Lately I’ve been looking in the mirror and being surprised by what I see. The face staring back at me is 10 years older than I imagine it to be. Apparently this is a normal phenomenon.
As I leave the experience of the last couple of days I have a strong sense that the Christian church is needing to look in the mirror.
I’ve been in Calgary participating in a conference run by the Evangelical Missiological Society featuring, among other things, a series of lectures by Dr. Chris Wright (who is the author of a number of books about the implications of Biblical Theology for the practise of the Church).
I appreciated Chris’s sessions. He gave a very thourough, biblical framework for mission as more than (but not less than) evangelism. His input though, left me with a slight sense of frustration.
I wholeheartedly agree with almost everything he said, but I’m not convinced we, the Christian church, are ready to look into the mirror and re-interpret ourselves based on what we see.
I said as much in the question I asked Chris (I hope I didn’t offend him).
I asked Chris to give some insight into how the church might actually change to be more in line with the framework of integrated mission he was sharing, if most of our budgets and structures are based on a framework that works directly counter to the paradigm he was speaking about.
The reality is that, whether they know it or not, most churches are still structured around the Donald McGavran church growth model which sees the primary goal of mission as growing the church numerically, which influences how we structure ourselves and what we apply our money to, which continues to re-enforce that old and unbiblical paradigm. (I wrote about this on KingdomCells.org)
Chris responded that he understood that structure was required but that too often the church in North America looks for a management model. He is right of course, but the problem with not thinking about how we organize ourselves is that the unconscious choices we make to prioritize certain things end up shaping us.
Winston Churchill said “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
The frustration I feel is that I don’t think we are yet having the right conversations.
We need to name what the bible says, but we also need to use that insight as a mirror to reflect back to us where we are being shaped in ways that does not line up with either the biblical truth or the world God has placed us in.
We need what G.K. Chesterton calls “clear and courageous thought” that is prepared to face uncomfortable truth:
All tame and trivial thought is concerned wdsith following a fashion onward to its logical extremity. All clear and courageous thought is concerned with following it back to its logical root.
Two of the presenters at the conference presented uncomfortable truths:
Joel Thiessen is a Sociologist at Ambrose University who specialises in Religion. His presentation was on the rise of the number of people who identify as having no religion. His basic premise was that unless something remarkable happened, that group (24% of Canadian Adults, 32% of Canadian teens) would continue to grow and the number of people idetifying with religion would decrease.
Sadiri Joy Tira presented a paper about what is being called the “Diaspora” phenomenon: that more and more people, from more and more countries are moving into your neighbourhood. We like thinking of countries like Candada, Australia, America and the U.K. as white and anglo saxon. They aren’t now and they are going to be rapidly become even less so.
The framework that wright was proposing would actually prepare us well to engage with these and other uncomfortable truths. However what he was saying represents a radical shift in the church’s self understanding. It calls for a radical re-understanding of who we are and what we are about. It calls for a move away from McGavran. It calls for a long hard look in the mirror.
I am concerned that the broader church won’t make the leap.
A few weeks ago I shared a paper I had written about the emerging paradigm of mission in the Alliance church with a senior academic leader. His response was that he thought that what I was saying was right, but he wasn’t sure whether the church’s organization would be ready to make the shift.
I am concerned that often what we call “progress” in the church is simply the next logical step on a path that was charted by people in previous generations. Chesterton puts it like this:
There is a thing which is often called progress, but which only occurs in dull and stale conditions; it is indeed, not progress, but a sort of galloping plagiarism. To carry the same fashion further and further is not a mark of energy, but a mark of fatigue.
At the end of these couple of days I am left with a strong sense that the Christian church is at a crossroads: will we keep heading down the same worn out paths and continue to get the same results, or will we look in the mirror and discover that the way we have been seeing ourselves no longer represents reality?
I’m grateful for the opportunity to be working in a local church that is wanting to take the courageous step out of business as usual. I hope there will be many others on the journey with us.