Churches have a tendency to create their own culture that runs parallel to the culture of the surrounding community. This can often be expressed in church football teams, dance ministries, coffee shops, soup kitchens and a host of other worthwhile activities. While many of these may in fact be worthy activities and may often be couched in friendship evangelism or relationship-building language, the sad result most often is a Christian sub-culture, populated mainly (or exclusively) by Christians.
Missional thinking encourages us to consider that there may already be places ,within our wider communities, where community is happening. And rather than re-creating alternate versions of the same communities and then desperately trying to get outsiders to come join us – why not go together (as the church) and join with the pre-existing activities and community. Go together, as a group of God’s people and model what it looks like to live under the good rule of King Jesus, as you play football, dance, feed the poor, sing, drink coffee. Go and live as the church in full view of the watching world, so that they may see the Kingdom of grace, love and mercy at work in the normal routines of everyday life.
This type of thinking was again brought home to me on Saturday, when we visited the Milnerton market. Here is a pre-existing, for all appearances, tight-knit community, brought together around a common interest and need, at least once or twice weekly. That is not to assume that some members of this community may not see each other outside of the regular market times. In fact, it seems that the stalls are allocated on a first-come first serve basis so many of the vendors sleep over, just outside the venue the night before in order to get the best spot. No doubt there are shared meals, coffees and cigarettes; helping hands and early wake-up call. The ordinary, mundane, beautiful stuff relationships are made of.
Then I got to “thinking like a missionary” – what if instead of running another programme or insisting that people’s spiritual well-being is linked to weekly attendance at a given meeting (disclaimer: I have nothing against programmes or regularity – just our overdependence on them) we release a group of people to go and join the market community. Get a stall, sleep over the night before, share stories and coffee, and simply be there – all day, when it’s hot, when it’s cold.
What if this small “missionary band” begins to pray and ask God so show them what could it could look like to be church among these people? Ask God to show them what good news would look like to this community? How could we love and serve them? How can we be the best “market neighbours” – the “market neighbours” everybody wants?
I am not saying it would work. I do not even know if it is feasible, but I do know we need to start creating a culture of permission-giving where men and women can start asking the “what if” questions. Or as Graham Cray put it: “If we only do this – who will we not reach?” We need to start envisioning a culture of gospel risk-taking. A culture where failure is expected because there is a culture of trying new things.