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A Brave New World: Proposals for doing Ministry in a Fractured Society
How do we respond to the unique situation that we as a society now find ourselves in? What is the appropriate response of the Christian Church to these changing times? There have been many proposals presented over the years, but for our purpose here I will to reduce them down to three general categories: Liberalism, Traditionalism, and Consumerism.
Liberalism as a whole is one of the oldest of the proposals. It draws from heresy all the way back to Christianity’s conception, propagating a syncretisticism of Humanism and Judeo-Christian teaching. Its focus is on man and not God, on esoteric rather than revelation truth. As such it blends into the society assimilating the world’s philosophies and clothing them with seminarian language. While Liberalism’s approach does seek to meet real physical needs of people, the motivation to do so stems from its Humanistic prepositions. What’s more, since Liberalism sacrifices absolute truth to relativism it is unable to truly address the needs of postmodern man.
Traditionalism is the other of the older proposals. It is characterized by the consistent choice to resist rather than adapt to change. By adaptation I do not mean compromising orthodoxy, but rather the adjustment of its methodology. Traditionalism quickly turns inward upon itself, rejecting all that are different, as it struggles to hold on to the past. This is not an honoring of tradition, as some have claimed, for the tradition of the Church is one of going out into the World. Traditionalism can not connect with those outside the church walls, because it lacks the capacity to do so.
Consumerism is a fairly new concept characterized by a somewhat market oriented approach to ministry. Instead of seeking to meet the needs of a congregation as a whole, this approach looks for ways to divide the congregation into pure markets and then minister to each group separately according to their unique needs. Marketing is practically a science, and as such anything which makes use of its logic is usually effective in its chosen endeavor. Make no mistake, the consumer approach works better than the other two proposals: but is the price worth the payoff? Like the madman in Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, the reasoning is sound; it is just too small in its scope of vision. With each distinct group kept separate from each other, we must ask ourselves how much is lost. Are truly offering an alternative to the tribalism of the world, or are we just dressing it in church clothes so it will look good in the sanctuary?
What keeps the above approaches from being effective in both established and new works is primarily culture blindness. This is what occurs when we assume that external things define a culture and do not take into consideration the reality of varying worldviews; those theologies and philosophies which dictate how we relate to and live in Society. Just because people appear to be the same doesn’t mean that they in fact think alike. Too often what we learn about ministry came from the ivory tower of seminary and is simply not conducive to Post-modern culture. While it is unnecessary for us to reinvent the wheel, we must also recognize the inherent flaws of copying someone else’s successful program. The successful program of another does not guarantee that it will be a success for us; whether it is the program of the establishment, or the program of the disestablishment.
Thus when observed carefully we find these three philosophical approaches to be lacking; but if they are not solid then what other options do we have? I would suggest that there is one option that has not yet been tried, at least on wide scale any way. I suggest that we in the west take some notes from the missiological field and begin to apply some of the principles of mission to ministry here.
Why missiology? What does it offer that is different? It offers insights into mission, which is what the church is to be about: God’s mission of reconciling the World to Himself. Perhaps the reason that this sounds odd to us at first is because the West has so dichotomized the work of foreign and home missions; a distinction that the early church did not make. The uniqueness of the missiological approach is summed up well by Samuel Escobar’s definition of the discipline:
“I define missiology as an interdisciplinary approach to understanding missionary action. Missiology examines missionary facts from the perspectives of Biblical sciences, theology, history, and the social sciences. It aims to be systematic and critical, but it starts from a positive stance toward the legitimacy of the Christian missionary task as a part of the fundamental reason for the being of the church. A missiological approach gives the observer a comprehensive frame of reference in order to look at reality in a critical way. Missiology is a critical reflection of Christians engaged in missionary practice in the light of God’s Word.”
Among other things the discipline of missiology confronts us with the concept of contextualism, something that I believe to be of the utmost necessity here in the west. Edward Rommen and David Hesselgrave’s book on this subject gives these thoughts on what constitutes Biblical and effective contextualism:
“Christian contextualization can be thought of as an attempt to communicate the message of the person, works, Word, and will of God, in a way that is faithful to God’s revelation as it is recorded in the Scriptures under the leading of the Holy Spirit; and which is meaningful to respondents in their respective cultural and existential contexts.”
The Missiological approach to the re-evangelism of the west, tackles the issues that naturally arise as we seek out an effective way to do ministry in a post-Christian, postmodern paradigm. It speaks to the real needs of people by being unafraid to meet them where they are. It allows for interaction and connection between all groups of people by making a distinction between primary and secondary things. In doing so it builds community by developing loving acceptance and it promotes health by its emphasis upon the essentials of Worship, Discipleship, and Ministry.
 Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the end of the 20th Century (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1970), 125-127.
 Jimmy Long, Generating Hope (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 22-26.
 Gil Rendle, The Multigenerational Congregation (Bethesda: Alban Institute, 2002), 12.
 GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2001), 18.
 David Wells, Losing Our Virtue (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1998), 32 and 200-201.
 David Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen, Contextualization: Meanings, Methods, and Models (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2000), 13.
 Samuel Escobar, The New Global Mission of the Church (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 21.
 David Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen, Contextualization: Meanings, Methods, and Models (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2000), 200.