Summer’s sun beats down, January days slip by, schools’ return looms near and down in the forest of parish-land there is the faint rustling of ministers stirring from their summer slumbers. First musings on sermon series seep into the consciousness, music leaders are planning their selections, Sunday school programs call for attention. A seemingly endless series of Sundays stretch over the chronological horizon, each to be populated with ‘services’ and the interspersings of events and programs.
Yes ‘church’ is happening again, but will it be the ‘same old’, that is pretty much the same as last year? For 99% of churches the answer will be yes! And you know the truly scary thing? The punters like and expect it that way! They like that the church is SIC-‘Sunday-Centric, In-Drag and Christendom-form’, and woe betide the minister who significantly tries to change that!
However, down where the pagans live, those stumbling along hell’s pathway, it’s nothing like that, for them it will not be ‘same old’, it will not be like last year. For this year the iPhone number will not be the same, ‘Windows’ will not be the same, ways and forms of communication will not be the same, in the Netflix world of the pagans media access will not be the same, an ‘Uberized’ taxi service will not be the same, educational content and style will not be the same, the need to physically go and pay for or buy many things will not be the same, and the ethnic mix of your (church) neighbourhood continues to become not the same, society’s religious appetite is not the same, its liking for organized ‘religion’ is not the same. But Sunday service -land is unruffled by the cultural maelstrom. No indeed! All is calm and serene and planning is the ‘same old’ for church to happen as though in a world of yesteryear long gone, a church world much beloved and thus demanded by the punters even as they decreasingly visit its ‘pews’.
The paganization of the culture, and the degree of the church-society divide was well illustrated by a banner headline over a two page spread on Christmas 2015 in the Boxing Day edition of the ‘Australian’ newspaper (a broadsheet). Its headline, spread cross the two pages, was “Beach, Footy, Food and Santa: the wide country has it covered”. Indeed the “wide country” does have it covered, if you mean by ‘it’ the Christ, the Christ who is an increasingly irrelevant distraction to many or even most. Christmas is in many ways a good litmus test for the retreat of the gospel in our society and there is plenty of evidence-
Just before Christmas a family member who works in a child care centre sat her twenty pre-schoolers down in a circle and asked them what Christmas was about. All twenty said the same word – “Presents”! They are the Australian mission field of the future! Driving around the suburbs in December ones sees a proliferation of ‘Christmas’ lights but few if any Christian themes, nativity scenes etc. Schools increasingly ban carols for fear of ‘offending’ other religions. The media, if they bother at all, and even some church leaders make ‘Churches packed’ comments but we know that this ‘packed-ness’ has no effect on the rest of year. Resource-heavy Carol services are organised but with little if any gospel fruit really and only pander to consumers’, church members and not, desire for some Christmas ‘warm and fuzzies’.
Indeed the banner headline saying- “Beach, Footy, Food and Santa the wide country had it covered” got it right. In an ocean of ‘Sales’ and shopping commentary there was only one mention of Jesus in the whole broadsheet double page, in a short bracketed quote by of all people – the Pope. One could indeed be tempted to say it’s a case of Christmas RIP.
That Christless Christmas-represented world is the one in which the church is called to do ‘Mission 2016’ but is it the one in these January days that is on the radar of the planners as they walk through the “Gate of the Year”? There is an old truism that “if you fail to plan you plan to fail!” I think there is a need for another one “If you plan for the wrong thing you plan to fail!”
If the planning for this year’s agenda for mission is the ‘same old’ as last year, then there will be the ‘same old’ degree of missional fruitfulness- that is very little. Could it be though (and this should be our prayer) that this year our church leaders realize the reality of our Uberized, Netflix world where ‘same old’ doesn’t cut it, such that this shapes their plans.
Failing to ‘Unbind’ the church from ‘same old’ and to plan mission for an Uberized, Netflix world is to plan to fail