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Deprogramming myself from often good, but largely program and doctrine-driven churches, I am discovering the joy of becoming a part of a mission-driven community. Most of my church experience and church planting training has been thoroughly Western and attractional–relying on plans, time lines, informational meetings, monologue preaching and teaching, Bible-studies, book studies, evangelistic events, etc. In fact, some of my most transforming church experiences up to this point have been self-initiated community groups that revolve around the internal mission of mortification of sin (see article).
One of the primary missional influences that has kept my head above programs, looking for people and cultures, has been cross-cultural ministry in a variety of places, most recently in Southeast Asia. It was through the adopting the unreached Shan people that I was forced to put my Anthropology degree to practice. In Asia we conducted prayer walks, interviews, and strategy meetings all with the aim of understanding what it means to be Shan. How do the Shan eat/work/worship/relate across generations and gender? Who is in charge of a village? What difference does it make? What are these necklaces that all the children wear? What does it mean to sleep at the temple?
Our questions moved from general to specific, as we learned more about Shan culture. The aim of our ethnographic research was to produce a body of information that could help inform church planting strategies in N. Thailand and Burma. One of the results was Surehope. One of the most effective ways to know our”target audience” was to ask them questions…something that we really arent good at in the West. Instead, Christians assume a defensive posture, making conversations doctrinal battles or apologetic arguments. Ethnographic research forces us to take a more humble path, the path of learning from those we hope “to reach.”
By asking questions from concern and genuine interest, we will travel much further and faster in our relationships. But first, we have to be convinced that we have something to learn from others, especially from those who don’t believe as we do. Our biblical anthropology–all men are created in God’s image–should convince us of that, but only the Spirit of God can convict us of subtle self-righteousness in viewing non-Christians as projects to complete, not persons to love. Jesus, of course, is the ultimate example…at the well, in the garden, in the temple…he constantly asked questions from love and for life. Through attentive conversation and questions, Jesus lovingly related to others eventually leading many into new, restored living.
Jesus-like church planters and disciples will ask lots of questions and listen to the answers. Francis Schaeffer once said something to the effect of: “Give me an hour with an unbeliever and I will listen for the first 55 minutes and then in the last five minutes I will have something to say.”
Listen to the lost and you will learn. Love the lost with that understanding and often you will see life.
- Consider reading Denis Haack’s article: “What Does Winsome Look Like?”
Both of these words are hot–“missional” and “community”–but rarely are they well-understood or practiced. As a church planting novice, I claim no final word or expertise in missional community; however, what I can offer is our experience in ACL.
Last week about a dozen of us met in our home to discuss our value of community. We started the discussion by reflecting on how we would feel having an non Christian with AIDS show up at launch team meetings. We honestly explored what our response would be to having sexually out of bounds people join us. Most of us, like many Christians, have spent too much time quarantined from the world. The Christian subculture is sticky and hard to climb out of. The general response was encouraging–we should treat them no less than fellow humans created in God’s image. As Jerram Barrs has said: “We should love the sinner not, in spite of his sin but because of it.”
I then asked how the community felt about inviting their own non-Christian friends into our meetings. Though not everyone felt like they would act the same as if just Christians were present, they did share that they want to be a community where unbelievers feel loved, respected and welcomed. If we aren’t missional now, during our formative core team meetings, will we ever be truly missional?
Some expressed concern to not compromise right and wrong, while also displaying the love of Jesus to whomever would join us. We concluded there will be tension when we mix Christians and non-Christians in our meetings, but that if some would be willing to join us for dinner and discussion, we could learn a lot from them. We also realized that it takes time to deprogram from Christian Culture Land, but that God’s Spirit is committed to growing a deeper love for others and our city in our hearts.
We want to cultivate a value for all peoples, valuing their perspectives and their lives. Having dinner with them and discussing big issues like the brokenness of Austin is one way forward.
I have shifted my more churchy and church planting thoughts to this new blog. If you are interested in my more direct engagement with culture and various articles I have written, check out Creation Project. This blog will be an outlet and a conversation with you about all things Christian, especially church planting.