Resistances to Mission from within the Church

A guest post by David Matcham

Resistances:

Why is it that significant numbers of people in a given church either passively or actively resist moves by that church to open itself up to being more missional in its dealings with the world? The first question that I would ask is, how does the church function as a body of people beyond how people say it functions as, say, a Spirit-filled church?
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I ask this because regardless of how people say they think both the church functions and what their own role is within that functioning, if mission is either passively or actively being resisted then something else is at play in the ‘how’ of that church’s functioning for those people at least. To say that, yes, the church is the body of Christ, is Christ’s hands and feet in this world, is the House of God, is a family of believers, or whatever, is to ignore what is actually going on when people think of church and their role within that particular body. What role then, does that church fulfill and how does it fulfill it for all the church members?
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The phrasing of this last question opens up here the way in which churches, the idea of ‘church’ acts upon the believing Christian. This is an inevitable part of the fact that the concept of ‘the Church’ functions as much as a socio-historical one as it does an eschatological realisation of the purposes of God for mankind. In a sense therefore, to be part of a church is to enter into a relationship with an already existing body of believers with already existing specific ways of being with each other and the world.
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In this sense to be a member of a church is an inherently passive experience for the believer who is not at liberty to tinker with the self-understanding of either the concept of ‘church’ or the particular body to which he or she belongs. Fundamentally, whether or not the believer goes to this church or that church, or any church, the contribution they are able to bring is already in advance mitigated. Not entirely, of course; at the micro personal level of normal interaction, individual believers will form relationships within a given church that hold significant importance, and are vital for the “spirit” (small “s”) of fellowship in that community – as indeed, in any community.
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At this point a further reflection comes to mind regarding the camaraderie described above: that there is a love which is natural to human beings, and a love which is unnatural. Fundamentally, therefore, the love which is unnatural is the love which is commanded. It is not at all that the one cancels out the other. In marriage, for instance, the paradox is entered into of a permanent vow to continue to lifelong fidelity of erotic love for one person; something which is inherently changeable is forced to submit to a binding legal vow. But, of course, erotic love wants this vow, against all the evidence of our experience, the lover wants to commit to the beloved.
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Fleshly love is not, then, in opposition to a binding contractual obligation to love, but, in its purest form, seeks it out. Likewise, the kind of love that Jesus commands his disciples to is not to be confused with buddiness or camaraderie. It does not exclude this kind of love – in fact we should encourage it so far as it doesn’t detract from God’s purposes – but natural human love and enjoyment of company must submit to a different, less natural love that is commanded.
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And here I come to a central point which I’d like to make, that if camaraderie, the kind which often develops through common activities and or purposes, then of course churches will not be outward looking. A collection or club of likeminded people who get on because they are all like-minded personable people is not going to be motivated to the kind of radical call to love the loveless that Christ commands and the Spirit makes possible.
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If “love” in a church setting does not mean the kind of commanded love for the loveless, but is in fact more like camaraderie or like-mindedness, outsiders not only won’t be invited in, but nor will they really fit in with their unlike-minded knobbliness if they do come. And this is the sense in which the usual, enjoyable, friendly love that grows amongst people of like mind, who like the same music, dress the same, read the same books, etc, and of which we all naturally want to be part, actually works against a church being missional.
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To join this kind of group, to want to be a part of it the “unbeliever” would already have to have submitted themselves in advance of joining to what it is that makes this group tick. In this case it cannot be said to be Christ, but rather a fleshly desire to be part of a larger whole, a mere sociable drive to have friends and be liked.
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How then can a church differentiate itself from any other group of people who more or less enjoy each other’s company and get along? This issue goes to the heart of what a church is, rather than what a church does. There is a sense in which what a church is is not independent from what a church does, but that is not here the point. There is though theological justification for seeing the church not just as a collection of geographically bound believers gathering together for worship and fellowship, but as an eschatological eucharistic community.
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What I mean by saying this is that the church as an eschatological eucharistic community draws attention to the ‘now and not yet’ of the Christian hope as it works itself out through the celebration of the dying and rising body of Christ, on whom we collectively feast and whose ‘body’ we collectively are. The ‘now and not yet’ refers to the church as an instance of the Kingdom of God here on earth, but also to the fact that the full revelation of the sons of God is yet to come.
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As a eucharistic community we are brought together in thanksgiving and acknowledgement of God’s grace for our salvation as a body, not our own efforts. Though this is extremely brief, these pointers suggest a reason for belonging that far transcends the merely natural desire for company. Not centered on its own ways of functioning, the church is in fact part of God’s radical call to love the loveless in the dispensation of his Kingdom on earth. Such a call is profoundly alien to the human concept of a group because mere friendship or fellowship may more often than not hinder such a call.
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Anyone can have friends or groups of trusted people, but not all are called by God in this way to be an eschatological eucharistic community. The point is that we are together not because we like each other or because we are all of a similar social class or intelligence level, but because we are committed to the working out of God’s eschatological purposes for the world of which we are each a part. That God’s purpose for the world is to become a eucharistic community centered on Christ’s body, and thus in a sense inward looking, is actually at the heart of the good news which we have to bring. The message is, don’t join the church if you could get what you want just as easily as you could from joining the Freemasons, or the W.I., or the Rotary, or whatever.
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The church does not exist to pander to perfectly normal but essentially fleshly desires or a fear of loneliness. That the broken body and spilt blood of Christ are what joins us together as a ‘body’, and not our mere likes and dislikes, is what makes us, drives us outward into the world.
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The problem of resistance then seems to have taken a distinctly theological turn, as I would have expected. The more churches establish their common unity upon team-building activities, whether it be soup-runs, sports, music groups, theology discussion groups, evangelism, etc, (and yes, I agree that it sounds odd to include such evangelical projects, except when you consider to what kind of church are these evangelical projects calling people in for) the less motivated people will be to actually see the Father’s Kingdom come.
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That is, insofar as evangelism is calling the lost, the lonely, and the disposed to a group that is essentially a christianised club of like-minded people, not only will that evangelism lack lustre (why would you really want outsiders to join and potentially disrupt the group anyway), but also why would you, as a disposed, lonely and lost individual want to join a group which would inherently desire you to become like-minded (christianised) before integration can even begin. Nor is this a back-handed way of saying that communion must take on a more elaborate style for evangelism to become more effective and more motivated.
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Where communion (or Mass or the Eucharust, or whatever you want to call it) as a point of non-individualistically realised transcendental unity in the Body is sidelined, the church is in danger of descending into a Jesusclub, welcoming new-comers with one hand, whilst sticking two fingers up to them with the other if they don’t fit in well enough. And communion is just the start of this process of de-naturalising our relations with each other, because our unity is not in liking each other (which is great when we do) but in the broken body of Christ; just as our fellowship is not in our enjoyment of each other’s company, but in the impossible command of God to love one another.

 

Written by David Matcham at Swivel Chair Theology

Infantilism Evangelism

Immaturity-260x296The following is an excerpt from Dr Robert Knowles’ newly released book ‘Relating Faith – Modelling Biblical Christianity in Church and World’.

Much of what the Church does for evangelism isn’t.  It thinks it is because it is locked in to a way of doing that ignores content and context.  In other words, relational wisdom is sidelined for a program.  Here’s what Rob Knowles says on the matter, and it is just one point within a much larger framework:

“The church confuses evangelism with infantilisation.  It is assumed that ministers and elders are mature and can take profound biblical content, that seasoned churchgoers are almost as mature and can take moderate biblical content, but that most Christians can only take ‘the basics’, and that non-Christians – well – Thomas the Tank Engine is too advanced for them.  What a load of old patronizing and offensive drivel.

It is shameful that I and many others even have to point out that many non-believers have degrees, read text-books, do professional jobs that involve technical language, are familiar with current affairs, and are – quite frankly – very, very often much further on in their thinking that the Christian sloganeers are (by ‘sloganeers, Dr Knowles means the oppressive pseudo-evangelistic sloganeering activism that is devoid of interesting/rich/knowledgable content).

But the sad fact is, these days, many of us do have to point this out to the church.  Worse – when I and many others do point it out, what we say is often rejected as being irrelevant thinking ‘by intellectuals’ who ‘only have academic knowledge’.

[Earlier on in the chapter], we linked infantilisation to the standard strategies of those in power who wish to keep people immature so that their power bases and systems of privilege are not challenged.  Such abusers need to mislabel people who think as ‘mere academics’ so that they can falsely cast aside the genuine criticisms that thinkers bring to the table.  Moreover, such patronisation even assumes that academics or thinkers actually have ‘less real-life experience’ from which to contribute, which is also false and an abuse of power.

Furthermore, it is a genuine breach of etiquette, register and of politeness generally when evangelistic mission deploys speakers who sound like nursery-school teachers.  Frankly, this is insulting to those unfortunate enough to be listening.  Every day, people hear what some sloganeering believers think of as ‘the dreaded long words’ on television.  And yet, I have been rebuked in some church contexts for using vocabulary that would be commonplace on Blue Peter.pedobear-meme-generator-goo-goo-gah-gah-you-say-good-enough-for-me-070774

Only anti-intellectuals and power-hungry infantilisers resist vocabulary, however, for an extension of vocabulary often brings an extension of wisdom and an exposure of sin.  Indeed, it’s funny how anti-intellectuals and power hungry infantilisers are happy to learn a compound word like ‘video-recorder’, which has six syllables; but if one dares to articulate a three-syllable word such as ‘redemption’, then suddenly it’s ‘a long academic word’.  Oh, grow up!

[So what we are saying] for encouraging mission and evangelism, then, is to take the infantilisation out of evangelism and put some cognitive content and some vocabulary back into it.  I’m not saying that we should read out a paper on post-structuralism – I’m just advocating that we say something interesting that doesn’t insult people’s intelligence.

It is often the church that has become infantilised, not the world.”

Relating Faith, p.167-8

relating-faith

Trinitarian Evangelism

With thanks to Glen Scrivener over at Christ the Truth (http://christthetruth.net/) who has designed an excellent tool to better equip Christians, not just in mere evangelism, but Trinitarian evangelism –  BOOM!!

I’m not sure I’ve ever known anyone do it quite like this before.  Enjoy…

Stop Forcing Me To Do Evangelism!

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Christians should be encouraged in their gifts and then their “evangelism” as it happens naturally in the lives, their circles of influence, etc, would become a joy and not a burden.  It would be natural, not forced.  I’m afraid the office of “evangelist” has got bad press down the years, and from what I’ve often seen, rightly so.  It is often left to the wildly inarticulate but enthusiastic extroverts who love to chat to strangers and lob cliché and scripture bombs into peoples laps and run away shouting the loudest!

What I guess I’m afraid of, is “doing” things in ministry that have an appearance of “that’s what evangelism/mission/proclaiming…[fill in the blank] looks like” but in reality, both true to the individual person, their gifting, calling, strength’s, etc, no one group of people should ever do  a preconceived standardised model of anything.  It’s like putting round pegs in square holes, or lighting a candle in a room with the oxygen slowly being sucked out.

So I think, theologically and biblically, that the church, historically, and especially since the so-called Great Awakening, has made a catastrophic error of judgement: it has standardised church, ignored individuals; particular gifts and strengths, and simply enforced a model of operating that is life to the very few.  

This for me is one of the reasons why people squirm in their seats when anyone talks of “doing evangelism” or going on a mission.  Part of it is, admittedly, sinful resistance.  Part of it is embarrassment and shame;  part of it is timing and calling; part of it is seasons of gifts; part of it is the right person, at the right time in the right place – and they go, because it’s right for them.  And part of it is surely because they intuitively resist having one model being imposed on them.

For example: Why should Dave go door-to-door when he’s shared his faith with 8 blokes this week?  It just doesn’t make sense to me, not least for time, family and other reasons.  Dave is in his natural working environment, exercising his gifts of God in the workplace, and not ashamed to proclaim Christ.  I say, let the person who wants to go door-to-door go door-to-door.  They will have my support and blessing, but I will be the first to say this isn’t the only way to do evangelism and I won’t impose that on anyone.  “Let each one be convinced in his own mind.”

So for me, I do not want to fall into the same cultural trap with all the assumptions that come with it.  Let the teacher teach; the minister minister; the prophet prophecy; the generous give; the evangelist proclaim.  Let them all proclaim Christ as they do what God has gifted them to do, but let no person do what God has not called them to do – and this last bit is more a reflection of contemporary church life in the UK and the West than anything else. I.e. people being pushed and coerced into roles and functions because that’s the shape of the church rather than the shape of the church being flexible enough to excel in releasing people into their particular and specific gifts.

What does this mean?  In the words of theologian Dr Rob Knowles (author of ‘Anthony C. Thiselton and the Grammar of Hermeneutics, the search for a unified theory’ and a 2014 published book called ‘Relating Faith’) – just so I can convince you I’m not just inventing clever ways of avoiding a particular way of doing evangelism:

“(i) each church has different individuals with different gifts in it; (ii) therefore, each church-community is a unique combination of unique individuals, and is thuswait for it—unique!

But this means, surely, that leaders have to: first look at who they have got; second ask what is it that those unique individuals are uniquely good at and actually want to do; and third submit to the unique historical factuality of what their church will then have to look like. Imposing a standardised model is oppressive, gift-suppressing, ministry-killing, relationally-alienating, and turns church-community into a total charade.

In fact, imposing standardised models of church on uniquely-shaped groups is one of the causes of “churchianity”. Churchianity is that rather fake discourse-world—that pseudo-fellowship—that arises when people suspend their identities to speak the received language of a pseudo-community built upon suppressed individuality and ministries. This differs from a true community—i.e. a community that accepts, promotes, and benefits from each person’s cherished uniqueness and true ministry—which will not conform to the a priori categories of a standardised model.”

One reason I think that evangelism is a difficult subject to teach others about, is that it is done as standard, that fails to recognise gifts, it simply induces levels of anxiety that the only way to deal with them , are to “fake” it.  Every Christian is a teacher, in that their word and deed teaches others, but not everyone is called therefore to teach from the front.  To make the mistake of making everyone teach from the front, is the same.  While every Christian is to bear witness, not everyone is an evangelist, and more specifically, not every evangelist does door-to-door.

Dr Knowles goes on with another well made point:

“Relax! God has it under control. Think of Jesus asleep in the boat. Remember that it is God who created and who redeems the universe. Stop confusing your modernist system with righteousness. Learn to relate to people. Have a cup of tea, take some time to reflect. (And, if necessary, see an exorcist). Christianity is faith expressing itself in love, or, trust in God that learns to relate to people properly. It’s not about becoming Robo-vicar [or Robo-Christian]; God has already got the whole “justification” and “predestination” thing covered.”

Of course, Robo-vicars will say that I’m falling into the old ultra-Reformed trap of using the doctrine of election as an excuse not to do evangelism.

Actually, though, I’m using the doctrine of election as an excuse not to do their kind of Robo-evangelism, which is not evangelism anyway, but a heart-attack trying to win people to something un-relational, un-Christian, unbiblical, and unlike Jesus.

To wrap up, I am not against door-to-door per se.  I am against the assumption that everyone should do evangelism [and specifically door-to-door] regardless of their gifts.  As an evangelist myself, I’m not very keen on unrelational cold calling door-to-door work anyway.  What I am keen on, is relational teaching and preaching and discipling others so that they are mature and effective where they are [Paul says stay where you were when you were called – be fruitful there!].  

Confident in the Gospel; confident in the Christ of the Gospel; exercising their gifts and being faithful with the field God has planted them in; faithful with the treasure they have received; and bold enough and wise enough to know when to speak and what to say.