Thoughts on “The Tangible Kingdom” by Hugh Halter & Matt Smay
A great deal of my “professional” reading has been in the realm of all the ways the current Western Church’s methods are coming up short when it comes to making disciples or even leading people to a relationship with Christ. I’ll leave it up to you to determine whether or not this is because–
–as someone who has intimate knowledge of the absolute highest levels of evangelicalism’s inner workings (professional experience seminary, parachurch & churches for the last quarter century as well as growing up in it)–
I see the fault-lines very few others get to see. See, I’m a deep deep deep insider.
Or rather because the “system” truly hasn’t been accomplishing what a church is supposed to accomplish and American publishing is catching up with it (and please know that I’m aware of what the Church is doing in China, Africa and other “closed” nations, but the American/Western church is what I know/experience, so know that my comments are limited to that arena).
Or maybe it’s somewhere between or in orbit around that dichotomy. Again, I’ll leave it up to you. But whatever the reason, I’m reading a lot about our shortcomings…and there’s A LOT of current publishing out there about them. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.
At any rate, here’s a few insights from Halter & Smay to get your mind vitamins for today. And, as always, feel free to jump in with your contributions to the discussions.
As is common in these types of books, the authors point out their views on what’s gone wrong in our churches. Here’s a few snippets:
“Individualism is a deep-seated WestMod [their term for the post-modern church in the West] bias that fights against commitment to anything that doesn’t directly serve our individual interests. Most specifically, this relates to our interaction with people. Although we may want a deeper sense of community, we’re not going to make the changes in our lives so that we can commit to it.” (page 150)
Conviction, anyone? Er. Let’s move on before we think too much about that, shall we?
“Church can be a huge consumer trap. We provide large comfortable worship centers, encourage pastoral staff to give us everything we need spirtually, and, at the end of the day, we don’t have any money or time left to extend blessing and resources toward mission.” (pg. 152)
But once you get past the “programming” issues they talk a bit about how those folks that aren’t followers of Christ view us as a Tribe:
“Christianity is now almost impossible to explain, not because the concepts aren’t intelligible, but because the living, moving, speaking examples of our faith don’t line up with the message. Our poor posture overshadows the most beautiful story and reality the world has ever known.” (pg. 41)”
Let’s move on again, shall we? Of course, this is nothing new. Francis Schaeffer was writing about the same things in the early 1970’s, but my experience is that now the cultural view of the church has shifted significantly from what it was 40 years ago.
The authors expound on a thought by Alan Hirsch (the author I spent a few days talking about his book in earlier entries) about this shift, which he calls “cultural distance”:
“It can be applied to missions and church in the sense that certain people and groups are really close to the Gospel and others are very far away. That is, some share much of what evangelicals hold dear, so all you need to do is provide a church in the middle of a suburb that provides safe child care, school tutoring, ice cream socials, divorce and alcohol recovery, and basic moral training, and you’ll probably see some growth in the church…
…It all depends on who you are called to reach. If your calling is to influence those with the most similarly held values, then you can keep providing the same thing. But if you want to influence the massively growing percentage of people who are much further from the Gospel, you’ll have to provide, model and invite people into an inclusive community that welcomes people with alternative values.” (pg. 72)
See, those people think like this:
“People in America are not ignorant of Christianity. They’ve heard the message, seen our churches on every corner, they flick by our Christian TV shows, they see our fish symbols on the backs of our cars. They’ve seen so much of pop Christian culture that they have a programmed response to us: ignore, ignore, ignore.” (pg. 125)
So, what’s the solution of the authors? Basically that a church needs to unique in contrast to what’s already out there, as they train their folks to answer these questions as they plant a church:
“What’s going to be the unique thumbprint of God on your congregation? What is different about your calling than what God may call other churches to?” (pg. 173)
They also ask this question earlier in the book to set the tone for later:
“If Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live life with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed anyone, regardless of their behavior, to seek too, and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like Heaven, would you be interested?” (pg. 10)
Great question, don’t you think?
And, of course this will require leadership to lead, which may cause a few ripples in the church:
“…you may understand that you can’t keep everyone together when you move forward to the ancient incarnational way. Some people will be like Milo [a guy from an earlier illustration in which he didn’t like the changes his church was making]. They don’t want to go and make it very clear. Let them ‘not go.’ Some will be like Mitten [a contrast Milo from the same illustration], who seem to want to go but really don’t. They are the ones who pay your bills if you’re a pastor, give you nice strokes after your sermon, who generally make life peaceful for you as long as you make it peaceful for them…”(pg. 27)
Then the authors talk about how once the people you’re trying to reach will upset your church’s apple cart and leaders have a choice to make:
“Wise leadership requires that you steward everyone well; pastor everyone well; be honest with where you want to go and try to express what your journey will be like, what they won’t get to take if they go, and what will cost them if they do. Then let people decide for themselves.” (pg. 27)
So what this comes down to is that the church needs to make some changes…
…people won’t want to make those changes…
…and leadership needs to clearly communicate why and what and how and all that…
And do so in a way that’s okay if the folks leave for more traditional confines. In fact, the one thing I appreciated about this book in contrast to the last one I wrote about extensively is that these guys said it was “okay” for there to be different degrees of this sense of “mission.” That some older folks could lovingly be uncomfortable yet be supportive and the younger folks could lean on them and serve them to go forward and much more supportive pace and all that jazz. This book wasn’t as much of a “blow it up and let the chips fall where they may” approach but was much more understanding of the reality of implementation and doing so in a loving way.
I must be mellowing in my old age if I lean towards this approach, right?
But anyway, that’s enough mind vitamin.
Grab your cup o’ joe & discuss. This should be a good one, right?!