Where is your Church by Jim Spikes

Many of us involved in local churches have heard this question before. In most cases, we take the question at face value and we respond with a physical location like “2434 Somewhere Street” or we say, “on Main street between Fifth and Sixth avenues across from the courthouse.”  While we know that a church is something completely different from the physical location where it meets, we accept the geographical identity so that people asking can locate us if they desire. We are, however, living in a time when this simple question is taking on a larger, more significant meaning. Rather than referring to a physical address, many of us are asking this question of ourselves as members of the Body of Christ. As we seek to remain true to the Gospel and to the practices we have known and loved, we also see the growing gulf between who we are as the Body of Christ and the culture that surrounds us. Where are we in trying to navigate these different realities.

 

Every congregation, no matter its size or its resources, faces the same call to reach out to the world around it and show God’s love forgiveness and call people to a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Fulfilling this call, however, is becoming ever more challenging. There is a great and growing difference between what the church and the surrounding culture says is true, important, relevant and of worth. How did we get here? And, more importantly, what do we, as the church, need to do?   Too many times we are tempted to ignore this reality, close our eyes to the challenges and just keep on doing what we have always done – trusting that in time, the society around us will return. The larger we are as a congregation, the easier it is to maintain and continue as we always have. It is sad to say, but the growing evidence seems to indicate that the culture is not returning.

The evangelical church in the USA is part of a long tradition of Western Christianity that is unique in the world.  For many years, Western Culture reflected clear Judeo-Christian values and norms. Christianity was for many centuries the dominant religious expression.  The observations I make regarding our Western culture do not hold true for those regions or cultures where Christianity did not become prominent or influential.  I have come to believe that we are now living in a period of history that is as close to the First Century as we have every experienced.  Just as in our day now, the first Christians lived lives that were radically different from the cultures around them.  Followers of Christ, because of their attitudes, actions and lifestyle, stood out.  Those mired in hopelessness, evil, and selfishness were drawn to the love, forgiveness and new life offered in the Gospel. Very quickly, these new Christ-centered values, attitudes and lifestyle began to draw the surrounding cultures closer and closer. For many centuries, Western culture became almost synonymous with Christianity.  Churches developed practices, patterns and expectations that proved effective in reaching people who shared similar cultural values, paradigms, and expectations– even though they may not have been active followers of Christ. We have now entered an era when the surrounding culture is leaving us again and is rejecting the values, priorities, attitudes and lifestyle that have characterized Evangelical Christianity for many generations. There is a growing rejection of our faith that is fed by many sources. As the culture becomes increasingly hostile and intolerant of our faith, what are our options as the church?

One option is to follow the culture.  This is almost an “if you can’t beat it, join it” philosophy. This option reflects the desire to retain the close relationship that existed between Christianity and the culture around it. Many congregations have chosen to let the culture guide their hermeneutic, their values and their practices.  Often, these congregations are large, popular and, on the surface, effective.  Yet, churches who choose this path lose their distinctiveness and their ability to produce true spiritual change in the society. As my pastor often says, to make a difference you must be different. A second option for is to hold on to long-standing paradigms and practices in the sincere belief that if we just “keep the faith”, the world around us will eventually get fed up with the emptiness of life and return. The problem here is that many of these traditional practices, strategies and approaches were only effective in a world of similar, shared mindsets and values. They are now being applied to realities and challenges they were never designed to meet.  The very people we are seeking to reach are now marching to a different drummer and have a very different view of life and truth. If we continue to reach out as we have always done, we will find ourselves like a group of tourists I saw who were asking loudly and continually in English for service in a restaurant where everyone else spoke only Spanish. The Spanish speakers wanted to serve, but they could not understand.  Churches choosing this option can feel content because they are remaining faithful to what they know is true, yet they often find themselves declining. The high number of plateaued and dying churches among Evangelicals today indicate where this path or option can lead. Why are churches closing their doors in the middle of some of the greatest lostness we have seen in generations? The surest way to irrelevance and decline is to continue approaches designed for a different reality. How effective would massive newspaper ads be in a world of ipads, smart phones, and declining readership?

Where is my church in this new reality? We at Glocal Focus Associates believe the key is to look back at how our brothers and sisters in the First Century began to change their world in a generation.  What were they doing that we, the fruit and legacy of their faithfulness, are not doing?  They faced evil just as we face evil.  They faced persecution just as we face growing rejection and persecution. These early believers grasped a truth that we need to rediscover. We do not need to let ourselves be deceived or diverted by our technology or our development. Our faith, at its core, is relational.  Discipleship, at its core, is relational. Many congregations are discovering and practicing this truth and they are having a tremendous impact in their communities.  In areas of the world where open persecution draw clear lines between followers of Christ and the society around them, growing churches in these contexts reflect the relational core of what it means to love as Jesus loved, forgive as Jesus forgave, care as he cared, heal as he healed.  Again, I raise the question, where is your church?  Is it on a path that reflects our changing culture rather than changing it? Is it on a path leading it to yell louder and louder to people who can no longer speak its language?   Or are you considering what it will mean to look behind the structures, the events, the plans and find what it means to engage people at the level where they hurt and where they need and learn their “language” so that they can clearly see Christ and his Gospel.  Our unchanging God has demonstrated his power and desire to change the world in the First century.  He calls on us – His church – to allow ourselves to be used to do the same in the 21st Century.

INCARNATIONAL LIVING by Ron Roy

A shout out to those of you who are living cross-culturally, either in the United States or internationally.  I applaud your concern, call, connection and acceptance of the challenge to live with a lens greater than your own comfort zone. I consider those who choose to interact and even live cross-culturally as a Lifeline of hope, grace, love, and friendship as they live and tell the Jesus Story.

Dear Incarnational Lifeline.

  • You are the bridge that people learn to walk over to get to Jesus.
  • You are the light that helps guide the lost out of their darkness.
  • You are the song that lifts people toward the True Source of Joy.
  • You are the voice inviting others to celebrate His presence.
  • You are living out His Name as you make Jesus real in practical ways.
  • You show that there is hope even during hopeless situations.
  • You are a road sign pointing persons to the One True Way.
  • You are that breath of fresh air for the one crippled with fear and doubt.
  • You are that listening friend concerned enough to share your Hope and Love.
  • You are the sail that catches the wind of the Spirit toward the next opportunity to connect.
  • You are the source of encouraging words to the needy heart longing for affection, affirmation, and acceptance.
  • Your life reflects: harmony, hope, love, calmness, power, purpose, joy and faith.
  • Your life instills: vision, endurance, patience, dependence and wisdom
  • Your life conveys: Christian principles, values and the Standard to base life on
  • Yes, Incarnational Lifeline, you are the one in the trenches.  That is why today, I want to Thank you.

Thank you because you:

  • Look for ways to connect lostness with the Lord of Light.
  • See ways to connect the helpless with the Lord of Hope.
  • Listen for ways you can bridge the hurts of others to the Source of Comfort.
  • Show people how to trust in Jesus through your own – – –
    • Life-style
    • Decisions
    • Family Life
    • Priorities
    • Friendships
    • Attitudes
    • Actions
    • Handling of conflict
  • Remember,      Don’t worry about life being “Fair”
  • Remember,      Don’t focus on what you are missing, but be concerned for people,

and what they are missing, JESUS!

  • Remember,      Don’t keep score, or keep up with your losses.          Release them!
  • Remember,     Don’t keep a “you did me wrong list”                        Rip it up!
  • Remember,      Don’t let anything, or anyone, hinder your testimony EVER!
  • Remember,      Don’t separate the spiritual from the secular.

Living as an incarnational lifeline means that:

Your heart is with you in your adopted country and culture.  You have unpacked and that includes your own heart.  It is not divided. Your own heart is at home and at rest, it isn’t on a journey back to where you came from.

Your life-style is lived in the NOW.  You are open to minister to others and be ministered to in NOW time. Some call this the Samaritan Principle.  The opportunity for service is now, not after the course, when the next term has started or is over, but now.   An incarnational lifeline has learned the “clock” of their host culture, if the host country even has or uses clocks.

Life is embraced as a journey of living in a different culture. Life is an adventure of reconciliation for his/her own life as well as those with whom he/she serves.

Hurt, pain, suffering, disappointment are part of the life of an incarnational missionary.  But these are not just his/her personal experiences. The incarnational lifeline feels the hurts, pains, suffering, disappointments of his/her host culture.

Being an incarnational lifeline means a life of service and saying no to selfish desires. The incarnational lifeline knows that he/she is a servant first, a servant second, and a servant third. He/she knows what it is like to play the “second violin” while others learn to take the lead.

“My way” may not be the “accepted way” is a principle the incarnational lifeline has learned.    Adapting to the culture when you are in the minority and saying no to judgmental and prejudicial feelings are marks of an incarnational lifeline.

An incarnational lifeline is one who desires to Reflect the love of Jesus, Mirror the values of Jesus, Hold up the Standards of Jesus and Allow His Light to illumine and be reflected.

An incarnational lifeline understands that his/her call is one of unlimited trust and obedience and that the harvest is in the hands of Jesus.

Incarnational life liners learn how to “read faces,” “read hearts,” “read lives,” and don’t simply try to convince their host culture of Truth.  They earn the right to be heard, by living and showing the message as well as telling the Gospel story. Truth is caught as well as taught.

Incarnational life liners, live with purpose, direction and vision.  They are willing to witness anytime, anywhere, to anybody as God leads in the heart language of the people.  Learning the language is seen as a vital part of the lifeline mentality of being incarnational.

Living the incarnational lifestyle, really is a God intentional way of saying “I Love You.” If you are a cross cultural life liner, in a way you are God’s love letter to your host culture.  He is telling them how much He loves them, not just by sending Jesus, but also by sending you to tell the Jesus story.  I trust that the love of God is flowing through your life ever more deeply, richly, embracing life and others with the very heart of God.

  • Who will read God’s letter, (your life) today where you live?
  • What will be their impressions of the Life Line pointing them to Jesus?
  • What is hindering you from living as an incarnational lifeline?