If you are a church that is missionally living in the culture then you must be prepared for who you will meet. And they might not like you. People living in the city of Austin, TX are pretty sure most Christians are hateful, narrow minded, intolerant, judgmental, hypocritical and uninformed people. This is the current and future reality of the American culture the church finds itself in.
I had lunch with a good friend last week. Kirsten moved with her family to Austin a year ago from L.A.. They moved off Hollywood Blvd. to the South Congress SoCo area. Her and her husband are creatives in the fashion and film industry so they wanted to be with like minded people in Austin. However, as Christ followers who have a high level of acceptance for people in their creative fields they have been somewhat shocked about the level of animosity in their new city to their personal faith choice. The animosity is even higher than where they lived in L.A.!
Kirsten told me about walking with one of her new neighbors to get some exercise one evening. During the conversation Kirsten responded to a perceived difficulty in the woman’s life with the simple statement, “I will pray for you about that.” Abruptly stopping, the other woman grabbed her arm and said, “if you say the word ‘prayer’ again I don’t think you and I are going to be able to be friends.” For the next 45 minutes the conversation was about her extreme aversion to faith, God and spirituality. It was confrontational. Kirsten has found this same attitude in other neighbors and at the local school her children attend.
Now, maybe you are thinking this is just one incident in Austin, Texas but take time to talk to others on the street where you live and you will find out that antagonism towards the church has permeated much of our post-modern culture.
As a church that is missional towards people living in post-modern environments like Austin we have to accept the realities we live in. I believe Jesus has been and will continue to be relevant in every culture, in every generation, around the world. So certainly he is relevant in Austin today. But how?
A New Voice
What we are discovering is that the church needs a new voice in the city. It must build bridges of communication and relationship to overcome people’s antagonism about the church. Our communication must be with a voice of grace, hope and acceptance. It must also reasonably address people’s genuine skepticism and doubts. Throw out the old cliches and language traps of the Christian vernacular. Much of it is tired and maligned. Especially when it is in the container of a person that is spiritually arrogant about knowing the truth. People are not opposed to truth but they are opposed to those with spiritual arrogance about truth.
To be effective loving people in this generation we must firmly commit ourselves to the practice of letting God change people’s hearts. It is not ‘our’ job to do that for anyone. We have been asked by Jesus to love people. His job is to change their hearts. Let God do his job. We must commit to doing ours. Love people with a genuine affection for them. They must know we love them if they are going to accept us telling them the truth we believe.
Meet the Needs of Pain
Practically, the church in this generation can gain greater acceptance and approval as we address people’s brokenness. We are the most addicted and depressed generation that has ever lived. The church has a role to play in addressing these real pains. When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount he did it in the unconventional environment of a hillside. He didn’t do it in the synagogue. People struggling with life’s wounds, the sinners, weren’t accepted in the synagogue. Our churches must have places where people can hear, in a new environment, that God is for them, not against them. Maybe this is in Small Groups, maybe it is at Happy Hour with co-workers, maybe it is in the Sunday morning environment. It doesn’t matter the form but the experience of these conversations need to be hillside conversations. Jesus taught on the hillside.
Small Group Ethos
Small Groups, or relational gathering places, must be willing to accept people with all of their antagonism, fears about organized religion and skepticism as normal. If you are missionally driven as a church you need to begin answering questions for yourself about how you will interact with Antagonists, Atheists, Agnostics, Addicts and the same sex Attracted. These are the people that Jesus loves and accepts. His encounter with these people in the Scriptures were filled with grace and hope. He also challenged them with the kingdom of God and joining him in it. Jesus was certainly not short on truth with them. The ethos of your Small Group or community spaces must feel accepting, open to different opinions and committed to relationship where authenticity is alive. It is in these environments where God must change people’s thinking, believing and faith. It is His job.
Are your church and Small Group gatherings places where people ‘Out of the Culture’ can find a relevant conversation amidst their skepticism and antagonism? Are you addressing the pain in people’s lives through your community?