Click on the title to a guest post I wrote on Jason Clark's blog. Jason is a pastor/planter of a Vineyard Church in the UK. We met briefly at the Society of Vineyard Scholars conference in Texas and have begun to interact online since then. I am blessed to interact with him and his thoughts on the Kingdom and the Church.
While the Church has difficulty engaging, we do largely recognize our need to engage in mission. When we do engage in mission, however, it is largely through programs and events. Mission is often not seen as the responsibility of the Church as a whole; "I don't have to do it, because we pay them to do it." The fruit of our labor is a church that may be full of people, but quite often people have merely changed the label they were wearing. They are now wearing the 'Christian' bar-code, but nothing else has changed. (Or more likely, people have simply abandoned another faith community for ours out of simple consumerism.) The definition of a healthy church is one that is full of healthy people who can afford to pay their mortgage and their car payment, don't get drunk in public, can prove their heterosexuality with some athletic children, and wear a smile when they show up to Sunday services.
1) Rescue: Why?
Christian identity is in Jesus, not anywhere else, not even mission. ...but if Jesus is our identity then His mission will be ours. Mission flows from the heart of Jesus. If we claim to be united to Him, then this will flow out of our heart. (I began with little concern for mission and brought this honestly before Jesus and the Church. My love and devotion for Christ, and my commitment to discipleship under godly men, led me to a desire for mission. We may lack passion for rescuing men, the call is still to simply follow Jesus, He will teach us what to care about!)
This means that, while institutional and programmatic efforts should be made, they should not be central. The community as a whole must take ownership, it must not be simply handed to those few who are so inclined, or compensated, to run the mission, while the rest of us enjoy fellowship. For each individual this must be seen as 'mine,' central to my own individual purpose, and our common purpose. This must be seen as a fundamental aspect of our identity as Christians.
2) Rescue: What?
What do we mean by rescue? We aren't merely talking about praying the prayer, attending services, belonging to an organization, getting sober (or straight), finding a good job, morning prayers, reading the Bible, getting married, learning to lead a small group; but rather entering into the Kingdom. Rescue consists of coming under the Reign of Jesus, submitting to His government. This is true of women and men in all circumstances; the call to repentance and submission is just as poignant for the 'successful' as it is for the broken. This implies a responsibility for teaching the way of the Kingdom, for discipleship. To rescue is to disciple.
3) Rescue: Who?
Our identification with Jesus should cause us to care for the things He cares about. He came to rescue the broken. We must seek out the underbelly of society. It is not enough to 'pack the house' if all of the faces look the same. We must enter into relationship with the other; those who speak different languages, have different skills, wear different clothes, have different values, struggle with different problems. We must be rescuers of mankind, not merely those men who look like us.
4) Rescue: How?
The means for rescuing women and men is simple relationship. Whatever the context, a person will rarely come to faith without another human being interacting with them, and even more rare is it for someone to grow in the Kingdom without another person in intimate contact. This requires an essential geographical, relational, economical, and emotional proximity to those we are rescuing. We must intentionally leave our world and enter theirs. (Those who have must bear the burden on behalf of those who have not.)
This cannot be conceived of in terms of 'number of conversions' or in terms of 'attendance.' Nor can it be conceived of in terms of individual success; 'look at the people who are sober, straight, and smiling.' Rather it must be conceived of in terms of taking enemy territory. Rescue means releasing slaves, teaching them to live without shackles, and then bringing them back into enemy territory to release others.
What this looks like practically can be summed up in some of Jesus own words: The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats
I believe that the time is now for planting new churches, in new places, and in new ways. It is not enough to plant churches that 'succeed.' It is not enough to find the fastest growing suburban community in the area, open up shop, advertise, and welcome all of the transfer growth. It is not enough to pack the house. It is not even enough to do ministry amongst the broken and poor. It is time to move into the cities, it is time to share life with the muslim immigrants, the foreigners who can't even say 'hello' in English, the kids running the streets who will eat everything, break everything, and steal everything. It is time to engage the hostile tribes in the urban centers, the gay community, the art community, those who have nothing but antagonism for the Church. It is time to stop the syncretism in our churches, to strike at the demonic stronghold of consumerism and individualism, and to engage the spiritually apathetic middle-class. These people are the future of Western society, and if the gospel does not flourish amongst them, then the Western Church is truly dead, and so is any hope for Western society to be rescued.