Saturday, December 13, 2003

Postmodern Missionaries

If you haven't already guessed from the entries I've made in recent weeks looking at ancient Celtic Christianity, Don Richardson's book "Peace Child", and even the Augustinian "theology must look people in the eye" post, 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 bandaid that, 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 emerging house churches to know that "house church" in and of itself can be just as self-absorbed and self-congratulatory as any other structure or de-structure.

I'm actually afraid that a lot of people are going to treat "postmodern ministry" as the latest fad, learning all the "in" jargon & 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 postmodern society as a "people group", which we would look at from a missionary's point of view:
  • we learn the "language and culture" of postmodern society -- not in an all-embracing, "postmodern=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 & energy can become more so -- you'd do it in foreign missions, so if postmoderns seem "foreign" to you, why not do it here?

  • we do not adopt the values of the culture, although 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 sometimes 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 (maybe it's time to grow up and get serious?);

  • 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 - he was trying to get us to let go of a "canned" testimony and more into sharing our lives and stories of our interaction with Jesus with our friends;

  • although some are fearful of going "social gospel" (so focused on meeting peoples' 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 & needy around us - I like the way Leonard Sweet puts it: "to unbind the confined, whether they're the downtrodden or the upscale, the overlooked or the underrepresented". To be fair, this may or may not mean the literal poor, but I've noted in recent years and been encourageed to see a strong upsurge among the emerging generations that ministry to the poor is vitally important (and that the lack of caring for the poor is one of their complaints with "institutional churches").
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!

No comments:

Post a Comment