Saturday, December 13, 2003

Postmodern Missionaries

I’m very taken with the idea of being a missionary to a postmodern society.

I say this because a lot of people seem to be treating “emerging church” as if it’s the magic wand or cure-all band-aid which, if applied, will automatically result in Christian communities of faith as they were meant to be. Enough of us have visited or been a part of dysfunctional house churches to know they can be just as self-absorbed and self-congratulatory as any other structure or de-structure.

I’m actually afraid a lot of people are going to treat post-modern ministry as the latest fad, learning all the “in” jargon and lingo, reading all the approved books, and yet not really engage our culture on more than a surface level. And then drop emerging ministry like a cold old potato and move on to the next sure-fire, this-will-fix-everything-and-the-glory-will-return ministry fad.

I’m much more inclined to view post-modern society as a people group, which we would look at from a missionary’s point of view.

We learn the language and culture of post-modern society—not in an all-embracing, “post-modern=good, modern=evil” abdication—but recognizing that the gospel must be contextualized to whatever societal/cultural setting we find ourselves in. While some of us are postmodern instinctively, I firmly believe that anyone who is willing to invest time and energy can become more so—you’d do it in foreign missions, so if post-moderns seem foreign to you, why not do it here?

We do not adopt the values of the culture. We may look like, sound like, and “taste” like the culture around us, but we do not adopt their values. We are salt and light. As George Mercado used to say: “use anything, short of sin, if it communicates the Good News.”

We invest ourselves in our “tribe.” It’s not a quick-fix nor is it a short-term program or outreach. We join the tribe and invest our lives in building relationships, “earning the right to be heard” (as George would say) over the long haul. Missionaries often lived among the locals for literally years before they began to reap. We tend to be “fast food drive-thru” in our expectation of instant results, which doesnt help.

We learn new ways to tell our story of Jesus. Larry Norman once challenged us at a worship conference to try and share our testimony with people without using the same words twice. In other words, let go of a canned testimony and start  sharing our lives and stories with our friends.

Some are concerned over going “social gospel” (so focused on meeting people’s physical needs that the gospel is neglected). If we adopt the missionary metaphor, missionaries were always using medical supplies and treatment, educational reform, agricultural assistance etc. as part of their work with their “people group.” We can do no less with the poor and needy around us.

If we do not approach our ministry in a post-modern, post-Christian society with a missionary’s eye to learning the culture, joining the tribe, and contextualizing the gospel, I fear we may find ourselves increasingly isolated and ineffectual. May God give us wisdom and faith to engage our culture for the good of the Kingdom.