As I continue to think about and discuss our community with others, some things begin to grow more and more clear. At lunch today, I was meeting with a friend and missional strategist from Lakeland (and soon to be Jacksonville resident.) In our discussions about churches really knowing how to reach the people within their communities, the talk of contextualization emerged.
This was actually an enjoyable outing, unlike other "get to know your community" outings that I have been on under the guise of "evangelistic outreach." In most of the traditional outings, we have been sent out with an agenda focused on getting to a point where you can ask a question such as "If you were to die tonight, why should God let you into heaven?" or "In your personal opinion, what do you understand it takes for a person to go to heaven?" While these aren't necessarily bad questions, and in fact, numerous people have been introduced to Christ through an introductory question such as these, the discomfort level rises exponentially when reciting such a question.
I know I will get negative feedback because I said that, but nevertheless it is true.
Sometimes, in the past, we would go out into our community taking "spiritual surveys." (By the way, avoid Christians with clipboards.) I remember doing this here years ago. My frustration was that we were taking surveys for the sole purpose of getting people to a point where we could "ask the question." In other words, we didn't care about the surveys. We did nothing with the survey data. It felt wrong. It felt like a poor marketing "bait and switch." I believe it's unethical.
Oh some will say it's OK because it leads to an evangelistic moment.
Is that our role, to create evangelistic moments? Is our purpose to create "divine appointments?" Seems to me this leaves the Holy Spirit out of the equation. Perhaps this is what has led to evangelistic scorecards and bloated church membership numbers. . .and anemic church attenders and burned out members.
Could this be why people grimace when the next, great evangelism strategy or program is introduced?
At some point we have to come to grips with the fact that evangelism is vital and commanded yet is always relational. Jesus modeled this. Whether it was his discussion on being "born again" with the religious leader Nicodemus or the down-to-earth discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus always spoke relationally and connected at the heart level.
Because he truly cared about people.
The narrative mapping endeavor led us to discover the people of Great Britain we were staying near. Yet, throughout this project, I could not help but think about Orange Park, my community. Did I really know the community I have called home for the last 18 years?
Where is the "third place?"
What do people in our community really value?
What do people enjoy doing?
The thing is, I think I know the answer to these questions, but in reality, I probably don't. Why? Because the longer you're in a community, the less you see. As I drive from home to church, to my children's school or even to local restaurants, over time I only see what I view as important. I only see what I want to see. Things can change in the community and I may not notice immediately. This is especially true if changes are subtle and slowly done over time.
People groups change.
Yet, this remains the mission field to which we are called.
Even those who have been in Orange Park or the surrounding areas for decades need a fresh look.
While in seminary on of our professors has us take a video camera to our church and video tape the facilities. It was pretty simple. We just videoed as we were walking into the building, into classrooms, into the restroom (with no one in there,) and even the parking lot and worship area. Then, we watched the video with the staff from the church. It's amazing how many things show up on video that we never notice.
The mirror on the wall of the men's room was cracked. It had been that way for years, but I had never noticed. There was a stack of old curriculum in the corner of one of the Sunday school rooms. There were cobwebs in the corners of some rooms. A carpet stain in the worship center was very visible. There were others.
What was the point?
The point was that when things are so familiar to us, we fail to see the details. Needless to say, most of these things were cleaned up and repaired.
The mission field that God has planted us (and all churches) changes over time. Some churches remain aware. Some do not. There are churches in fast growing areas in our county that are closing their doors because they refused to see what God was doing around them. They missed the missional opportunity.
I was challenged to take a fresh look at our mission field.
I need to see our mission field with new eyes. Otherwise, I will be prayerfully planning to reach a community that existed 18 years ago. No wonder so many churches feel behind the times.