I have long felt like my calling in life has been to help change the mind of the church. Jesus made it clear that he came to proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of God was near. The imperatives related to this declaration were for his followers to believe and repent (Mark 1). Repentance, while it means many things, at its simplest, most rendered definition it means to change one’s mind. I believe that is what the church in the West must do - change its mind regarding its identity.
Part of repentance means to turn from one direction to another. The negative side of the turning happens by deconstructing what has become of the church in what many would call Christendom. Though it is not the thrust of this post, the church must turn from its over-reliance on power and cultural control, it's political co-opting, and it's baptized mimicry of a consumer driven society (Have you visited many churches lately? IMHO, most churches are discipling people further into the consumer life, all the while Jesus actually calls us to deny ourselves and to daily take up our cross).
The positive direction of repentance is most activated by reimagining how we engage culture. I feel that as a leader, this is one of my most important functions…to get people to dream about how we live into Christ's prayer for his Kingdom to come in our local context just as it is in heaven.
One of the exercises that I use in my teaching is to have groups imagine leaving where they are, where the church is a siloed subset of whatever else is going on in their lives, and move to Grasse, France to plant a church with me. The reason I do this is to push them to imagine what life would look and feel like if they were to relocate to a context where less than 1% of the populace go to church. Not only to relocate, but to move there as missionaries.
Because I am semi-familiar with Grasse (pictured here), I know that on any given Sunday, out of the one hundred thousand or so people that live there, only about 70 to 90 people go to church. You will find around 15-20 in the historic Catholic Church and roughly 50-60 in two other storefront congregations (This information raises serious questions about church planting in most U.S. cities for me). One other note, while finding only a sliver of worshiping Christians in this once Christianized nation, you can find up to half of the hundred thousand people worshiping in a mosques. That's right, up to 50,000 Muslims in this western city. So, the question begs to be considered;
- If we were "sent" to Grasse, France as missionaries would you live life the same way we currently do in your normal lives?
- What would it affect? Would it influence how you spend your time?
- Would it impact where you and I live? Would we choose where we live in the same way we do in the United States?
- Would it challenge the way you spend your money?
I honestly don’t think so. I think it would change everything. See, by changing locations to a place where our intended purpose is recalibrated and the trappings of Christianity no longer hold any benefit or sway, we can begin to realize that the church’s identity must be recast if we hope to impact Western culture. Through answering these questions, we begin to bump up against some of the issues and challenges that the church (the people of God) must become aware of...and repent of if we are to regain our true identity.