Monday, June 20, 2011

Community on the Edge: Church Outside the Comfort Zone.

Dusk came last night in Bozeman at about 9:55pm. Dawn came this morning at 4:56am (or so). I've got to say that kind of schedule is tough. The day becomes so long at this time of year at this latitude that it is practically disorienting. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep! Indeed, it can be so disorienting for people that they don't stay here but return to a location that has a more consistent day length, closer to the equator. But I am not unfamiliar with this situation. My old home in Bellingham, Washington was even further north and it too had long summer days. Those kind of long days in the summer and short days in the winter create a unique environment and a unique community.

We live in disorienting times. Some call this time "the postmodern era"; a time when all that we know about life and all the means we used to navigate this life has been turned upon its ear. The institutions and methods to which we have grown accustomed no longer have the appeal or effect they once had. This is no more true anywhere than in the church. The church is inherently embedded in culture. At its heart, it worship and reveres an historical figure (Jesus) as God who spoke to a specific culture in a specific way. Yet the ethic that Jesus taught was, and is, Truth (His teaching and ethics are experienced by all people as 'eternal' - His teachings transcend the culture and historical context to cause change in the hearer-reader; you see, the 'truth' of Truth is that it inaugurates change) and it must be applied in the ever changing culture around us. Thus as the culture changes around the church, the church too must adjust its methodology as it proclaims the Truth that is Jesus.

In a time where change is common; indeed where change is the norm and where steadfast adherence to any static context or tradition means quick death, the living church finds itself - if it is to be faithful proclaimers of the gospel - as a 'Community on the Edge' - a church outside of the comfort zone. As the comfort of the modern age fades into the quantum change of the postmodern (or is it ultramodern?), the survival of the church depends upon its willingness to be at the very edge of culture; reaching out to the lost, the hurt, the child and the widow, who always are the victims in culture.

It would be easy for the church trying to survive in the waning comfort of the modern era to continue its methods for as long as they can. And some churches in North America, located in cultures still relatively ruled by the ideas of the modern period (the Bible Belt, for example) will continue to rely on those methods. But a note to pastors: even as you rely on the tested programs of the 20th century to build the church body, start to equip people to make relationships with their neighbor. Rather than relying on attractional evangelism, start equipping people to engage in missional evangelism, where they go out of the building and into the world, making relationships, sharing the truth of Jesus with their lives, leading them to the Truth as we experience it in life and as it is codified in scripture. If you begin this process of equipping your sheep to do the meat of ministry, be prepared: you will soon find yourself outside your comfort zone as a community on the edge, challenging the norms of your culture and society. But be encouraged: that's exactly where Jesus and Paul were! I like what Paul says and what the church must take to heart today:

"To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22)

Learn to live as a community on the edge; seriously engaging culture with the Truth and Love of God in order that some might be saved.

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