What about the Church?– Insights from Alan Roxburgh part 3
This is my third and final post containing insights from Alan Roxburgh’s book, Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood. This book is a must read book for anyone doing community based ministry. Roxburgh makes a powerful argument that way too many of our conversations as Christians revolve around the church when our focus should be on God’s movement in the world. Below are some of his more insightful observations.
The real challenge we face is how to transform the imagination of our leaders for them to see it’s not about getting their churches filled; it’s about joining with what God is doing in the world.
I believe Luke 10 is a critical text for our time of dislocation; it challenges the belief that the church is the place for personal self-development and meeting of needs. We can’t go on doing church in the ways the Euro-tribal communities of the twentieth century did and we can no longer have as our main concern how to get people into church or the kind of “pitch” we’ll use on a potential “seeker” or the “type” of person our focus group study tells us we should go after for a new church plant (shall we go after False Creek Fanny or False Creek Fred?). For me, this is about dwelling among, working beside, and eating at the table of the men and women who live in our communities, who long for the personal rather than the pitch.
This is more than a door-knocking junket to evangelize or invite a neighbor to a special “seeker” service. This is about entering deeply into the life of the other on his or her terms, not your own. The group of seventy were sent out, not as traveling prophets or religious emissaries but to work among the townspeople.
What if an element of what God is saying to us in this passage is that the nature, meaning, role, and function of the church will be rediscovered only to the extent we learn to discern what God is up to in the interactions with people in the public space and homes of our towns and villages? What if this is the new journey into which God is calling us?
The kingdom is so much bigger than our little, tribal cultural enclaves, and the world is in crisis. The Lord of creation is out there ahead of us; he has left the temple and is calling the church to follow in a risky path of leaving behind its baggage, becoming like the stranger in need, and receiving hospitality from the very ones we assume are the candidates of our evangelism plans.
The boundary-breaking Spirit is interested not in re-creating homogeneous Euro-tribal churches but in calling forth local communities that manifest the new creation in a globalized world.
Instead of building local church life around church programs (to which we are supposed to invite people to come) let’s make the focus the neighborhood and community, then turn the local church into the center of formation for the equipping, sending, and resourcing of their people in the local.
When people say, “All this is good. It sounds like social work or good community development, but when do we get to the gospel?” As discussed in the previous chapter, this response betrays a basic Gnosticism with its false polarities that separate the good news of God in Jesus from the basic indwelling of life described here. Furthermore, it conveys a massive lack of imagination and a failure to understand the ways in which our people are shaped from within the Christian narrative. Lurking behind these kinds of questions is the assumption that when I sit at the table of my neighbor and enter into his or her world in dialogue, I am some kind of blank slate, who brings nothing with me.
Can you see it? Can you see the church that already exists in your neighborhood simply waiting to for you to join in?