Aug3WedAugust 3, 2016
This past week, I had the opportunity to join about fifty other Mennonites from around the states (CA to PA) at Journey Mennonite Church for the Anabaptist Renewal Conference. Most of the attendees were from churches still connected with MC USA. But unlike other gatherings that I have attended, the focus was not on the status of the denomination. Instead, the focus was on pressing believers towards remembering the incarnation of Jesus and His command to be His witnesses within the world. In other words, be on mission all of the time – living a faith among those who do not yet know Jesus.
The main speaker was an experienced church planter named Hugh Halter. Over the past two decades, his family has actively and intentionally invited hundreds of people into their home for the sake of building trust, meeting needs and showing the practical and powerful love for Jesus. Although many may perceive their strategy for reaching not-yet-disciples of Jesus as slow, they have experienced incredibly deep relationships with drug addicts, ex-cons, tattoo artists, construction workers, teachers, physicians, etc. and led hundreds of people into an active faith in Jesus Christ! It was incredible to hear how the Lord used backyard barbecues, late night parties and ordinary service projects to draw people to Himself. For me, it was a reminder that living out the simplicity of Acts 2:42 must be a high priority for the Christian (me and you).
Part of the dilemma facing the Western Church, according to missiologists like Hugh, is that many Christians are still used to the “Field of Dreams” strategy for disciple-making. The strategy goes like this: if a church has attractive programs, catchy music and dynamic teaching, then non-yet-Christians will simply flock to it. Therefore, The Western Church built a structure for leadership which emphasized the leadership gifts of Shepherd and Teacher (people go to seminary in order to become a professional in these areas) while at the same time unintentionally denigrating the roles of Apostolic (Visionaries), Evangelistic (Risk-takers) and Prophetic (Truth-telling prayer warriors).
Here are two dilemmas with this. First, according to Ephesians 4:11-12, ALL active leadership gifts are needed for The Church to remain actively engaged as missionaries in their context. Secondly, the "Field of Dreams" strategy just doesn't work anymore. Many people with no experience in the church have a strong mistrust for 'religious systems' and would never even think about just walking into a 'church building' uninvited. Social media and news stories don't exactly help the reputation of Christians in America either. Jesus still has good street credit. The Church? Not so much.
As a result, the Holy Spirit is once again asking Christians to build relationships in their neighborhoods, among co-workers, or among the poor and hopelessly hurt. Typically, our response is similar to Moses’ “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else” (Exodus 4:13). In many ways, mainstay Christians have lost the zeal and social tools to build genuine friendships with those outside of the Church and really aren’t witnesses for Jesus in the community. Is that you? Honestly, that can easily describe me if I’m not careful.
I’m still processing much of what the Lord was teaching me through the ARC gathering. Yet I thankful for experiences like these, which still exist within our denomination, to remember that since our culture is changing, it’s also time for Christians to re-learn simple missionary practices – like building ordinary friendships and sharing meals together.
How might the Lord lead you to live those out this week?