What Does Missional Look Like in Metropolis? Pt. 2

I read a statistic the other day that shocked me, according to a recent study 90% of heart patients faced with the need to make changes in their lifestyle choose to die rather than making change.  That shocked me until I stopped and thought about it for a moment.  No one likes change and if forced to, I would have to admit that I dislike change as much as anyone.  The simple reason that I dislike change so much is that I like to be comfortable and I have gone to great lengths to organize my life in a way that is comfortable for me.  Change means that I will have to leave that comfort zone.  I will have to do things that might make me uncomfortable and disturb my carefully maintained equilibrium.  Do you have the same problem?  I guarantee that you do and if you want me to prove it just let me come over to your house and start rearranging it.  You would very quickly discover that change makes us very uncomfortable.

I think that this basic aversion to change is what hinders the church in America from being effective.  The statistical evidence has been mounting over the last decade to show that the church is in decline in America.  In our own Southern Baptist Denomination, nearly 90% of our churches are either plateued or declining.  Sadly, much of the reason for this decline is the failure of the church to engage the emerging culture around it.  No one can doubt that we are experiencing one of the greatest cultural shifts in the history of our nation and perhaps even the world.  But unfortunately, the church has largely stayed in the 1950’s ministering to a culture that does not exist anywhere except in its own four walls.  This failure to engage the culture has resulted in a devastating decline in evangelism and conversions.

Last week on this blog we began a discussion about what it means to be missional in Metropolis.  Part of this involves being willing to change so that we can engage the culture we live in.  We will discuss specific changes in future articles but I think it is important to understand the difference between principles, methods, and preferences.  One of my favorite professors in seminary was Dr. Elmer Towns.   He was famous for drilling the following saying into the minds of his students, “Methods are many, principles are few, methods may change but principles never do.”  Often this distinction gets forgotten in the church.

There are principles that we should be willing to die for and that are never up for compromise.  For instance, we believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.  This is a principle that we are not willing to ever give up.  We believe in the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement, that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.  These are all principles that we should never give up.  They are the foundational, fundamental issues of our Christian life.

Our methods represent our principles as applied to culture.  Methods will change as the culture changes.  We may not like that and it may make us uncomfortable but it is true.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:22 “…I have become all things to all men, that might by all means save some.”  What Paul is talking about in this passage is his willingness to set aside personal preferences and adapt his methods to reach his audience.  For instance, when Paul was preaching to Jews he went to the synagogue, dressed like a Jew, talked like a Jew and started his gospel presentation in the Old Testament law.  But in Acts 17, when he preached in Athens, Paul adapted his methods to fit the context that he was preaching in.  He went to where the Gentiles met, the Areopagus.  He spoke the language they could understand, even quoting from popular Greek poets and philosophers.  He started his presentation not in the law but in their misunderstanding of who God is and creation.  In other words, Paul was not afraid to change in order to preach the gospel.  He understood that the principles of the gospel never change but the methods of presentation will.

So what does this have to do with the church?  Simply put, we must be willing to embrace change if we are going to be effective in reaching our community with the gospel.  While we will never compromise our principles we should always be willing to change our methods and sacrifice our preferences.  To be on mission with God, Abraham had to leave his hometown and his fathers house.  To be on mission with God, Paul has to be willing to give up his personal preferences and become the missionary to the Gentiles.  To be on mission Jesus had to leave the glory of heaven and become a servant.  To be on mission we will have to change.  We will have to be willing to sacrifice personal preferences for the sake of reaching the lost and dying of our community with the gospel. I leave you with the words of that famous hymn writer/theologian Bob Dylan:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

8 thoughts on “What Does Missional Look Like in Metropolis? Pt. 2

  1. As I was reading Joe’s part two, I thought about something that I heard my old pastor, Dr. Traylor, say, “Ministry is dirty.” You could take that a lot of ways, but he was meaning that we need to get our hands dirty and do ministry. That means, what Joe said, to move out of our comfort zones. It seems that it is always easier to do ministry and get dirty on mission trips, but what about the “dirty” ministry in our town? To our neighbors? To our co-workers?

    I think FBC is headed in the right direction, but it is easy to get back in the funk. God dropped ministry right in our laps, but what have we done since? I’m good about planning future things that I want to do, but what about RIGHT NOW?

    The other thing that I thought about was how Paul was a tent maker while he was traveling around encouraging the church and preaching the gospel. He didn’t rely on others, but was “dirty” and ministering at the same time. What are we doing at work? To us stay at home moms, what are we doing at Walmart, Big Johns, etc? Are we talking about Jesus? Are we living in a way that would bring glory to Him?

    I have to brag on Joe for a moment, because I saw him do this (previous pp) last week. A big group of us went out to eat and it took a long time for us to receive our food. Joe and Grace were the last ones to receive their food. They never complained or got mad or angry with the server/cook. They acted in love. It was a good lesson to see and remember that we always need to act Christ-like.

  2. Amy,

    Thanks for the kind words. You are right about the need to be willing to get our hands dirty in ministry. I remember when I was in West Virginia and our church began to grow. A local newspaper sent out a reported to interview me about what was happening in the church. At the time many of the local churches were closing down but we were in the middle of a building project. He asked me what we were doing that was causing the growth. All I could say was that unlike other churches we were willing to meet people where they were and share the gospel with them. Our church had started to get a reputation because a sizable number of people in our congregation had come out of a background of addiction. I’ll never forget the question he asked next, he said, “Doesn’t that sometimes get messy?” My reply was, “Yes, but we live in a messy world.” The next week in the paper the headline read, “A messy church for a messy world.” This little slogan became our quasi mission statement as we tried to present Jesus in the midst of a messy and sometimes nasty world.

  3. I like it! We are messy people because of sin. We DO relate to the world, because of sin. BUT, we can overcome sin because of Christ! We have an incredible message and way to share, because we understand the struggle with sin! It’s time that we admit that we understand the world. It’s time that we admit that we know what people are going through, because we’ve all been there and done that. There is NO one on this earth that doesn’t struggle with sin. Once we figure that out, we will be able to minister and get dirty and messy! Here’s to the Mess Hall and may we be so dirty that the world doesn’t see us anymore but JESUS! PTL!

  4. I pray for a spirit of transparency to sweep through our churches. Someone I follow on Twitter was quoting Ed Stetzer as to what a high percentage of unchurched people see Christians as hypocrites. While that may be largely undeserved, if you attend the average church service on a Sunday morning, one would likely get the idea that the church is filled with nicely groomed families of four who have it all together. Leave those four walls, and it soon becomes obvious that’s not true.

    I’m not happy we live in a world where high school girls die in car accidents, where women get abused by their husbands, where the elderly are mistreated in nursing homes, where parents have to deal with the effects of autism on the children they love so dearly!!!!! But, we’d rather issue bumper sticker mottos than deal with the real hurts, pain and sin which affect us all! Oh, for a spirit of honesty and openness before each other and before a loving God, where we can bear each other’s burdens and lovingly encourage each other towards holiness!

  5. Change, what is change? You change your clothes daily, you change your oil, you change the air freshener in your car. So what is so bad about change. These are all things we are in control of, so it’s easy. We want to do it. BUT, when someone “forces” change on us… Career change, church service times, insurance adjustments, tax increases, rearrainged furniture etc. I guess what it boils down to is very much like Bro Joe said, when we are forced out of our comfort zone (i.E. we aren’t in control) we resist. Maybe that’s conviction. I think nack to time of my salvation, the Lord was knocking, I was ignoring, he kncked louder, I resisted. I didn’t want to change. I didn’t want to have to go down front, in front of all those people. ALl of those good people in church that surely didn’t ahve any issues. If I went down, if I admitted that I was a sinner, well by golly, they’d think things about me. But it is simply amazing how loving, God is.
    As I type this, I just got home from the visitation of Kelsey Glass, a 17 year old that died before she should have. A beautiful girl that was very close to my family. We often ask Why is these cases. Why the change, Why did Kelsy have to leave us so soon. In God’s infinite wisdom and marvelous grace, we will someday know why. The beauty of this tragedy is to be revealed in the majesty of God’s work in the lives of those close to Kelsey. I’m not sure if this was in God’s plan, for Kelsey to die now, but I am absolutely confident that this change will be used by God to bring Glory to Him and His Kingdom.

  6. Just started reading “The Prodigal God” by Tim Keller. Was struck by the last paragraph of the 1st chapter setting up how he was going to delve deeply into the story of the prodigal son. It reads as follows:

    “Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of the day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. This can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.””

  7. Wow, Kyle! Thanks for the slap in face. Just being transparent. I was an outsider when I started going to church as a teenager. Now I’ve become the “she has it together” Christian. I’m a great actress. I act like I fit in and that I’m okay. My wonderful hubby knows better. He shared today with the amazing men in our church that I’m struggling, because I want to be transparent and I don’t fit in at FBC. The awesome thing is that there are others who feel the same way. I’m going to put my oar in and start being and acting the way Jesus would have of me. The walls are coming down and maybe it’s time that we march around Jericho for the walls of sin and pride to come down. Then maybe we’ll be able to be like Christ and reach the licentious and broken people of Metropolis.

  8. Good stuff. I think that Kyle makes some good points. We need to continue to pray and engage in this conversation as God leads us towards His will.

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