Friday, March 22, 2019 -
I just read a truly excellent article by Jerry Trousdale and Glenn Sunshine called “Unleashing the Kingdom on Toxic Worldviews and Declining Churches” in Mission Frontiers magazine. It was fascinating because it reiterated what I’ve been thinking and saying for many years. It looked at church planting movements, or perhaps more accurately, “Disciple Making Movements” around the world, and dealing with the question of why nearly all of the such 700+ effective movements today are outside the Western world – barely one percent of the total. Four years of research went into the attempt to answer that question, and it is something every believer in America should take heed to listen to.
First and foremost, the church in what the authors call the “Global North,” or the West, “has slowly absorbed a dangerous level of humanistic ideas into our worldview over the last 100 years. These ideas have resulted in a weakened version of Christianity that is powerless to transform communities and culture” – the end result of these effective Disciple Making Movements (DMM). Many evangelicals will of course deny that they’ve been “secularized.” However, to understand their accusation, they define secularism as “the idea that religion and government should not interfere with each other. From there, it is a small step to say that religion should play no role in public life – if Christians want to believe and practice their religion in private, that’s fine, but keep it out of the public square.”
However, in spite of the fact that Christianity is about one’s personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and it changes the way we live our lives, it is not a “privatized religion,” because the message of Christ was “inescapably public and political: the most basic confession of Christianity is ‘Jesus is Lord,’ with the unspoken implication that ‘Caesar is not.’ Caesar claimed authority over all areas of life; Christianity said no – Caesar had legitimate authority in some areas but not in others, God and God alone has the authority over everything, including conscience, and that authority resides in the person of Jesus Christ, who alone is Lord of all. Because Jesus is Lord of all, the gospel must touch all of life. It isn’t only about personal salvation but every aspect of who we are and how we live in the world. It includes not just forgiveness and personal morality, but all areas of life – relationships, politics, society, work, recreation, ALL.”
This means it demonstrates itself through compassion, showing “in practice, through the power of the Spirit, what the kingdom looks like by working to fix what is broken in society and in people’s lives.” And so, the holistic nature of Disciple Making Movements leads to dramatic transformation of communities and cultures.
The authors go on, “Another way secularism has infected the church in the Global North is through the use of secularized approaches to measuring success. Our metrics are often based on the ABCs – Attendance, Buildings, and Cash – rather than on Christ-followers growing in spiritual depth and obedience, disciples making other disciples, or churches planting churches. Our primary goal must be to build the kingdom, not to build our local church – and they are not the same thing.” And the kingdom is not the visible church, for “the kingdom extends into all areas because the Lordship of Christ reaches every area of life. The church exists to build the kingdom, not to build itself. The Church may in fact grow in numbers, but unless that growth is anchored in building the kingdom first, it will never be the kind of growth that engenders movements.” Kathie and I have seen firsthand in India and elsewhere how the Gospel can transform entire communities as Christ followers, live lives of abundant joy and faith that carries into all their relationships, all their activities, and all their interactions with others.
Another way the authors claim the church in the West has embraced secularization is what they call “anti-supernaturalism,” which is evident by what we do by default. This is most evident by our powerlessness. They cite some surveys that claim the average American prays four to six minutes a day, including grace at meals. So how much are we really relying on the power and move of the Holy Spirit? Or are we trying to accomplish God’s purposes through our own power? In the non-Western church, corporate fasting and in-depth prayer is the norm! An excellent treatise of this is John Devries’ book entitled “Why Pray,” about the reason for the effectiveness of Mission India’s church planting being due to the intensive weeks of long prayer walks and efforts prior to the initiative of any outreach programs such as church planting, literacy classes, or children’s Bible clubs. As a result of this emphasis of the supernatural nature of their faith, miracles of healing, deliverance, and provision are the norm.
“Another way in which anti-supernaturalism and secularism combine is the tendency of believers to rely on professionals to handle ‘religious’ matters. For example, when they find someone who is spiritually open, their goal is to get that person to come to church so the professional in the pulpit can seal the deal and bring them to Christ. Similarly, too many families subcontract the spiritual development of their children to the youth pastor rather than performing their God-ordained responsibility to disciple their children themselves. Adult discipleship programs are built around having an expert teach us information rather than personally discovering what God’s Word is calling us to do by Spirit-led study of Scripture.
“Yet the pattern Paul gives us in Ephesians 4 is that various leaders in the church – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers – are to equip ordinary believers to do ministry by teaching, modeling, coaching, and training them.” This is exactly why in the non-Western world the DMMs are exploding! Just with Advancing Native Missions, which I’ve been involved with for more than 25 years, which helps Americans stand alongside these movements, we’ve seen hundreds of people groups engaged and actually reached with th gospel in the past five to ten years!
Finally, the authors point out that the church in the West uses secular strategies to achieve spiritual outcomes. “Management, marketing, and media consultants tell churches how to organize and run their ministries, how to do outreach, how to target a niche market, and so on, and many churches seek out their advice rather than looking to Scripture to see how Jesus told us to do it. And once again, there is often little reliance on prayer: planning meetings begin with a long discussion, a vote, and a short prayer asking God to bless the decision the committee just made.
“In contrast, where we see movements happening, decisions are made after long periods of prayers rather than adopting models, advice, and paradigms from the secular world.”
Is this hitting home yet? The more I read the more I felt as though I was reading Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church all over again – yet he came to the same conclusions on his own study of Scriptures and life experiences. “When we look at the church in the book of Acts,” they continue, “we see rapid expansion through families and social networks, extending into new, unevangelized areas – exactly the kind of expansion we see in the ‘non-western churches’ today. To recover that kind of growth, the Church in the Global North will need to change its entire approach to ministry and even its vision of what the Church is all about.
“The structural problems that hinder movements in the Global North begin with un-Biblical worldviews that are tainted by the latent secularism and anti-supernaturalism. These worldviews have consequences because they lead to ministry paradigms that do not achieve God’s intended outcomes.”
So our worldviews are revealed by what we do by default. And the way to change our worldview is to change our default actions. And so we must take steps to act consciously and intentionally to change our actions. The authors say to do this in a way in which you are accountable to others. Here are four areas in which they suggest to begin:
“Put more emphasis on prayers. Take more time to pray on a personal level and find like-minded Christ-followers to meet together and pray. Use the Scripture as a guide: that’s one of the purposes of the Lord’s Prayer.” Many of the great men of God would spend an hour or more each morning in prayer.
“When you spend time in Scripture, put more emphasis on what God is asking you to do through the passage rather than on simply learning it. Scripturally, discipleship is based on obedience, not knowledge (though knowledge certainly has its place).”
“Study carefully Jesus’ instructions to the twelve and the seventy-two before he sent them out. Be sure to look at the context, as well (Matthew 9:35-38), and consider what it means for our own attitude and preparation as disciple-makers. Think carefully through how you might be able to apply what He is telling you in your own context.”
“Take risks. If we are not willing to risk rejection, we can’t follow Jesus’ instructions because He told His followers they would be rejected. If we don’t pray big prayers, we won’t see big results. If we do not obey when it could cost us something, we won’t see God’s blessings on our work to anything close to the degree He wants to bless us.”
Do we want to change our communities and our nation? This is a great way to begin!