was around now. Would he be sitting in Bromley Baptist Church on a Sunday? Or would he be out causing chaos and attacking the status quo?

I've only ever been disappointed by the church. It's cosy, unchallenged and cossetted.

Go on Simon, don't you think it's time to shake things up a bit?