This past week, I had the chance to sit down with a cultural anthropologist from Finland who is studying Christianity, stewardship and missional worldview. In particular, he picked up from our website our “God is Green” series on the environment and started to dig deeper – even attending one of our Celebrate Recovery (addiction ministry) meetings. We talked for probably about an hour and a half about how our church uses a Reformed Kuyperian worldview with a cross-class emphasis. It was really good stuff for me, just to jump back to a 50,000-foot-view and reflect on what I (and my church, hopefully) have been learning over the past three years about how to work for the advance of God’s Kingdom in a way that honors Jesus’ “first-will-be-last” mentality. At one point, he said something to me that I didn’t really expect. He said “Given that you are involved in an American, Texan, limited-capacity population, denominational environment,
You’re really trying to be a cultural anomaly?”
I think I smiled and said something like, “We like to think of it as ‘weird’!” but the point hit home. There is truly something unbelievably ambitious to trying to build a Christian community that fights against the predispositions of culture – narcissism, survival mode, class warfare, a segmenting of our spiritual/vocational/social lives, avoiding difficult cultural topics, etc. “I bet you need a really specific type of person to buy into that mindset, don’t you?” he said. Yes.
We need people who are admittedly broken.
After all, everybody is broken in some way or another – from Bill Gates to the homeless drug addict – we all have things that make us not right. But the difference to building the type of Christian community that is a cultural anomaly is the fact that we are open about brokennness – we wear it on our sleeves. Sometimes a little too much on our sleeves. But here’s the thing:
When you attempt to cover up your own brokenness, then you really don’t see the need for Jesus to cover it with His blood.
At the foot of the cross, we’re all equal, right? How many times have we heard that one? But it’s one thing to acknowledge that in concept and quite another thing to live like that actually is the case. Who do you let make the decisions in your community? Who is valued as the guests you “want” to add? Do singles, homosexuals, Democrats, Republicans, homeless, wealthy, divorced, addicted, handicapped find not just shelter under your wings but empowerment to be the Church themselves?
“For so many churches,” he said, “Compassion is something that is done to people on service outings.”
And they they can’t figure out why those people aren’t enfolded into the life of the Church. You often hear me talk about the myth of infinite capacity, and it’s something I believe absolutely cripples many churches (even our own sometimes) – it’s this stubborn belief that we don’t have to give up something to gain something – that we really can, as a Church, have a free lunch. So many churches want to be multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-class, multi-[insert multi here], but very few recognize the price that must be paid to do so. Very few count the cost, very few realize the need to grieve the loss of something that is good to gain something that is better. That’s why church plants are the hottest thing out there right now – they don’t need to deal with grieving the loss of past traditions or removing dearly-loved ministries until year 10 or so.
But there’s a much bigger issue at hand.
How did we get to the point where we (operative word here, cause I’m a long way off, too) are not only not the trend-setters for multi-cultural commuity, multi-class community, multi-ethnic community, creation care, radical hospitality and all-around counter-cultural worldview, but we’re near the back of the boat on almost all of them? Even as recently as the American revolution, at least part of the Church was on the forefront of cultural change.
Why are we not the catalytic voice in culture that we used to be?
I think it’s probably because we’re not enough of a positive anomaly in culture.