DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Global Evangelicalism comes close to home

Written by: on January 24, 2019

This Saturday morning, I will spend 4 hours with a group of “Inquirers” at our church.  These are people who are new in our community and are learning more as they become “New Members” of our congregation.

My favorite part of the class is when people go around the circle and share their stories.  It is always a wide-ranging and diverse set of circumstances that have led all these people to our door.  It is a mix of faith and doubt, seeking and finding, idealism and realism.

Inevitably, some of the New Members are “cradle Presbyterians” and speak boldly about how important that tradition is to them as the main driver for why they have come. Others are the usual mix of modern American mutts: Episcopalians and Methodists, lapsed Catholics, burnt out Baptists, some Lutherans and non-denominational types.  The list goes on.

Increasingly and consistently we have people who come to us from around the world.  There are Anglicans from India and Uganda, Roman Catholics from Peru and Mexico, people who came from a mega-church in Nigeria, Methodists from Singapore, and yes, plenty of Korean Presbyterians.

What is striking about the faith and outlook of many from the “Global South”, whether they come from high church or low church backgrounds, is that there is an essential evangelicalism that runs through their experience.  In an essay in the book Global Evangelism: Theology History and Culture in Regional Perspective,Mark Noll reminds us of the “Bebbington Quadrilateral”, where this loaded term “evangelical” includes four key components: a focus on conversion, the Bible (or “Biblicism”), Activism, and the Cross (or cruci-centrism).[1]

In my use of the term “evangelicalism”, I am careful not to conflate it with the contemporary politicized version of the word “Evangelical” which is in use in the United States. What I mean by this term when it comes to people I meet from around the world in the context of my church, is that they are gospel-centered people where a tie to the historic faith in Jesus Christ is very important in their lives.  Many have adapted their expectations to the United States (which is probably why they feel comfortable in an “American” church), but their experiences are also distinct from many of those who grew up in our country.  They are more ready to pray, to praise God for healing, to share their faith, to speak out on social issues from a Christian perceptive.

In his essay in the book, Mark Noll writes that, “Providing a workable definition for a book with a worldwide perspective, however, is surprisingly complicated.  Much of the complexity arises from the necessity to define evangelical alongside a number of other terms like Pentecostal, charismatic, fundamentalist, apostolic and indigenous that are often used in conjunction with the term.”[2]  These are overlapping categories and terms, which makes it hard to pinpoint exactly who is included.

This is the state of the world today.  Where historical boundaries and typologies are not as neat or clear as they once seemed to be.  People move, they mix, they adapt their faith and lives to fit into the places where they find themselves.  Another way to think about global evangelicalism is that it is a by-product of the larger story of globalization.

Anthony Giddens reminds us, “Globalization can thus be defined as the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.”[3]  For evangelicalism to flourish on a global scale as it has, it seems clear that its development has been tied up with a more general globalism.

What is surprising in this conversation about the worldwide expansion of evangelicalism and globalism, is that the US/American church has seemingly been so insulated from its effects. While we are constantly connected in business, technology, popular culture, the products we use, and more, the reality for many North American local churches is that Sunday morning is often wholly separate from the rest of the world.  Other than the usual mission projects or interactions, Sunday morning at church can seem like the least globalized hour of the week.

Here is the connection that this book lifts up.  It makes clear that evangelicalism (even loosely defined) is a global phenomenon, and what we know about globalism is that it impacts locally through things that happen around the world.

Indeed, Lewis in his essay in the book writes that globalization involves “the diminishing of the importance of barriers of distance and geography; the dis-embedding of people from their received traditions—people tend to move beyond their tribal allegiances in a globalized world.”[4]

The implications for local churches in the United States is immense.  The forces of globalization and the worldwide spread of evangelicalism are tied up together, because it means people can move more freely, and are more prepared to interact beyond their own tribe, tradition or natural borders.

Local churches in the United States are surprisingly well-positioned to receive those globalized, evangelized Christians from around the world, however, local churches are also surprisingly un-prepared and perhaps unwilling to welcome and receive these newcomers well.

What I have heard in one form or another many times in our New Members classes is, “We are looking for a church where Christ is proclaimed and the Spirit is alive, but we don’t really care about labels or denominations.”  For American Christians who are used to a kind of “settled” spiritual life, this is a challenge and opportunity.  The challenge is to make room for the Spirit and for the witness of global Christians with a different perspective.  But the opportunity is also apparent.

When somebody says, “We are looking for a church home, new friends and community since we just moved into the area”, the shared good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ comes alive again.  It enlivens, awakens, and stirs those who hear it, and calls on the church and its people to make a faithful response.

[1]Mark Noll, “Defining Evangelicalism”, in Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, eds. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 20.

[2]Mark Noll, “Defining Evangelicalism”, in Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, eds. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 18.

[3]Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990), 64.

[4]Donald M. Lewis, “Globalization, Religion, and Evangelicalism”, in Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, eds. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 65.

About the Author

Dave Watermulder

10 responses to “Global Evangelicalism comes close to home”

  1. Hey Dave,

    I don’t know the statistics, but I have heard it said that Sunday morning in the US is the most racially segregated time of the week. While you mention that people are not too concerned about denominational labels, I do wonder if they are stillmoving towards their own ethnics groups on Sunday mornings.

    I’d love to see the Church be a reflection of the while body of Christ by becoming multi-cultural centers. You rightly notice many of the challnges realted to that issue. Are you able to suggest some solutions? What might help churches become more gloablized in the membership?

    • Dave Watermulder says:

      Hi Jen,
      Yup, this is the area of my research and you are correct, there is a huge racial/ethnic divide on a Sunday morning in churches. First generation immigrants definitely tend toward their own groups and if there is a church with your language/culture, you are likely to attend. Even 2nd generation folks are often pulled to stay within the “ethnic congregation”– usually as an English language ministry for Koreans (for example). What I am looking at is the way that especially in suburban areas around urban centers, as time moves on, the racial/ethnic make-up of the community as a whole starts to change. So, if a church wants to welcome and include “neighbors”– whoever they may be– chances are, those neighbors will increasingly be of different ethnic/cultural backgrounds.
      Solutions… one is to simply be aware of this and acknowledge it. For a church to say “it’s important to us that we include and get to know our non-White neighbors” is a big step. Many will simply say, “everyone’s invited” while not taking real/active steps. Another is to talk about race/ethnicity in an active way. Just to help members become educated and informed and more comfortable with the idea that everybody has a cultural background– even White people! Once people are more aware, and have leaders who say “this is important” then, the real work of engaging with neighbors of different backgrounds and all the stuff that comes with it will follow. I could say more–but for now, those are a couple things. No easy fixes, but it’s a huge future opportunity for churches. Let those who have ears to hear, listen…

  2. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Dave,

    Our denomination is not recognized as one of the more ‘Evangelical’ and particularly in the Northeast and West it seems that they are even more progressive/liberal in their theological leanings. I am curious how you and your church navigate the PCUSA landscape and continue to connect with such a diverse array of people while much of the denomination appears to be becoming less relevant to diverse people groups and emerging generations.

    • Dave Watermulder says:

      Thanks Dan,
      Yup, it’s interesting to be part of a “big-tent” denomination and to see who all shows up in a local church with that kind of “brand”. I talk about it very directly with our church. I share about it with every new members class. I discuss it with all of our Elders and staff. My version or this is, that we are centered in Jesus Christ and from that strong center, we are then freed to reach out broadly. Our church’s culture is that you have to be “okay” with people who have different views down the pew and that the diversity of our church is a positive thing. The more I talk about it and lay it out that way, the more people basically sign on. I used to be really worried about discussing that dynamic– as if some people might be offended or turned off or whatever. But, I’ve become kind of bold as the culture of our church has taken hold– I know that our staff and leaders are all on board with this and that it’s something that is openly discussed. Anyway– we span the whole theological spectrum, and the political spectrum, and somehow it works. We can talk more about it. One thing that is true: I don’t focus on the PCUSA, per se. That’s not really a main feature of our church. We’re proud to be Presbyterian and do things “decently and in order”, but really, we just want to be a vital, strong and faithful church. Word.

  3. Greg says:

    Dave what a great reminder of what the church looks like….as well as heaven. I believe globalization is apparent everywhere but I think California has a better representation of the migration of people. I found it refreshing that you provide a place for not only new people to have place in your congregation but you all take time to listen and share the stories that shape our us.

    • Dave Watermulder says:

      Thanks, Greg,
      I think this is true– that California and the Bay Area have a higher percentage of immigrants and people of color in general. But– if you look around the United States, this is what the future looks like. Not in every single place (like in Jay’s more rural context), but the suburbs around major cities are becoming super-diverse. I think churches in those areas need to take that change very seriously and be active with it. peace!

  4. Chris Pritchett says:

    I liked how you used the term evangelicalism instead of Evangelical as in the political sense. I wonder how many of your members would self-describe as “Evangelical.”

    • Dave Watermulder says:

      Thanks, Chris,
      Yea, this is something you and I have discussed a time or two… I have shaped our church’s language on this quite a bit over the years. I talk about being a “small e-evangelical”, but not at all being involved with the “Evangelical” movement (which is largely political). So, I hope that a lot of people would follow me in this thing, but we certainly have some “Evangelicals” for whom the culture wars and conservative politics are important. That’s a minority group. But, everyone in our church, including all the progressives and Women’s Marchers and Bernie supporters, etc, are really in for following Jesus. It is our starting point for all discussions about hard topics and so I think that’s really true for our church. Anyway, I will talk to you about it some more 🙂

  5. Shawn Hart says:

    Dave, I am refreshed by your take on this topic. I am not sure if you intended it to sound the way it did; or perhaps it is just my perception; however, you actually made evangelicalism sound more like a missional effort of the church, rather than a title given to a church. When we address the need to take our ministries to the global level, then I believe the church needs to have a plan to do so; evangelicalism can be that plan. However, when we use it as a description for the church, which seems to divide one Christian group from another; then it seems to me that it is counterproductive to the purpose of the church itself.

    Can you tell me if you perceive the two differently or the same? Is it possible to have an evangelical ministry, without actually classifying yourself as an “evangelical.”

  6. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    interesting. Having not been a senior pastor I didnt realize how generic evangelicalism comes into play as you are onboarding people in membership classes. You are dealing with some very distinct backgrounds. Now, do you try and make them Presbyterians in this membership class or is mostly making them members of your particular church?

Leave a Reply