I think the longer we’re in amongst the culture of the church, the more we think that society in general knows we exist, thinks about us, is aware of us, and believes that we’re worth taking notice of. I’ve come across this notion in books, in conversation and through listening to countless church meetings…the idea that people are just waiting for the right flavour of church to appear so that they can join in their droves. Whilst a God-zapping revival would be nice, I’m more convinced than ever that renewal will come through connection and integrated mission.
Connection invites us to abandon, to a good measure, the idea of selling a Christian brand or style of church (high, low, radical, liberal, evangelical, takes your pick), and being humble enough to say that, actually, we’re maybe misrepresenting Jesus by what we wrap him up in, but it also invites us to engage in places and with people we’re not engaging with.
Last week I was in a conversation with a bright, intelligent, professional and genuinely spiritually open couple where I explained the gospel through a question they asked about baptism, or rather, what has come to be known in some circles, especially where children are involved, as ‘Christening’. They had no real idea what the symbolism represented, and that Christian faith invites us to become dead to self, buried, and Risen in Christ. The challenge is that I am not convinced that the church realise that almost everything about church culture and message is alien, and what people do know about us is not the bits we want to share so desperately.
Whilst there are always glorious exceptions of churches making significant impact in the community, I think Christians over-estimate our visibility and meaningful contribution.
Coming out of the Christendom era where everyone knew the Christian story, we make our way into a new world where nothing can be assumed. To me, at this point in life, I guess that is why nothing excites me more than relocating myself into a context where, as Paul said, no other foundation has been laid. Like him, I believe it is time for the church connect, and that the way to do this most effectively is by establishing new Christian communities where we can hear in our own voices what it sounds like to explain the gospel to ears not possessing the language we speak. I’m more than willing to forsake conventional securities for that.
You have to realise that the revivals of the past have mainly been to people who have had some exposure to the bible and to the Christian story, and who have had at some point some sort of faith heritage, however faint. For example, when the preaching-centred revivals of the Isle of Lewis took place, it was amongst a people who, even although they didn’t necessarily believe it or live it, still listened to father read a portion from the family bible before dinner. There was a knowledge that led easily to response.
I believe that if you look at the ways faith has grown significantly in this country, aside from the rise in Cathedral worship, you’ll notice that it has been through connection with both people and with the story of faith. Whether you believe Alpha is the best depiction of the Christian story or not, we still can see that it has had the impact it has through getting people around the table to hear the story. Yet, even Alpha doesn’t necessarily answer the questions people are asking, more the questions we wish people were asking….but I suppose it’s better than nothing!
The phrase ‘Church without walls’ has been around for a wee while now, but we’re not paying enough attention to the connotations. The more we, as rank and file Jesus followers, realise that the only way to connect people with the story of Jesus is to get out of the church and live open lives amongst our friends and relations, the more we will see people attracted to the Jesus we want them to meet for themselves.
People have no interest in scaling alien walls behind which lies something seemingly archaic, disconnected, judgmental and ‘not for them.’ All the more reason that we too should leave the walls behind and go to where people are in the strength of the Missionary Spirit of God who is always at work trying to compel us out of the safety of our Upper Rooms into the market place, streets and haunts of normal folks. Let’s go.