‘If I was trying to minimise growth in the church, I would get everyone to speak a totally different language that no one understands. That is what the Church is doing.’
Russel Evans, Global Senior Pastor of Planet Shakers.
In Luke’s Gospel (Chapter 16:19) Jesus tells a teaching story (parable) in which as usual he turns human values totally on their head. In the story a ‘Rich Man’ (Pharisee) ends up in Hell (Hades) whereas a beggar, Lazarus, ends up in heaven, a prospect that the well off, religious teaching class, the Pharisees, simply could not possibly have though a possibility.
Worse than the two main characters in the story ending up in the ‘wrong’ place, when the Pharisee sees Abraham in heaven he pleads for him to help him, only to hear the chilling words that ‘a great chasm has been fixed’ between the two places that no one can cross.
When I revisit that parable from time to time, I can’t help thinking that
the concept of the ‘Great Chasm’ can be used as a description of one of the ‘Elephants in the Missions Operations Room’ I have described more fully in the booklet ‘Something Completely Different’ (click here to see). The ‘Elephants’ are those factors in the thinking and strategising of contemporary churches that seriously militate against their effectiveness in mission to the local community. Yet they are rarely, if ever, discussed.
One of the key causes of our missional weakness is the widespread ‘Cultural Intelligence Deficit’ by which is meant a serious failure to grasp the fact that the neo-pagan micro-cultures now comprising society are alien to the ‘Church’ culture. This cultural disconnect has excavated a Great Chasm between the two; a Chasm getting deeper and wider as evey year passes; and tragically a Chasm that is ‘Fixed’ in place by the Church itself!
The Missional Communities (of whatever, style, shape, size or form) required for fruitful mission to 21st century society must not only ‘Access’ the ‘Live,Work and Play’ (LWP) microcultures of the lost but able to be ‘Accessed by’ their inhabitants in terms of reflecting, using and relating to the cultural forms of, styles of and the ‘street’ languages of, the pieces of the cultural mosaic in which they are set.
The Key Mindset for effective mission required is –
‘Their place, Their time, Their language, Their style’
And most definitely not what is currently mostly the case of the ‘old church’ mindset which is-
‘Our place, Our time, Our language, Our style!
To implement this requires significant effort to ‘exegete’ (unpack and understand) the neo-pagan ‘Live, Work and Play’ micro-cultures into which western society has now fragmented. This quite frankly is ‘Mission Basics 101’ yet seems to have largely dropped off the radar of most local church mission endeavours, for as Bishop Paul Vincent Donovan has said-
‘The church in the west is blinded to the fact they have trapped Christ in their own culture’
It is essential to realize that what was the still Christianized society of the 20th century is now shattered into a Kaleidoscope of ‘Tribes’ that are culturally alien to the ‘Church’ universe, and who will never cross the Great Chasm that the Church has ‘Fixed’. As Michael Moynagh has commented-
Witnessing to others in daily life and inviting them to church at the weekend frequently requires too big a jump The style of Sunday worship, the language, and the assumptions ask too much. Visitors have a look. Sometimes they stay, but more often they think, ‘It’s not for me’, and don’t return.
Yet the standard ‘Go and Bring’ approach to local mission generally still amounts to a requirement for those we wish to disciple to enter and adapt to the ‘Church’ culture. This result of this is summed up by a statement by Russell Evans, Global Senior Pastor of Planet Shakers, that-
‘If I was trying to minimise growth in the church, I would get everyone to speak a totally different language that no one understands. That is what the church is doing.’
However, in order to make disciples in the ‘ LWP’ micro-cultures of those without Christ the reverse needs to be the case. That is WE must leave OUR church culture and its 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)
Sadly it seems that Paul’s word ‘ALL’ has been removed from the bibles used in most congregations and replaced by ‘Some’, that is if the verse is used at all!
It is Mission Basics 101, historically demonstrated over the centuries, that in order to reach those in other cultures, the Tribes, the Church has to GO and cross the Great Chasm, and enter those cultures in order to proclaim the Truth of the Gospel, and ‘Stay There!’.
In order to be effective in that task, it must shape itself into forms that are culturally appropriate for each individual Tribe. Given the mosaic of micro-cultures that now comprise western society, it is beyond argument that this will require a multitude of new culturally-appropriate forms, yet the Church continues to operate for the most part with one basic form.
Mission Basics 101 tells us, that for centuries it has always been the case that Christians must cross the Great cultural Chasm to where the Lost live. In the case of local mission to western society a Great Chasm has been, and continues to be, ‘Fixed’ by the Church itself and it gets wider every year.
Mission Basics 101 tells us that it’s time to stop digging and to Go travelling!
2 thoughts on “Mission Basics 101 – 1 The Great Chasm”
I can’t help feeling that one of the solutions is for christians to not leave their tribe or micro culture in the first place, at least not totally. We may have to leave some practices and ways of thinking behind, but if we don’t “churchify” new converts or youth, then they will still be mixing with and speaking the language of their peers. Fortunately, I think this is happening a little with youth, although I think it can also mean that they are still living in some ways that are less than christian (e.g. sexual morality). But better to retain cultural links than to have to re-establish them.
Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough (not an unusual thing!). I agree with your comment. It would be ideal for Christians to set up a Missional Community in the Micro-culture they are already in, or indeed shape it into one.
I was trying to emphasize the great and I think unbridgeable cultural gap between the institutional ‘church’ culture and society in terms of trying to get the unchurched to cross it, and the need for Christians to GO into the micro-cultures and as missionaries and set up mission bases there. If they are already there, Fantastic.
Yes, we must not ‘churchify’ new converts, particularly by encouraging Sunday ‘church’ attendance. I know of a number of occasions where doing that has proved to be a Toxic experience because of the large cultural disconnect involved.
The optimum process is for new converts to ‘Do church’ in the Missional Community they were won and discipled in.
The issue of the less than Christian behaviour does, I think, raise a very important issue Paul had to deal with as we see in 1 Corinthians in particular. It is an inevitable part of a growing church as 2000 years of church history shows, and the response needs to be the same as his i.e. provide appropriate Oversight by visits, emissaries, and letters, by himself, and or others.
The occurrence of problems didn’t stop Paul giving fledgling congregations a lot of freedom but he had what I call a ‘Theology of Risk’. As we know that’s largely the very opposite of most of the institutional church.
Thans again for provoking thought.