Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Could the local church be the hope of the world?

Bill Hybels, pastor at Willowcreek, has a saying: The local church is the hope of the world. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Worldwide it seems as if the local church is becoming smaller and playing a less prominent role. Many people – committed Christians – have left the church, either for nothing or for a small group. These are people who have given up hope for the local church (although many still haven’t given up hope for God.)
Frankly, we (that is, our family) are hyper-critical about the local church. We experience extreme arrogance, a lack of leadership, a total lack of commitment towards those outside the church, an unwillingness to change effectively and a whole range of other issues. I’m not referring to a particular church, but rather to a whole range of churches which I see around us. I have a dear friend who is pastor in a very small local church in the town where we live. This man has vision and dreams which you rarely observe in any pastor. But his congregation doesn’t support him. He’s on his way out – going to retire and live somewhere where he won’t need to worry about things like this anymore. And the church he is leaving behind is going to become even smaller than it already is!
Most local churches are fast declining in numbers. This is often blamed on the changing environment in which we live, the post-modern outlook on life, the old-fashioned way of worship which exist in many churches, the judgmental attitude of many Christians, and the list could go on. But I’m still not convinced that these are the real reasons why people leave the church. I’ve seen a number of people in our town who left very modern-style churches to join the Anglicans (old-fashioned with a strict liturgy). I’ve been in a Presbyterian church in Rotterdam which seem to have nothing flashy in terms of worship teams, sound systems and lights, but this church is growing, in spite of most churches in Europe declining in numbers. I believe a lot has to do with people finding that they are making a difference by being part of the church.
When people step into a relationship with Christ for the first time, they need the church to bring change into their own lives, but in my opinion, as they grow in their relationship with God, their needs (should) change, so that they can become a blessing for others. I don’t often have the chance to attend church as spectator. On most Sundays I have two and sometimes three services where I have to preach. But a few weeks ago I attended church with my family and when I left the church I was overwhelmed with the feeling of: If I have to do this every Sunday and this is all that church is about, I’ll die! And this, I believe, is the reason why churches are dying: because people cannot get the impression that it makes any difference whatsoever whether they are part of the local church or not.
Coming back to what bill Hybels said: The local church can only become the hope of the world if it gets involved in the community and the people where it is situated. People need to experience that the church is offering something that they cannot find elsewhere. Probably the church will not be able to compete in terms of financial resources when real disasters strike, such as 9/11, Katrina or with a pandemic such as AIDS. But I am sure that there are hundreds of survivors of 9/11 or families who had survived Katrina who would be able to tell stories, not of what the government had done for them, but of what churches had done for them. When I was in Chicago last year, I stayed over with a family that had just returned from New Orleans where they had helped people to rebuild their houses. I cannot for one moment think that those people, whether they are Christians or not, will see the church as being irrelevant. In Southern Africa, where the AIDS pandemic is at its worst, governments of all countries are giving out billions of dollars to help control the spreading of the disease and to ensure that people are tested and will receive medication. But the real stories of hope come when people tell how the church has reached out to them. There are wonderful stories of how the church brought hope into people’s lives. And it is when I see this happening, that I know that the time of the church is not over yet. The time for ineffective churches may be over, but the world will always need hope. And nobody can bring more hope than the local church which has, itself, experienced hope through God’s love.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Alternative Society, Bill Hybels, Church, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Hope, Indigenous church, Leadership, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Theology, Vision | 7 Comments

Ed Stetzer & Mike Dodson: Comeback Churches

I’ve just finished reading Ed Stetzer & Mike Dodson’s book: Comeback Churches. The sub-title is: How 300 churches turned around and yours can too. This book reminded me somewhat of Jim Collins’ book: From Good to Great, although the method they used in doing their research is totally different. The two authors made use of questionnaires which was sent to churches. The criteria which was used to determine whether a church is a comeback church are:

  1. The church experienced five years of plateau and/or decline since 1995 (worship attendance grew less than 10% in a five-year period)
  2. That decline or plateau was followed by a significant growth over the past two to five years which included:

2.1 A membership to baptism (conversion) ratio of 35:1 or lower each year and
2.2 At least a 10 percent increase in attendance each year

I am fully aware that one cannot necessarily determine a church’s spiritual status by looking at attendance. Our own church attendance in Swaziland is fairly low, for various reasons, mainly because we are “competing” against traditional churches where cultural traditions tend to take a higher priority than Biblical truths. But this research was done in the USA where increasingly, as in most first world countries, church members tend to leave the church. Comeback churches are those churches that are doing something to win people back into the church (and obviously to Christ), not by harvesting from other churches but by reaching people who are not traditionally church members (any more).
A few encouraging things I read in this book is that comeback churches are not restricted to churches with a certain type of worship, nor are they restricted to a certain type of pastor or pastors of a certain age. God can use any type of pastor and any type of church to reach people and the church can start growing.
The three factors that were dominant in the more than 300 churches that effectively turned around, were:

  • Renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church
  • Renewed attitude for servanthood
  • More strategic prayer effort

The two other factors that followed in line were:

  • Setting goals
  • Valuing Relationships and Reconciliation

Going into more detail, the authors said that comeback churches were characterised by:

  • Growing deeply in love with Jesus
  • Growing deeply in love with the community
  • Growing deeply in love with the lost
  • Comeback leaders turned their churches outward
  • Comeback churches led people to care more about their communities than their own preferences

Looking at churches today, the focus seems to fall increasingly on larger buildings, more “wow” things, bigger and better bands, better video material, better sound systems. And although all of these things can play a role in the bigger picture, it does seem to me that we need to return to basics if we want the church to have an influence in the world.

  • Love Jesus
  • Love the community
  • Love the lost

Compare this with the attitude that we often find amongst Christians:

  • Love Jesus
  • Tolerate the community
  • Condemn the lost

This is a book that any church leader can benefit from, if they are serious in leading their churches to become the type of church that God intended it to be.

Monday, June 22, 2009 Posted by | Book Review, Building relations, Church, Culture, Evangelism, Jim Collins, Leadership, Mission, Swaziland, Vision, Worship | Leave a comment

Does the church need mission and evangelism committees?

I’ve never read any books written by Bill Easum, but I recently read a review written by someone on Bill Easum’s way of thinking about the church. There’s about four pages of books written by him on Amazon.com so I wouldn’t know which one to start with. If someone has a clue, drop me a comment.
I’m pretty sure that Easum will have many people who won’t agree with him and I don’t think I will agree with him in everything he says. But as I read the review I felt some excitement. One of the questions he asks is why we attach so many labels to the church, such as “Missional” and “Emerging”, to name just two. He believes that these labels are unnecessary. We need to ask only one question: “What does it mean to be church in a Biblical sense?” It’s not about labels and styles. It’s all about what the church is doing in the world.
The church exists for those who have not yet heard the good news of God in Jesus Christ. The church is the visible sign of the invisible reign of God in this world. He then concludes that mission and evangelism is the identity of the church. Churches don’t need commissions for mission and evangelism, because this is what church is all about.
A friend and his wife came to visit us last night and we had a long discussion about the purpose of the church. And we all agreed that there is only one purpose for the church, regardless of how we formulate it. Ultimately we have to proclaim the kingdom of God in the world in whatever way is appropriate for the circumstances within which we find ourselves. In a book I read many years ago, the author made the remark that the church’s Finance Committee should also be the Mission Committee. His argument was that the Finance Committee is appointed to decide how to spend money and the most important place they can spend it, is on mission.
I realise that all of these remarks may be stretching things a bit. But what it does for me is to readjust my focus. Why do we exist as church? Do I actually believe the well-known words of archbishop William Temple: “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members“? If this becomes the focus of the church, then it may well be true that we need to get rid of all the labels. I’m open to be corrected, but I’m convinced that these labels mean little or nothing for the countries and continents where Christianity is growing the fastest today, such as in Africa, Korea and in China. If I start telling churches in Swaziland that they need to become missional, they will think I’m crazy, because for most church leaders this is exactly why the church exists.
What I do appreciate about the modern movements within the church is that they help us to focus on a broader audience than the traditional group of people which was reached in the past. They’re helping the church to understand that God’s kingdom encompasses His entire creation. Pollution, slavery, justice, etc all become part of the church’s agenda.
But possibly Bill Easum is correct. Perhaps the church does have only one question to answer: “What does it mean to be church in a Biblical sense?” And then I would like to add three more words: “…here and now?

Monday, April 6, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Ecology, Evangelism, Indigenous church, Mission, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | 8 Comments

Eric Bryant: Peppermint-filled Piñatas (Audio book)

More than a year ago I wrote a review on Eric Bryant’s book: Peppermint-filled piñatas. You can read it here. And then I recently wrote how I’ve now discovered audio books which gives me the chance to listen to books while I’m driving, in this way getting to read a book during time that would otherwise have been wasted. I’ve been wanting to re-read Eric’s book for some time now, but with books almost waist-high next to my bed, all waiting to be read, I realised that this would not happen soon. That is, until I heard that Peppermint-filled piñatas is also available as an audio book which you can purchase and download online. I downloaded the mp3 files, copied them onto five CDs and had them ready in my car in preparation for a long trip I had to undertake this past weekend.
Eric, if you’re reading this: My wife and two of my children travelled with me, but we’ve had a hectic time the past few weeks and my wife asked me whether I would mind if they sleep while I drive. I agreed to that but asked them whether I could listen to this book while they sleep. And in the end, they all remained awake for the greater part of the journey. Not only that, on returning Monday morning, leaving Pretoria just after 4 am, they all complained when I said that I’m going to continue listening to the book while I’m driving, as they actually wanted to sleep and would miss out on the book! Consider this a compliment.
It surprised me how much of the book I could still remember after a year. I think the chapter that spoke the most to me on this round, was Chapter 7, The Untouchables. This is about compassion for the poor and the destitute. By far the majority of people that I know, have a feeling for the poor, but will never reach out to them to do something practical to help them, probably because they lack true compassion. For most of my life I’ve been surrounded by poor people, having grown up in South Africa with its harsh distinction between races. After moving to Swaziland in 1985, the reality of extreme poverty just became all that more clear to me. I definitely had a feeling for the poor and the destitute, but it still took me a long time to develop true compassion for The Untouchables. As I listened to this chapter, I realised how important it is for church leaders to expose their members to this part of reality. But this is not enough. Without a plan to get involved in other people’s lives, it will not be possible to develop true compassion. Without wanting to repeat what I wrote in my earlier review, I can say that this book should be read by church leaders looking for ways to break through their own feelings of prejudice in order to share their love with others different from themselves, so that they can lead their members into doing the same.

Thursday, March 26, 2009 Posted by | Book Review, Church, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Stigma, Swaziland, Vision | Leave a comment

Reaching the unreached: Mission vs Evangelism

Wendi dropped a comment on a recent post of mine, saying: “I’m taking a missions class called Perspectives. There was much discussion about how many (few) missionary efforts go toward clearly unreached people, and how much of our mission efforts and resources go to actually “reached” people, like the Swazi people.”
If our mission efforts should be primarily directed toward unreached people, why should any of us come to a country like Swaziland, 80% Christian already?”
You can read my reply to her here, but I thought the topic was important enough to open it up for more discussion.
I was listening to an international leader in mission, a former director of Operations Mobilisation in South Africa, last night. He mentioned that about 27% of the world still need to be reached and I can fully understand why people would say that our efforts should be directed to these countries rather than to those where Christianity is already strongly established, as is the case with Swaziland. The issue at stake here, as far as I can see, is what we define as “mission”. If mission only refers to “soul-saving”, then the statement would obviously be correct. But when one sees mission as something more than mere soul-saving, then it would be irresponsible to say that our efforts should be directed solely towards the unreached peoples of the world.
I’m unashamedly Evangelical. By that I mean that I believe that all people need to come into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. How it happens is of lesser importance to me. That the relationship exists, is of much greater importance. But this isn’t the Alpha and Omega of mission. David Bosch in his book, Transforming Mission, says on page 10-11: “Mission includes evangelism as one of its essential dimensions, Evangelism is the proclamation of salvation in Christ to those who do not believe in him, calling them to repentance and conversion, announcing forgiveness of sins and inviting them to become living members of Christ’s earthly community and to begin a life of service to others in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
When defining “mission”, Bosch quotes P Schütz who described mission as “participation in God’s existence in the world.” He then continues to formulate the implication of this by saying: “In our time, God’s yes to the world reveals itself, to a large extent, in the church’s missionary engagement in respect of the realities of injustice, oppression, poverty, discrimination, and violence. We increasingly find ourselves in a truly apocalyptic situation where the rich get richer and the poor poorer, and where violence and oppression from both the right and the left are escalating. The church-in-mission cannot possibly close its eyes to these realities, since “the pattern of the church in the chaos of our time is political through and through”
When one is confronted by the extreme poverty, the injustice, oppression, the problems of HIV and AIDS, to name but a few, which occurs in countries all over the world, then one realises that those who propagate that the church should focus only, or at least primarily, on the unreached people (implicating that the missionaries should withdraw from the “reached” countries) still do not understand what mission really is.
Shortly after I had finished my theological studies, I was called as chaplain to the South African Defence Force for a compulsory two years of military service. The soldiers, fighting against terrorists entering – what is today known as Namibia – from Angola, used to count the bodies after every battle. (This, by the way, was absolutely gruesome and perhaps one of the reasons why I feel so strongly against war today.) I sometimes feel that many Christians also go into the spiritual battle with the aim of merely counting the souls after every campaign. But this is not what mission is all about. Mission is about proclaiming the kingdom of God (the “reign” of God) all over the world in every place. And wherever God’s kingdom is not being acknowledged, the church has the task to continue with its proclamation, be it in “reached” or “unreached” countries.
Does that make sense?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Church, David Bosch, Evangelicals, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | 17 Comments

Can a non-missional group become missional?

I’ve just finished reading Alan Hirsch’s book: The Forgotten Ways. It’s a great book and highly recommended, but be warned: It’s not easy to read. I do most of my reading when I go to bed and I really struggled to work through this book, But it is worthwhile reading it.
In short, Alan wants the church to rediscover it’s true purpose, what he calls mDNA, or the Missional DNA of the church. At the core of the church of Jesus Christ is the desire to reach out to the world. Churches which are not doing this, are acting contrary to how God has wired the church.
I have obviously done a lot of reading on this topic, therefore I can’t say that I had many “aha!” experiences while reading the book. He does however emphasise many things and says it in a way, which, as I read it, I just wished that I could share this with everybody I know.
On page 235 he says something which I have suspected for some time but which he is convinced is the truth. Gordon Cosby, the leader of Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., noted somewhere that in over sixty years of ministry, he has never seen that groups which are formed around a non-missional purpose (prayer, worship, Bible Study, etc) ever ending up becoming missional. It was only those groups which intended from the start to be missional (and usually embraced things like prayer, worship and Bible Study) that ended up doing it.
This corresponds with my own experience. It is impossible to calculate how many people have contacted me over the years with a request to get involved in our work in Swaziland. Usually the conversation goes something like this: “Hi, we are a cell group / Bible Study group / prayer group from xyz congregation and we have heard about your work in Swaziland. We feel that it is important for us to reach out to others and we would like to visit you to find out how we can assist you.”
Being a fairly positive person, I always invite them to come, but at the back of my mind I know that there is a more than 90% chance that nothing will come from the visit. The reason is simple. To be part of a cell group or Bible Study group asks a small investment of your time: 1 – 2 hours per week. And let’s be honest – these meetings are fun. Coffee and cookies are served. There’s a lot of time for interaction. And after worship and prayer you feel revived and ready to tackle the rest of the week.
Involvement in mission asks much more than that. On most Sundays I leave home at 8 in the morning and return home somewhere between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. And that’s just for a church service. Anything happening during the week involves a lot of driving – two hours at the very least – entering places which may make you feel uncomfortable, seeing things that are not nice to see, walking in the scorching sun. After their visit these groups have a lot to say about their experience and always promise to come back again, but more often than not we never hear from them again. They will return to their cell group / Bible Study group / prayer group and will probably never return to Swaziland.
If I have to say why this happens, then it boils down to a lack of vision. A group that is formed without a missional vision, will never be able to become missional. They will merely follow their vision and if it is not a missional vision, they will not become missional.
Is there a solution for the hundreds of thousands of cell and other groups meeting all over the world with the main intention to feed themselves (pun intended)? The only solution I can imagine is that the leader of the group make the decision to change the vision. That should not be to difficult as most of these groups do not have an official “vision”. They just follow the leader. But if the leader could convince them to determine their vision (which can be as simple as to answer the question: Why are we meeting every week?) and then convince them that the true purpose of the church lies in its calling to become a light for the world (or whatever other missional metaphor he or she wishes to use), it is possible that, over time, a group like this could really become missional, using their normal weekly meetings to build themselves up so that they could do more outside the church.
But that’s my optimistic side speaking. If I have to be realistic, I doubt whether any significant number of church groups will ever become missional.

Monday, February 2, 2009 Posted by | Church, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture Shock, Indigenous church, Mission, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | 3 Comments

Leading, Reading or Feeding

Jason Jaggard wrote a very interesting article which I recommend that you read yourself. It has the title: Stop Learning.
Two weeks ago I was invited to preach in a certain church and I started my sermon on Isaiah 58:1-12 with an illustration which I had heard from Rev John Thomas, a pastor at the Fish Hoek Baptist Church close to Cape Town in South Africa, who is doing absolutely amazing work in his community. The illustration goes that this man was visiting a restaurant, looking at the menu, discussing the ingredients of each dish, calculating the calories of each dish, considering which wine would best complement the dish, but never ordering any food. (In my sermon I elaborated on this illustration, making myself the subject of the story.) John calls this: “Menu Study!”
I then applied this illustration to the way in which many people see the church. The come to church to hear a good sermon. They attend cell groups to be fed spiritually. They attend Bible Studies to learn more about the Word. At home they are constantly reading spiritual books. Some even reach the point where they enroll in a course in Greek in order to understand Greek grammar. But a great number of our regular church goers (could it be the majority?) never step out in faith to do something for God. They are so busy doing Menu Study that they never get to eat the good food.
And this is why Jason’s post was so exciting to read. The theme of his post fits in nicely with the theme of my sermon. Church members, in general, do not need to be fed. They need to be led! They don’t need to read more spiritual books. They need to find a place where they can make a difference within the Kingdom of God. The sad thing is that more and more church members who are realising this, either leave the church and live out their Christianity outside the church (in my mind a bad thing to do) or they move over to another church where they can be challenged to make a difference. And the churches where the leaders have been satisfied to feed the flock and to give them more books to read, are left with those people who find the meaning in their spiritual life in just being fed.
Earlier this morning I had a long telephone conversation with a friend of mine who is busy organising an AIDS conference where he wants me to speak about possible ways in which the church can get involved in this pandemic. As we discussed the nitty-gritty of the conference, I asked him about the potential audience and what their attitude is towards AIDS. Although the audience comes from a very large community in South Africa which is especially hard-hit by the effects of AIDS, I was told that many of their pastors still want nothing to do with AIDS, believing that it is caused by immoral women. (Apparently the men have no blame in the spreading of this disease.)
Can it be possible for a pastor to find fulfilment in knowing, at the end of his or her career, that they had spent thirty or forty years merely feeding the flock? And will that pastor’s successor continue for another thirty or forty years, doing the same? I absolutely agree with Jason that church members need to be challenged to move out of the church building to do something for God.
John Thomas, at a recent conference, told the story of a certain man who arrived at the church just a few minutes before the end. As he went inside, he whispered to someone: “Is the service over?” To which the other person replied: “The sermon has been preached, but the service has yet to start!”

Saturday, January 24, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Church, Comfort Zone, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Social issues, Stigma, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | Leave a comment

The Church and Communitas

I’m wondering what it is that makes some books “readable” while you struggle through others. I’ve been busy with Alan Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways, for ages. It’s good. He really challenges many popular beliefs in church. But I just can’t sit down and finish the book.
I’ve been reading his chapter on Communitas yesterday and today. I’m not sure whether he has a specific definition for the term (he describes ot more than defining it), but it boils down to the fact that the early church was forever stretching itself through it’s involvement in the community. Communitas happens when a group of people are united around a vision or a mission where they want to make a difference. It happens during short-term mission outreaches, where a group of people leave their comfort zone and spend time in situations which they are not used to. It also happens in times of tragedy (he uses the examples of 9/11 and the tsunami) where people are united in a common cause to help others.
This is all a bit philosophical, but what he says is that this attitude is (and has always been) normative for the church of Christ. But somewhere along the line we lost it. I was in a meeting some time ago where a pastor of a church tried to make me understand that not all people are gifted towards caring for others and reaching out in love towards those in need. Obviously I don’t agree. Some people are especially gifted towards serving others. I know people like this, who are forever looking for ways in which they can help others. (I don’t like them – they make me feel guilty!) But the church cannot shrug its shoulders when confronted by the tragedies surrounding us.
If we want to make Hirsch’s term practical and relevant, then it means that the church has to have a vision for the world’s needs, whatever it may be. In the majority of churches I know, the church exists for its members and pastors are there to entertain the church members on a Sunday morning. Someone used the argument some time ago: I work long hours everyday and I don’t need to be reminded on a Sunday that I need to do even more. On a Sunday I want to relax in church!
Hirsch was in trouble for saying that the church needs to exist for the world. But he believes, and I believe, that the church only finds it’s true meaning once we move outside the walls of the church into the community, bringing the love of Christ, in whatever way is necessary, into that community.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 Posted by | Church, Comfort Zone, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Unity, Vision | 2 Comments

Marketing your Church

A few days ago someone sent me a link to a Youtube video clip with the title: What if Starbucks marketed like a church? I was able to watch it then, but unfortunately it seems to have been removed from Youtube in the meantime. (It’s worthwhile to go to http://eugenecho.wordpress.com/2008/11/12/what-if-starbucks-marketed-like-a-church/ On this blog the video clip still seems to be working and there’s some great comments written about the clip.) It’s really quite funny and although it’s obviously exaggerated, the message comes across. If we want to market the church, we have to get more professional about it.
But then I thought that the title of the clip could also be put the other way round and someone innovative would probably be able to manufacture an equally funny clip: “What if the church marketed like Starbucks?” I’m all for becoming more professional in the church. I’m all for making use of certain business principles in the church. I believe that a vision and mission statement can really help a church to get focussed. But I’m not convinced that churches should be run entirely in the way that a business is run. (By the way – I had a cup of coffee at Starbucks at Cairo airport earlier this year, and not only was the coffee terrible but the atmosphere was even worse with a group of teens shouting and screaming at two in the morning, while I had only one desire – to get some sleep while waiting for a connecting flight. That morning I felt as if I would never set my foot in a Starbucks again!)
Let’s get back to the analogy of Starbucks. What do they want to do? Starbucks’ vision reads as follows: “Establish Starbucks as the premier perveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.” I can immediately sense a problem if we start marketing the church in this way. In fact, many churches do exactly this: “Establish XYZ Church as the premier perveyor of the gospel.” I read Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church not long after it was first published, and one of the things I remember is his attitude that there are many churches doing wonderful work. At their church they have a certain vision and a certain way of doing things. People who feel that they do not fit in, are free to worship at another church. Saddleback isn’t in competition with other Christian churches. Starbucks, on the other hand, is in strong competition with all other coffee shops and have to ensure that their standard is at such a level that people will prefer to drink their coffee instead of going to their competition. To achieve this aim, they do things in a certain way: Buy the best coffee beans. Install the best coffee machines. Give the staff the necessary training to make and serve the coffee.
The church, even though it needs to be run in a professional way, has an entirely different way of doing things. The church isn’t there to market the gospel or to market Jesus Christ. The church, one could say, is demonstrating what it means to live under the authority of Jesus Christ. The church, contrary to Starbucks, isn’t the place which I visit when I have a “thirst” or a desire for a good sermon. The church is there to change my entire focus on life, to change me (mostly focussed on myself and my own desires) in such a way that in my family life, my business life, my recreational life and wherever I am, I live as a changed person, now focussed on God and His desires, which means that I’m not in the church business because it makes me feel good, but because I know that this is what God wants from me. Contrary to going to Starbucks, I’m not part of the church to have a good feeling about myself, but to willingly go through the process of dying unto myself so that God can live through me. And this is not always an enjoyable process!
As I said: I’m all for churches being run more professionally. But I know of churches which are run extremely professionally but which still fail to get the main message across of a changed life, focussed on God and on the world for which Jesus gave His life.

Thursday, November 13, 2008 Posted by | Alternative Society, Building relations, Church, Humour, Mission, Theology, Vision, Worship | 7 Comments

Becoming a church for and in your community

This past Sunday I was invited to speak at a church on the outskirts of Johannesburg. A few years ago this was an exclusively White community and church membership and attendance clearly indicated the demographic pattern of the community. This was the situation all over South Africa before 1994. But with the new democratically-elected government which came into power in 1994, things started changing. Exclusive White communities in certain areas, especially within the centres of the larger cities like Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban, started being replaced by other ethnic groups. This had a great effect upon churches, as churches which catered exclusively for the needs of White, Afrikaans-speaking people, experienced a sudden and tremendous decrease in church membership and attendance. Churches which had thousands of members and packed buildings during their regular worship services on a Sunday, suddenly struggled to survive. After a time the inevitable happened when the church buildings were sold, sometimes to shop owners needing storage place and even to people of other faiths which then changed the buildings to make it a place of worship for people of their religion.
One particular church in Pretoria has always been a sad example for me of how a church failed to use the new opportunities that had come their way. This particular church followed the route described above. Fortunately, when they decided to close doors, they sold the church building to a another evangelical church group which then opened the doors again and started to cater for the needs of the people who were then occupying the apartments in that area. And as far as I know, the church is doing well. It’s not a White, Afrikaans-speaking church anymore, but then, the community does not exist out of White, Afrikaans-speaking people anymore!
On this past Sunday I spoke at a church which, if the leader had not persevered, would probably also have had to shut doors a number of years ago. Except for the fact that he saw the change in demographics, not as a threat but rather as an opportunity. When I entered the church, I was immediately struck by the multi-cultural atmosphere within the church. People from different ethnic groups mixed in a friendly and comfortable manner. The church leadership also reflects the diverse cultures of the area. They have two worship services – one in Afrikaans and one in English. The second service was, in a sense, even more diverse than the Afrikaans service. Those attending were mostly non-South Africans. They included people from countries such as Zimbabwe, Nigeria and other African countries. But they also come from a diverse religious background, including Roman Catholic and even traditional African religions. Some came in the traditional clothing of their own country. The only common denominators are that they are all interested in the Christian faith and that they all understand English.
When I left the church after speaking at both these worship services, I thought about Eric Bryant’s excellent book, Peppermint-filled piñatas, which I had reviewed here. And I thought about lost opportunities, where churches had been sold to shop owners or to people from other, non-Christian religions, while many people who are still interested in Christianity have nowhere to worship on a Sunday. Which further led me to the topic of this blog: Becoming a church for and in your community!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Alternative Society, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Evangelicals, Hope, Indigenous church, Mission, Racism, Theology, Unity, Vision, Worship | 1 Comment