Depending on your church background and life experience, you might see the Church as either a Fortress or a Force.
For instance, if you come from a holiness-oriented religious background, you view the Church being on the left side. Or if you came from an abusive background or have a heavy-addiction history, the fortress-view feels safe and provides a sense of security. You don’t want any implied reminder of a culture that hurt you or created problems for you. But if you have a high evangelism-orientation, it’s all about being a force in the culture, of being invasive with the transformative message and power of the Spirit. Some of this is a matter of degree. But we all have to admit we need to take a hard look at how effective we really are in our mission…and take a second (and third…) look at our methods. This requires healthy church “self-awareness” and an assessment of our relevance-factor.
The Church is Dynamic, not Static
In many ways, the church missed it. It remained static when the world shifted. The language changed, the music changed, the media changed, and the church went into defense mode instead of missionary mode.
Missionaries have outposts, not fortresses. Missionaries mix with the culture, not run from it. Missionaries love the people that are different from them, not hate them and call them names. Missionaries see their mission to heal, not defend. A force, not a fortress. The reason we had coffee cup holders in our chairs at the church I pastored was not for Christians to feel comfortable—it was for pre-Christians to feel relaxed in a family room where they could see how a big dysfunctional family is undergoing therapy with Jesus via the Holy Spirit. Bring your coffee and come into the family room. The church in America needs to see itself as missionaries in a foreign culture. To expect the world to embrace our church subculture first and look like we do breaks every rule of good missional thinking. At its core, relevance is simply the practical expression of being missional. What would you think of a proper British gentleman who shaved his head except for a long ponytail, wore sandals and dressed in a long silk robe like everyone else around him? That would be the English missionary, Hudson Taylor, who made it his goal to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to China in the 1800’s. He even lost mission support at home for doing that. What’s more, Great Britain was actually at war with China at the time. That’s analogous to an American going to Nazi Germany at the height of WWII to share Christ. Taylor decided to not turn them into British Christians but rather Chinese Christians and was immensely successful under tough hardships for fifty years. The driving force for missional relevance is simply love. Jesus wrapped Himself in flesh out of compassion for us. A Jewish baby born on the wrong side of the tracks in a feeding trough for barn animals is a radical act of relevance. God, in order to rescue us, became one of us. In our context, relevance is rooted in love and a simple willingness to sacrifice whatever it takes to show God’s love to others, to incarnate Jesus in someone else’s world. When love becomes the motivation behind why we exist as churches, arguments about relevance become fairly simple matters of degree. But not by much. Our missional calling demands that we take a hard look at our relevance quotient and answer the classic question: If our local church shut down tomorrow, would anyone notice?
Dave Workman | Elemental Churches