Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Church Has Many Faces

I visited today with a friend who is a missionary in Western Europe. His task is to share the Gospel in an area that is post-Christian. We may want to unpack that term a bit. For centuries, Europe was part of Christendom—an institutionalized form of Christianity characterized by established or state churches (with a few dissenting groups thrown in to keep it interesting). My friend points out that he tries to differentiate among the terms Christendom, Christianity, and being a follower of Christ. Many people with whom he works look upon Christianity as a failed experiment—“Been there, done that”—when what has really failed is the institution of Christendom. His role is to bring people to Christ, not Christianity.

In order to do this, he and his team are taking some unique approaches to “doing church.” Although his context is different from that of my friends in Southeast Asia who are developing an indigenous church in a country that has never been Christian, the tasks are similar—establishing culturally appropriate faith communities that will reach and nurture believers.

This basically is the “missional church” concept. If we look at what this team in doing in Western Europe and my friends are doing in Southeast Asia, we realize that few churches in North America have really embraced what it means to be a missional church. Developing a strategic plan and adopting “missions” activities does not mean that we are engaging our culture with the message of the Kingdom of God. In fact, most of our churches do not even take their context seriously when it comes to being the people of God in their setting.

Perhaps we need to have the kind of experience that Bishop Leslie Newbigin had when he returned from India and discovered that “Christian” Great Britain was a mission field. That would change our thinking significantly.

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