The missional challenge of our age
Written by Gabor Gresz
influenced by many personal interviews and readings
"We are living in one of the most complex and transitional eras of human history. The great cities of the Earth are growing and changing at an historic pace. Conflict and injustice are everywhere. Many communities are devastated. We find ourselves divided, estranged from one another by social, economic, racial, religious and generational barriers. The divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ is widening. And a generation of millennials are leaving the church in droves. The challenges are overwhelming, but so are the opportunities. In the midst of chaos and upheaval, God’s spirit is moving across the great global cities of the world to do a new work. He is bringing the nations of the world into the neighborhoods of our cities. Even now, we are seeing him work amidst suffering and stagnation to create new societies within cities. There is a movement of the church that is united by one desire to see the gospel go forth. And to see it transform institutions, families, communities, and to cause cities to flourish."
– Mac Pier, CEO, The New York Leadership Center
Radical, constant and gigantic changes are eroding the fabric, the DNA of our civilization. The fabric that provided stability (survival) and prosperity (growth) for humanity in any society are the following:
- a community - the ability to connect to each other which is the foundation of any form of life and is experienced, lived and modeled in the most fundamental building stone of any society: the family.
- a common purpose/vision - a hope for a shared future, a common purpose and the predictability of a future path for both the society and for the individual within the society.
- education - preparing the future generation to maximize their gifts, find their passion and become a valuable contributor to the society so they could find significance.
- a shared ethos (common values) - the commonly shared values which determines the connection and the common purpose (it’s more than the mere written law, the written law supposedly is a mirror of the common value); without that shared ethos it is impossible for people to live together in any society.
The first three of these four building block of any society are meeting the most fundamental human needs (to have purpose in life, to feel significant by being able to contribute and to be able to live in community). The fourth provides the safe environment for a society to flourish the first three.
Historically those societies flourished and thrived the most where the power of the gospel shaped these ‘DNAs of the society’:
- creating livable communities driven by godly justice;
- uniting people under a common and noble purpose;
- making good and continuously developing education available for all;
- and gospel-based shared ethos elevated human dignity and regulated human interaction.
These ‘DNAs of the society’ formed nations, provided the power for economic growth, nurtured arts, literature, inspired major innovations, established scientific education, seeded social justice and overall created a more livable and lovable society.
These ‘DNAs of the society’ are under major attacks right now dismantling the fabrics of the life of our societies.
At this critical and historic moment the church is continuously loosing her ability to connect to this age and to be able to touch the sickness of our society with the healing power of the gospel. The missional gap is growing.
On one side of that GAP we find the world.
- A world that is very young in age. 43% of the World’s population is under age 25.
- A world that is migrating, multicultural, multiethnic.
- A world that is innovative, fast-changing.
- A world that is urbanized, city-focused, globalized and where nationality is becoming less and less important.
- A world that gives up it’s shared ethos, dividing communities, excluding masses from education, basically dismantling it’s fabric.
- A world where relationships are redefined and where people are lonelier than ever before regardless of their extended networks.
- A world which created more problems we can ever solve and where injustice is institutionalized.
- A world that influences everybody in the globe.
- A world that is driven by a common technology, common fashion, common media.
On the other side of the GAP we find the church.
- A church that is getting old while young people are leaving the church in droves. 4 out of 5 young people growing up in a Christian home leave the church.
- A church that is static and slow-changing, focusing on maintaining her status quo.
- A church that is mainly mono-cultural, mono-ethnic and closed.
- A church that is suburban and is a small-town culture (it’s rooted in the thousands of years of history and socio-cultural structure of the societies). The socio-cultural structure is changing, but the church’s structure has not changed.
- A church which lost its original passionate innovation driven by her mission.
- A church that rarely collaborates and too many times just focuses on micro problems.
- A church that becomes a stumbling block for the world when debates over ridiculously small and unimportant theological nuances.
- A church that is paralyzed and intimidated by the gigantic problems around her.
- A church that many times gave up the hope to influence the culture or trying to do it in an aggressive, political way.
- A church that creates a subculture, inclusion societies with sub-institution instead of trying to change or impact the culture.
And that GAP IS GROWING DAILY! The church is continually loosing influence and ability to connect to this age and she can't effectively and powerfully communicate the gospel. She has no power (connection, relevance, respect, trust) to influence. The church gives up missional ground just because it would require a lot of change on her side, radical faith, collaboration, innovation, risk to fail, conflicts to take on, humility to be willing to learn.
What would CONNECTING TO THIS AGE MEAN?
It would mean that we would be woven into the fabric of the society in such a way where we are able to bring healing to the diseases sickening our societies’ DNAs: it’s communities; it’s common purposes, it’s education and it’s values. Only the gospel can heal the communities, give meaningful common purposes, provide solid education and reestablish the shared ethos.
What needs to happen if we want to cross that missional gap?
- Identify communities (influential infrastructures of the society) we should strategically influence, reach, change or promote.
- Identify values we want to boldly, clearly and wisely promote.
- Identify purposes we can lift high for the society.
- Influence education.
Where to start?
Start where people are – locally, strategically and socially.
- Locally – they are in cities.
- Strategically – focus on the most influential and populated infrastructure: education
- Socially – the majority of the society is young people.
We still live with a 19th or 20th century missional way of thinking, models and structures. We use the structural and model innovations implemented by the heroes of the past centuries and out of tremendous respect toward them we are sentimentally thinking back to their success. The ministry models and structures once served our mission well, don't fit the realities of today anymore. People don't live their lives in those categories. We look at things through our ministry or strategy lenses and not through their lenses.
The brutal facts will either force us to think outside of the box and change our realities, or we will continually loose territories.
Because of the brutal facts and realities, the following needs to happen:
- Christians need to walk in faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. Radical faith-steps and risk-taking. Christian leaders and pastors need a dramatic, radical life-change: we need to have risk-taking faith, we need to leave behind our false theology and switch to a God-centered, mission-focused theology. We need to break down old paradigms and be willing to give up our own little thrones we built and protected and humble ourselves.
- We, as the Body of Christ need to create a learning environment where we study our target area, learn how to connect, how to interact with them. More listening and less speaking. We need to become learners of our societies, of the needs and of the people.
- Intentional collaboration between churches and missions for city-wide gospel movements need to happen.
- Integrated ministry strategies (stop the silo-mentality) should be targeting the most strategic influential infrastructures of the society. A comprehensive thinking: we need to stop viewing the world through our strategies' or structure's lenses, we need to start seeing them through the lenses of young city professionals.
- Network of prayer.
- Evangelistic specialists – mainly focusing on young people.
- All kinds of justice initiatives.
- People coming together according to their profession forming support-groups to initiate gospel movements on their field.
- Global thinking. It’s a small world now. The world thinks globally therefore we should also. The church needs more global collaborative thinkers.
- City-focus - move where the society is moving. Take the church to where the world is. "You have an urban future, whether you like it or not." - Ray Bakke. In 1900 only 8% of the population lived in cities, by 2050 70% will (in the western world this will be 87%.) "City ministry is the future”.
- Tons of innovation and experimentation with the willingness to fail.
- Multicultural and multiethnic teams need to be formed.
- Stop creating a sub-culture or parallel culture, start influencing the main culture.
The world is very aggressively taking territories of influence while the church is loosing grounds. We have not done the hard work of the necessary learning and changes to be able to connect well. We are commanded to expand our borders (Is 54:2-3). Border-expansion requires “special elite forces” and special skills. So far we were not intentional about putting together "special elite forces" and place them in to "strategic territories" where they could figure out ways how to expand the borders of the church. So far, we are grieving and angering over the losses, but not fighting smartly, collaboratively to take those back. We - as the global Body of Christ – has a lot of room to grow to become good stewards of all what God has entrusted us with.