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Re-Imagine the body of Christ… the future secret is in our past.

The church in the western world, faces populations who are increasingly “secular” – people with no Christian memory, who don’t know what we Christians are talking about.  These populations are increasingly “urban” – and out of touch with God’s “natural revelation”.  These populations are increasingly “post modern”;  they have graduated from enlightenment ideology and are more peer driven, feeling driven, and “right-brained” than their forebears.  These populations are increasingly “neo-barbarian”; they lack “refinement” or “class”, and their lives are often out of control.   These populations are increasingly receptive – exploring worldview options from astrology to zen – and are often looking “in all the wrong places” to make sense of their lives and find their soul’s true home.

~ George Hunter III, in his preface to The Celtic Way of Evangelism, How Christianity Can Reach The West ….Again, 2000. 

Dr. Hunter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Asbury Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission and Evangelism, where he served as Dean for 18 years and Distinguished Professor for 10 years. He served as the founding dean of Asbury’s E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism.

This work of Dr. Hunter was the single most influential work that gave shape to what is now Communitas.  It fueled my thinking, my methodology and eventually shaped my theology as I wrestled a postmodern world of neo-barbarians who knew the name of Jesus and that He saves, but have no earthly idea of its implications, or third hand experiences of Christianity mis-understood or mis-communicated.  This along with key people, such as Darren Prince and John Hayes (InnerCHANGE, of which Communitas is a part) shaped my thinking, my conviction and my call.

Now thirteen years later, I am ever more convinced that his work is ever more essential for all saints, of all tribes, to understand and live and it is a mandate, a powerful exhortation for leaders, professors, missionaries, to re-imagine the church in a more holistic manner, where there is:

– a greater understanding, respect & love for the host culture and people in which we live, but are not full participants in.  There is a distinct difference in the 20th century anti-cultural stance of the church and a counter-to-the-culture Celtic example and concept.

– We don’t civilize them to behave like us first to accept them, but accept them unconditionally, fully FIRST – then invite them to behave with us as we live out our lives as apostolics (sent ones)  as James K.A. Smith so well argues in his work, Imagining the Kingdom (p. 9ff) where he states, “so much of our orientation to – and action in – the world is governed by pre-conscious habits and patterns of behavior, and those habits are formed by environments of practice.”

– a re-imagining of mission to our own “barbarian people”.  The Western Church has been pre-occupied with the uncivilized “unreached people groups” and this is a legitimate concern.  Yet may I argue that that pre-occupation is partly to blame for why the western church has collapsed and continues to collapse.  It is true and has been true for years that though populations have increased, there is not one county equivalent in the US or western world (UK, US, Canada, Europe, Australia & New Zealand) where the percentage of Christians has increased in over fifty years!  In fact, many denominations are in steep decline, including the courageous Southern Baptist Convention.   It is only in the US where we find denial.  Though I would merely encourage people to look outside their own growing church, composed mostly of transfer growth from other dying congregations, to see how many former churches are gone, or on life support in their final days.  In my own mission sphere, there were five Catholic parishes, a Lutheran church, an Evangelical [denomination] church and a Baptist church.  Today there is one healthy Catholic parish and one elderly Lutheran church in its final decade.  May we consider that we no longer need conventionally defined pastors, but pastors and missionaries who are all missionaries – who FIRST understand, listen and live life with and come to deeply love our own host neighborhood, community, town/city… then we will better know “how to” engage them with the hope of Christ.  For this is exactly what Patrick did and after six years as a slave, and returning for several years first learning to understand as an apostolic, he then launched a Celtic monastic movement that did not look like the European model – but was forged for the Celtic peoples and thus in Patrick’s lifetime saw over 6000 churches established in the isolated village/rural world of Irish Celtic peoples.  Imagine – 6000!  After him, came Columba who with several other key apostolic leaders, saw the Celts in Scotland, what is now Wales and England come to Christ and then they together expanding to re-evangelize Europe, which had fallen back to paganism as the institution of the church had withdrawn with the legions as the Roman Empire shrunk.  BUT I cannot over emphasize that it begins with really, really loving, besotted by the people to whom we are sent!

– A going to where the communication and travel lines are…  This is physical.  In Patrick and Columba’s day that was sea and river travel. Hence establishing places like Iona.  Today it is key cities, such as New York, London, Boston, post-Katrina New Orleans, Chicago, Sydney, Vancouver, etc.  When one sees a bell curve and applies this to creativity – few are reaching the leading creative edge, yet they influence so much in our very, very, very fast changing world.  Where are they?  Why are we not there?  This means a comfort and contentment not being wrapped in out cotton wool safety of church culture, but the disharmonious world of real sinners, who’s lives are often out of control.

– We must be more…
–  Right brained, consumed by the imminence and providence of God and not merely left brained, mapping out systems of theology which may or may not be real.  We in our left mind, try to understand, and navigate, even control…  God is not an ideology, but a complex, passionate, emotional being who is, yes, good, but He is not safe, nor predictable.  Proverbs are rhythms and postures for life, not contracts.
–  More aware of the spiritual world and the in-between reality, not just program, if program.
–  More an organism, a people who love and share life, not programs and institutions.  Real life must be shared
–  Less clergy, more a people led and deployed.
–  Less answers, more shared journey
–  Less tic tac bumper sticker knee jerk quips, more silence, patience, peace and willingness to work through the toughest conflicts and hurts.  Iron sharpening iron implies sparks, grinding and heat; not quaint hello’s at church to strangers.
–  Humbly coming alongside, not confrontation
– Ceasing trying to fight moral wars in a lost society, trying to keep it from acting lost, when it is; accepting it is godless and allowing it to be so.  In such darkness our light, our peace, our health is every brighter.  These are not unimportant or even vital issues, but a godless people will rationalize the same.  In spending our energy fighting these things, we male enemies, rather than seekers, we lost voice, rather than gaining voice and we get no opportunity to love unconditionally, for we become an enemy.  Same sex marriage is all but a given and legalization of marijuana is coming behind.  This is not the end.  We need to move to accept our present and ever growing reality that we are back on the margins, not influencing society any longer in any way.

– Instead, may be become lovers of Him, bathing in His truth;  laboring in real prayer where we’ll have greater impact anyway.

Let us not mourn being on the margins again.  For it is the bottom of our fall from being the central shaper and influencer of society.  We didn’t do too well, for He was co-opted for wars and prejudice, dominance and empire.  Yet, from the margins we see the greatest advances of the Kingdom!  May we celebrate that and move to again save our people.

Pragmatically, what does this mean?  It’s simple and yet so hard.

– Sacrifice; give yourself away – till it costs, hurts, means you give up not from excess or spare, but from the core… not just fat, but muscle.

– Risk; to give yourself away means you can be a) taken advantage of financially and relationally; you can be hurt or cheated;  you can be betrayed; you can lose out.  Just last night, I found myself giving an elderly gentleman a ride.  His pleas seemed honest, but was he going to pull a gun on me?  Was he in real need?

– God’s priorities, calling – not mine.  Maybe we turn down promotion, honor where “we can use our gifts in wider ways” to stay committed to and where He has sent us because “they” matter more and mission with and to these people would be hurt.  Maybe we don’t have the fiscal security, social monopoly, even respect of the “good people of the church”.   Maybe we miss the comfort of Christian culture and even worship as we invest and spend ourselves amongst those who deny Him?

– Possibly, maybe we walk away from success.  Maybe it’s not a good “rule” that if God is blessing you, then it is His will?  Possibly, He wants you to become downwardly mobile, not upwardly mobile?  Maybe He wants you to move towards pain, suffering, living with less option, power, privilege.  I find young leaders in their 20’s and now 30’s who are reluctant to commit t0 anything!  As soon as they choose, they know that it means commitment and they give up options, mobility, independence and parachutes…  committing is serious and from a very young age they’ve been given the “sky is the limit” and “you can become anything” and “the options are endless”.  Problem is as soon as you decide to “become anything” you say no and options go.  I challenge the “Y” and “iY” generations to grow up, become mature, commit, dig in, get dirty, tired, and walk away from endless options.  Yes, you’ll miss out – but you’re already missing out because you are paralyzed and committed to nothing and consumed with slactivism (causes mentioned on Facebook) to alleviate the reality that you are actually contributing little!

– Be and get an and possibly a few Anomchara.  This is a Celtic term for a “soul friend” … one whom shares everything, every sphere of life, spiritual parenting is the closest idea.  This person is not a mentor or counsel you pay for, or for an area or skill in life, but one who is for you, a fan, an over-watcher.  It includes the Italian or French idea of a God Father or Parrain (still used in New Orleans).  It is a person who is committed to you and will challenge, speak into, defend, encourage and exhort you – for you that you may become all of who He calls you to be so you can contribute all He has for you to contribute!

– Most of all posture – and do not take that word lightly, for it implies action from intention, attitude, perspective, conviction and moral will – to engage the world, not – as much of cloistered monasticism (not all monasticism mind you, i.e. Cistercians, Jesuits, Franciscans, etc) did in the past and even today.  BUT a contemporary Celtic model of “Christian Monastic Communities” must a) have a “wall” (rhythms of life for the interior formation, people and the heart) but b) constantly have their gaze outward towards the world.  This requires a few clergy types, but more – normal people who are abnormal in their radical commitment to the apostolic call to expand the Kingdom.

This is enough for today.  This is what perks within me this week.  Peace, rest and silence to hear for you is my prayer.  May the Lord who sees watch over.  May the Son who walks with you see.  May the Spirit within you help you see.

Mike

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