Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Among and With

Counter: against, to act in opposition, in an opposite or wrong direction.

Counter cultural: a culture with values and mores that run counter to those of established society.

I was reading the blog of Rev. Dan Dick, the new Director of Connectional Ministries of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church. In a June, 2009 blog, Rev. Dicks was writing three questions we really need to face in our pursuit of growing God's church,

They are:

  • Do we prefer style over substance?

  • Are we more concerned with image over identity?

  • Is being popular more important than being prophetic?

I have to admit, as one who tried to keep up with and implement much of the Church Growth Movement's rules and principles and best practices - I was more concerned with style and image and popularity.

Man, was that a treadmill.

No matter what I tried, no matter how hard I worked at it, the "key principle" or "the practice that will put you over the top" was always just one more step away, always the next rung up the ladder, always just around the next corner. (Plus, I am pretty sure I am not handsome enough, sharp enough, or cool enough to be one of those rock star pastors.)

Then Rev. Dicks wrote about being counter cultural. Now, in the best sense of that word, the church is always counter cultural, meaning that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, have different values and priorities and pursuits than those of the cultures that surround us. But, when counter cultural is lifted up as running in opposition to culture, that's when the conversation needs to start.

Now, it is a no brainer to me, and I trust to you, that if the culture is into human trafficking, then the church needs to work in opposition to that. When the culture is into harming children or the vulnerable or the powerless, then the church needs to work in opposition.

But, if we are to be a missionary church, if we are to see ourselves as missionaries in a mission field, then we don't need to stand in opposition to nor even separate ourselves from the cultures that surround us. That would be counterproductive.

Missionaries live among and with another culture. Missionaries learn the language and customs of their host culture. In many ways, missionaries "adopt" their host culture. Missionaries then look for ways to make connections between the host culture and God and God's grace and power and love and mercy. All the while, the missionary lives as as a faithful Christian to show how an indigenous Christian would live. Missionaries don't adopt all of the values of their host culture, but live Christian values among and with that culture.

No trying to "fix" people. No trying to conform the host culture to some alien standards or political or economic systems.

Being a missionary is about substance and identity and being prophetic in the Biblical sense of that word.

I am starting to see myself more as a lead missionary than a pastor. I am starting to lead my congregation to see themselves more as missionaries in the cultures to which they belong.

So, when churches brag about being "culturally relevant" and "image is everything" or when they brag about being "counter cultural" and "revolutionary" -

I am suspicious.