••• a church on mission | missiology

When we talk about church planting, we are essentially talking about missions. Good missionaries always study their context, or the culture, in order to developing strategies to reach that context for Christ. We must ask ourselves, “How can our church relate to contemporary culture and contextualize the gospel in our setting?”

Today North America needs to be treated as a mission field in the same way that we in the West have approached much of the rest of the world for the past several centuries.

It is clear that Christendom, the period of time when Christianity was the assumed religion of the West, has indeed come to an end. Therefore, we must contextualize the gospel in new and “fresh ways to the ever-changing population that has disassociated itself from ‘pseudo-Christian’ roots.”

Being on mission means “adopting the posture of a missionary, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound…It means being a missionary without ever leaving your zip code.”

For most of us, this seems painfully obvious. Being a Christian means sharing your faith, leading others to Christ and making disciples.  However, it seems just as painfully obvious that many Christians in America are not engaging in the mission.

Jesus Christ is the embodiment of that mission; the Holy Spirit is the power of that mission; the church is the instrument of that mission; and the culture is the context in which that mission occurs.

indigenization

Studies (and perhaps even our own experiences) show that this is not happening here at home. Perhaps the greatest hinderance to being ‘on mission’ here in America is the fear and misunderstanding of indigenization.

Indigenization simply means to transform things to fit the local culture. When we enter into a culture we must “make the gospel intelligible and relevant in words and deed to the eyes and ears of men.”

Evangelicals have used this process in foreign missions for centuries. However, churches in America, though they may be very supportive of cross cultural missions, they “oppose missiological thinking within their own context.”

Evangelicals have generally forbidden North American churches from doing the very thing we require international churches to do. Many churches often struggle just to change the carpet in the worship center! They aren’t dealing with cultural shifts that are going on in America.

The sad reality is that many are just afraid of change, and therefore extremely defensive against indigenizing the gospel within our post-modern context.

 

ecclesia semper reformanda

church always reforming

But thankfully, orthodox reformed theology teaches us that we must continually reform. The early reformers would often use the phrase ‘ecclesia semper reformanda’ which means ‘church always reforming’. The church will never arrive because — as the culture changes, the church is compelled to change with it. When a church refuses to change, then we will inevitably experience what we are seeing today in the decline of churches and Christianity here in America.

The very ideal of Christendom, may in fact be her downfall. In other words, because Christianity was, at one time, the preferred religion in America,

The church was handicapped because it did not have to be missional; its mission muscles did not have to be flexed. But that is no longer true. We’re not on ‘home turf.’ Instead, we’re in a missionary setting, and we need to focus on reaching the unchurched around us. We’ve seen that church planting is the most effective way to reach reach those outside of the faith.

 
Again, this is what lead Peter Wagner to say that “the single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches”, because “new churches approach evangelization in a way that tends to be more culturally indigenous than established churches.” And when you think about it, the process of indigenization is the most logical step in reaching a changing generation. Even the early reformers understood this was the only way Christianity had survived as long as it has.

 

what do the beatles and the church have in common

Business and marketing empires in the world understand contextualization. They recognize that if they want to sell their products, they must understand the culture in which they are targeting. Lets take music as a wonderful example. Any rock band, who has been around for longer than a few decades, knows that it must find a new sound in order to gain a new fan base. Some bands try to change their sound, only to be resisted by their current fan base, and typically revert back to their old sound, simply doing what they do best. They might release a dozen greatest hits albums for the rest of their careers. Unfortunately, those bands will never reach beyond their current fan base, and some of those current fans will eventually get sick of the same ol’, same-ol’.

But, bands that go through the process of deconstruction, and find their new sound, seem to always be on the charts. They constantly gather new fans while still keeping their old fan base. Artists like U2, the Beatles, Sting, and Michael Jackson. Even Bob Dylan is still popular at 65.

Sometimes, an artist realizes that he simply can not produce a new sound. Recognizing that the older he gets the less popularity he has in the new cultural music scene, he might choose to invite new artists to make a duet album with him. Artists like Tony Bennett for instance, how could he ever produce a different sound? Bennett continues to produce new albums that reach a younger fan base by singing along side younger artists like Diana Krall, Matchbox 20 and Michael Bubble.

Bottom line — the church must think contextually. How is the culture around us changing? How can we reach a new generation? Is it even possible to reach the new with out loosing the old fan base? Even the early reformers understood that the church must change or die. If we refuse the Church in America will continue to decline. In fact, it has been said that Christianity is just one generation from extinction in the U.S. We must engage in the mission of Jesus now!
 
 
 

ecclesia semper reformanda —

…as the culture changes, the church is compelled to change with it. The message must never change, but the sound of that message must  if our culture is going to hear it.