John 17:15-18 CEB
This past week I spent a wonderfully fulfilling time at a leadership conference for Church Planters and Church Revitalizers. It was sponsored by the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation. I will be taking much away from the conference, the most important being relationships with like minded Disciples who want a restoration of God's Church in today's fragmented world. Knowing God does not leave us alone in our task is one of the most uplifting pieces of knowledge.
I write this today because there was a sneaky theology that kept being thrown out. It was like proof text and it was being used as a shield to block a critical thought in Church Planter ministry. More than twice this past week I heard the words, "We must be set apart from the world; not in it."
It used to be, mission was a one way street. The Christian organization would take their worship, their images, and their words and expect the overseas culture would embrace it. It was ok, but the work of mission really didn't take off until they stopped trying to force the images that worked for the missionaries and began listening to God's call to find the images that worked for the group they were trying to reach. It was understanding that God was already alive and working in the community. It was the way St. Patrick did evangelism- using their pagan symbols and world around them. A perfect example: he used the three leafed clover to explain the trinity. To help them understand God he had to understand and live in their world so he could speak their cultural language. (Cultural language being something greater and deeper than physical language. People communicate with more than words. The unspoken truths of a culture sometimes speaks louder than words.)
Now, let's bring it together. The reason the collective church is drowning in it's own death is not because they were immersed in the world instead of set apart from it. Their problem today is mission. Churches do not know what to be set apart from and what to be immersed in. Listen, the natural order of life is to return to what is most comfortable to us. Nature was from the chaos and from the chaos we wish to return. Our ultimate goal is to be set apart from that which will return us to our un-created state: chaos. We are to immerse ourselves in that which brings us closer to God, our created state: relationship in the form of love. Mission is the natural result of being immersed in love and separated from chaos. Mission is relationship. It is learning the spoken and unspoken language of the people you are called to reach and using that language to create relationship. The collective church in the United States is dying because they have failed to do real mission for way longer than I have been around.
That is why the mission statement for Fig Tree Christian is this: "To be a place grounded in knowledge of Jesus Christ through education and connection to God and others." As a minister I realize it is a fools work to say what projects and goals are going to arise from this experience. The need will arise from the relationship, and relationship can only happen in God's love. It is where the core values of Fig Tree come from: "Speaking the truth, teaching the truth, and living the truth without fear. Connecting and connected to bring the Body of Christ together to know God better."
We are not outside of the world, but we are set apart to keep the chaos from overtaking us. We have disconnected for far too long. We have lost who are neighbors are. We need to stop un-friending and start reconnecting. Let's start piecing the Body of Christ back together and start working again. Set apart to work within the world.