Every morning for the past few weeks, a moment or two of my prayer turns to gratitude for the amazing responses our cells provided for our mapping discernment. The compilation of this yearning, sincerity and wisdom moves me and has become like a little bible to instruct me. I know most of you don’t have access to all the data (but you can get it, if you want it), so I want to attempt some interpretation for you.
Today I am thinking about how people answered this question: Given what you think is going to happen in our society and in the world in the next five years, what do you think Jesus wants to do through his church, in general, not just us?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? And people did not shy away from it — there are eighteen pages of responses! Right at the top of the list is are thoughts about how Jesus wants to be known and followed. I sorted out one stream of thinking under the heading: Spread the word about Jesus. That is a main way the Lord wants us to respond to what is going on.
People had some interesting thoughts about what’s happening in the world:
- “Christendom” is over. Denominations are dying. We are experiencing the first days of being a post-Christian nation, like Europe already is, especially here in the Northeast. Our political leaders brazenly wave the banner of Christianity but do not feel constrained to live by it, deepening the cynicism even more.
- In general, Christians are getting bad press. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both claim to be Christians, but over half the population does not trust them to tell the truth or to act ethically. Christians are known as part of the domination system that oppresses others: the poor, gay people, immigrants. They are known as haters, anti-science, hypocritical about sex, and salespeople with big stores.
- Nevertheless, the church is going to become more vital as it shakes off the trappings of state-sponsored religion and bad theology. As a result it will become more of a target for enemies, the powers that be and the principalities of the air. Even so, many people are looking to experience God because the alternative of the world is cruel.
Here is some of our thinking about what the world needs
- There needs to be a revival, a new outpouring of the Spirit. People need to know God is real; they need to experience the Lord’s healing presence.
- The world needs to see the real Jesus! People are looking for authenticity and love.
- The Church needs to figure out better public relations (PR). Because people need the basic gospel, one which is not filtered through bankrupt authority figures. This is a main reason Circle of Hope exists. We want to be a part of what is next and to stop having the arguments of yesteryear.
So what should we do?
The responses can be organized in four main things we should do.
We need to “get out there”
I am so happy that we have come up with a new catch phrase! The pastors have been leading the way and responders want that to keep happening.
A couple of groups had some interesting ideas on what ‘getting out there” means:
- It means being more real, more moved by Jesus and not by lesser “gods”, more telling our story and relating.
- It means being ready for interruptions. We should pay attention to opportunities to connect Jesus in our everyday patterns. We are “out there” all the time. If we are attentive to God, good things will come. God will send more people to partner with us.
- It means putting the holdover of “church culture” to rest. We should embrace and include as an act of love, not an act of social change. People without a church background should fit into the church as easily as they might fit into your dinner party at home. We don’t want to create or be a part of a subculture that tries to stay shielded from the dominant culture. We’re safe in Christ; we don’t need to protect ourselves when we are so protected.
We need to perfect our goal to be incarnational
I think some people think “incarnational” is Circle of Hope jargon. It is a very theological word, true, but it is all about God being revealed as a human in Jesus Christ. When Paul talks about the “weakness of God” and the “foolishness of the cross,” he is reflecting on being an incarnation, himself, like Jesus. When Jesus send us out as sheep among wolves or breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples, sending them out to forgive and reveal, he is making us incarnations, he is forming us into a body that it his ongoing incarnation. “Incarnational” is not just jargon, it is a way of living like Jesus that is not as common as we would like. Some of our cells were working hard with the thought.
We spread the word about Jesus incarnationally. We are not just a message, we are a people. We love first and can show the gospel as much as describe it. That mentality was threaded through much of what people said:
- We need to do evangelism that is incarnational, not attractional. Lift Jesus up. Don’t try to mimic culture or create fancier stuff. Don’t worry about visibility. Focus on relating to people and loving them.
- We need to show people who Jesus is. People don’t need more arguing, they need to know God’s salvation.
- We need to expand the Kingdom of God by creating an environment for young people to grow into a life with Christ. We should continue to be a safe place to experience, explore and express God’s love.
We need to tell our truth
This is kind of a new thought sprinkled through the responses the cell leaders collected. People are aware that Circle of Hope has done some good, new thinking over the years. We are into some things that aren’t duplicated elsewhere. We have some responsibility for what we have been given.
Here are some examples of us struggling to be honest about what it means to spread the word about Jesus when many people think the church is a problem — if they think about the church at all.
- Many of us are not that interested in being “Christians.” We like the idea of unity in the Church until we realize that the church we would never be in would like to drag us back into what we left. We are on to something that is better. Not because everyone is bad and we are good, but because we are on to something. We want the faith restored and for people to have their faith in the church restored.
- We need to find ways to speak to the real problems people have with Jesus and, especially, the church. The Christian image in the world is very tarnished. Some of us are shy about calling ourselves Christians because it ties us to child molesters and patriarchal despots. We have to get over that.
- Folks need the basic gospel not filtered through bankrupt authority figures (the reason Circle of Hope exists). Our expansive idea of leadership is a risk, since people do stuff wrong, but it is a demonstration that church is not about shutting off your initiative and creativity. Jesus wants us to spread the word about who he is and that he is the way and the hope for people in ways that connect with people as they are now.
- Some of us are conformed to postChristian law/morality as dominated by the government and political fighting. We follow it and think it is goodness. We are slaves to another Lord, essentially. We need to get free so we can evangelize and heal, which is deeper than law and morality.
We should plant congregations among the next generation
Most of the next generation are going to be young, maybe we will even give birth to another crop of them next year! — we are good at that! But the “next generation of the church” is not just for the young in years, it is for those who have ears to hear what Jesus is saying now. Age has nothing to do with it, really, except that twentysomethings and younger are way more available, relationally and psychologically, to form something new and to be formed as someone new. So, practically, we are likely to stay young. The “spiritually young” are undoubtedly devoted to passing on whatever they can to the next generation! As one who thinks he is staying “young” in the Spirit, I don’t think older people will be excluded from our work, unless they are merely committed to being a baby boomer or GenX.
Here is a sample of what people had to say about it:
- We need to engage further in a movement for young people of all ages pointed toward Jesus.
- We must creatively engage people in the Gospel — figure out how we are going to include the next generation.
- We should grow our burgeoning mission to teenagers.
- We look forward to seeing new congregations planted.
- When we think about hiving a congregation, we don’t want to move toward a “parish model” just because we have buildings in various neighborhoods. All our congregations should be regional as well as rooted in neighborhoods. We don’t know how people are going to make relationships. Virtual relating has no boundaries. So we don’t want to revert to some overly-local idea, even though being planted in a place is crucial.
I hope all this keeps you “in the loop” about what your brothers and sisters have been talking about. It is easy, I suppose, to let the mapping experience pass you by when you miss meetings or just have a lot to do. It is OK to trust others to do the work, but it is even better to add your presence and enthusiasm. We are trying to listen to God and follow. That is not a passive idea in any way. Look for more for the next three days on this major question!
Feel free to make some comments on this, OK? We had another great meeting last Monday. We are in the middle of discerning. You might have some affirmation or additions to make!
The other blogs:
- Key word: DEMONSTRATE. Develop spiritually. Develop radical community. Be a safe place to heal. Practice the next orthodoxy. Consciously address technology.
- Key word: CROSS BOUNDARIES. Cross dividing lines. Deal with diversity. Relate to neighbors.
- Key word: LIVE COMPASSIONATELY. Show compassion. Foment societal justice. Be devoted to peacemaking. Connect globally. Develop business. Nurture children. Plan for secure finances.