Mission Pluto

                  ‘Go (keep on going ) and make disciples

*****

The goal of the standard strategy adopted by churches for local mission over many decades has been to draw people into Sunday services. Such a strategy has traditionally involved running special ‘guest’ services or other events that will attract non-Christians into the ‘church’ environment. Such activities include door knocking the local area, putting on evangelistic breakfasts/dinners, running community events and many others, all of which provide the opportunity for invitations to be given to non-members to come along on Sundays or perhaps attend a basic Christianity course. This can be called a ‘Go and Bring’ (In- Drag) strategy, i.e. ‘ Go’ into the community and ‘ Bring ’ into church. However, while relatively fruitful in the still Christianized society of the last century this has now been decreasingly effective for decades.

Hence, the need for the development of alternative missional approaches such as the Unbounded Church ‘Go and Stay’ strategy encouraged by this site . This is not rocket science but simply the application of the basic missional principles used for mission over the last two thousand years.

However, this ‘ Going’ in order to ‘ Make Disciples ’ (Matthew 28:19) has several dimensions to it that I do not believe are sufficiently discussed and from my observation often left out of the training given to those pursuing Disciple-Making. There are others, but I will mention three facets of ‘Going’ here.

1. Going Geographically

‘ Go and Stay’ in essence means rather than attempting to encourage people to ‘come to us’ , into our church buildings and services, Christians must ‘Go’ into the kaleidoscope of ‘ Live, Work and Play’  (LWP) socio-spiritual cultural universes that now make up 21st century society, and ‘Stay’ there. This ‘ Stay ’ can be achieved by the formation of Missional Communities (micro-churches) embedded in those ‘universes’ that can then act as beach-heads for the Gospel.

2. Going Culturally

When we ‘Go’ into the mosaic of subcultures for the purpose of establishing Missional Communities it is not just about going geographically, i.e. not just going physically in order to enter the ‘LWP’ locations of the lost (e.g. clubs, workplaces, coffee shops, pubs, playgroups, community centres etc) but also going ‘Culturally’.

The still Christianized society of th 20th century is now shattered into a Kaleidoscope of micro-communities, cultural ‘universes’ that are alien to the ‘church’ universe, so going into them also involves a ‘Cultural’ journey. Yet the standard ‘Go and Bring’ approach to local mission generally amounts to a requirement for those we wish to disciple to enter ‘ our’ ( i.e. the church) culture. This can be summed up as –

‘Our style, Our language, Our place, Our time’

However, in order to make disciples in the ‘ LWP’ cultural universes of those without Christ the reverse is the case. That is WE must leave OUR church culture baggage behind and ‘Go’ on a journey through the shifting cultural landscapes of the 21st century in order to become-

all things to all people so that by all possible means (we) might save some’

( 1 Corinthians 9:22)

Which means that, for the sake of effective mission, the slogan of today’s Disciple-Maker must be turned on its head to-

‘Their style, their language, their place, their time’

My observation is that this ‘cultural journey’ facet of ‘Going’ is not given enough attention in the training of Disciple-makers.

3. Going Spiritually

There is a third, and vital, aspect of ‘Going’ which is the fact that Disciple-Making doesn’t just require a physical and cultural change of address but also a journey into alien ‘ spiritual’ universes. This is an issue that seems to be rarely or at best inadequately addressed in the training given to those wishing to be Disciple-Makers.

Such training largely continues to be limited in its content to many of the elements of 20th century evangelistic strategies. By this I mean the teaching of such tools as being able to present a basic gospel outline, give a personal testimony, run a basic (often called Discovery) bible study, and the use of leading questions designed to initiate a gospel conversation. These are all good things and are still vital skills to be contained in the Disciple-Making tool kit, however they are now likely to be limited in effect to only those who are in some way previously ‘churched’ or have some vague awareness of the Christian faith.

Such persons can be pictured like the Inner Planets (e.g. Venus) of the Solar system, their lives still orbiting relatively close to the ‘Son’. The problem is that they are now a rapidly shrinking minority, as the catastrophic trend of decline in professed Christian affiliation and church attendance demonstrates. In contrast, the challenge for today’s DiscipleMakers is to reach the ‘Outer Planets, the ‘Pluto’ dwellers of the spiritual Solar system which is 21st century society, those far distant from the ‘Son’. All of which leads us to the Neo -Pagans.

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In a recent conversation a friend told me about a survey he had carried out with a group of primary school children. One of the questions was ‘ Who is Jesus?’. He was not exactly surprised but certainly alarmed by the result. For more than half of these children simply had no idea.

The reality is that a Kaleidoscope of Neo-Pagan world views is now rapidly supplanting, indeed has largely supplanted, the Biblical world view which controlled western societies for centuries. This is a fact particularly relevant to 21st century missional strategies, the addressing of which must be part of the training of Disciple-Makers. The ignorance of the surveyed children is the consequence of growing up in the NeoPagan spiritual universes in which their parents dwell.

This happens either consciously in terms of adopting other religions or unconsciously in terms of their worship of the ‘other gods’ of this age. These gods (materialism, hedonism, consumerism, family, sport etc) are those by which, unknowingly, they are controlled, for ‘ the god of this world has blinded the eyes of the unbeliever’ ( 2 Corinthians 4:4). The Neo-Pagans are not only generally ignorant in regard to Christian things but importantly also  increasingly Christian-hostile, an ignorance and hostility transmitted to their offspring.

In order to reach them it is essential to grasp the fact that Neo-Pagan members of society are like the outermost planets of the solar system, orbiting in the distant dark reaches of space where the light of the Sun barely reaches. This can be used as a spiritual analogy for those whose cultures orbit so far from the ‘Son’ that His light is barely a flicker on their radar. They are generally ignorant of, and so far spiritually from, the Christian world view that they are rarely reached by current evangelistic (mostly In-Drag) strategies. The reason for this is that these strategies are still conditioned by 20th century thinking, and still retain and use many elements of missional strategies designed for mission ‘Venus’.

The brute reality is to grasp the fact that the urgent need is for NeoPagan mission. This requires Missionaries who are well equipped for the journey to ‘Pluto’, into the distant, alien and dark outer spiritual ‘planets’ where the Neo-Pagans dwell. Key aspects of such a journey are that it requires a missional vehicle very different to those generally in use and, very importantly, that it is a long journey that takes significant time.

So what is the vehicle for the Disciple-Making journey that will reach the ‘outer planets’? The answer to that question is Love. That means the sacrificial servant-hearted Christ-demonstrating Love that will commit the time, often long, and resources to ‘Go and Stay’ in, and serve, those who live in the Neo-Pagan universes. These are a great, and increasing, cultural distance from the ‘Son’. There is nothing new in this, for it is exactly the same strategy used by the 5th and 6th century Celtic Missionaries such as Columba, which created one of the great missionary movements of history.

The Disciple-Maker needs a Toolbox of skills, but it is a much expanded one compared to that generally currently in use. The content of such a Toolbox is a subject that requires another article, however suffice it to say here that Disciple-Maker training must provide the ability to exegete (understand) the ever-morphing kaleidoscope of Neo-Pagan cultures of those whose life orbits are far and increasingly distant from the ‘Son’.

*****

The ‘Going’ to make disciples is a multi-faceted challenge, for which a growing army of Disciple-Makers is required. However, they must be equipped with a much better stocked ‘Tool Box’, one that equips them for ‘Mission Pluto’. That is a journey to the distant socio-spiritual ‘Outer Planet’ cultures, in which the growing Neo-Pagan proportion of society now dwells.    For the sake of effective mission, the slogan of the Disciple-Maker must be-  ‘Their style, their language, their place, their time!’

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