Last night I had the privilege of sitting with a group of people who have invested themselves in pioneering and unique expressions of the church in the Seattle area. I call them brave. They certainly wouldn’t have called themselves that … all of them humble and unassuming in their pursuit of living and loving like Jesus. They are brave because they don’t do it for money, notoriety, or even the respect of their own organizations. Theirs are stories of pain, struggle, doubt, overcoming and faithful presence. They journey where most who are called are afraid to go. These past few weeks I have had the privilege of walking through change with a faithful remnant of a once large and vibrant church body. I call them brave. They certainly wouldn’t call themselves that … all very humble and unassuming in their pursuit of living and loving like Jesus. A 130 year old church, in merely 6 weeks (unheard of in church time) has jumped headlong into the unknown of a very different ministry model … one which makes available everything that they and others before them have clung to so tightly for so long. They are brave because they didn’t ask “how much will this cost?”. They are brave because they didn’t protest “we’ve never done this before.” They are brave because they know that their mission is about Jesus in the city and not their own comfort. They did what most won’t do after the routine is set and the institution established. They are on a journey where most who are called are afraid to go.
As I look back over the course of church history it’s not hard to see that every great movement, revolution, or revival in the church is marked by bravery. They are marked by men and women who were not trying seeking safety, security, reputation, or resources. To those who witnessed these moments and movements, they were challenging and their faith example life altering. they were brave. What happened to us?
Traditionally, for most of the past 50+ years, the church has operated on a “come and see” basis. It could also be called an “attractional model.” This model was church- and pastor-centric and focused on enticing people through our doors. Attendance and church growth were assumed to be possible with “the right pastor” and/or “the right program.” For many years Western Christendom has been able to rely on a familiarity with Christian culture by the general population. However, our buildings and our gatherings are, for the most part, foreign, unfamiliar to new generations. Now we live in a “mission culture” turned on it’s head. In a mission culture, there are barriers that must be overcome to connect with people – barriers such as language, culture, rituals, and symbols. If we rely on our past practices of providing open doors and invites, we are asking for those outside of Christ and the church to make the “missionary leap” of crossing cultural barriers to be part of what we find very familiar but they find to be unfamiliar. In contrast, Scripture asks us, as Christians, to make the “missionary leap!” We are the ones who are being sent into the world, into a sometimes-unfamiliar culture. We are the ones being called to be brave. I’m grateful for those who are still answering that call.