The teaching of math has been a source of frustration for me over the course of this year; well it’s probably been growing for the last few years, but this year it seems almost inescapable. Teachers are telling students to memorize and to download apps in order to solve equations. They are not challenging students to think or grapple with concepts in order to arrive at solutions. Math is put in easy to handle packages that make the students believe they have learned, but they have no concept of how to apply their thinking when the variables change or the questions get more complicated or the easy solution apps are not available. Don’t believe me – try giving asking the cashier, to not look at the cash register, and tell you how much change you should get from a twenty for your next meal at McDonalds.
I wonder if we do this with churches as well.
(J=Justice M=Mercy E=Evangelism eH=exponential hope)
Tracing the history of evangelicalism all across the globe through Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard‘s book, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History & Culture in Regional Perspective, leaves me wondering many of the same questions that I have with math. Historically, where the effects of evangelicalism have made the greatest differences in their societies, has been when right belief has been paired with compassionate action. Around the turn of the twentieth century we saw one example of this: “In terms of ongoing social engagement, many evangelicals saw the need to help to combat the evils of the urban industrial system. Among these were rescue missions to assist the down and out, shelters for homeless women and unwed mothers…” (Loc. 1670-1672)
However the zeal in these efforts made the western church blind to the influences of industrialization and we became enslaved to the culture rather than engaged in it: “Once the momentum began to falter, evangelical churches were increasingly burdened by the financial pressure of paying for and maintaining overly large buildings, and by elaborate organizational structures that could not easily be scaled back.” (Loc. 1555-1557)
When there has been an abandonment of belief or action, at any time and any place, problems have ensued and the church has either been relegated as irrelevant to its society or has lost its Christ-centered transformational core. Right belief with compassionate action – truth and grace, must go together if, we as the body of Christ, are to effectively extend the incarnational mission of Jesus.
What gives me hope for the Western church? Why do I still love the role the Lord has allowed me to have? Three main ideas:
- The call to belief and action is for everyone, not just paid staff. The Church, regardless of denominational affiliation is God’s Plan “A”, there is no Plan “B”. Therefore as those privileged with leadership roles we must not just strive for decisions but must lean in to the task of making disciples. We must strive to not just settle for right belief, but must model and challenge compassionate action. Action that reflects and meets the needs of our local communities.
“It is important to underline the fact that by its ability to localize and embed itself in new forms in diverse cultures, evangelicalism represents a powerful force resisting the homogenizing tendencies of globalization.” (Loc. 1117-1119)
The question for leaders is: Why do we feel compelled to measure how many people come to a one hour service, once a week instead of how many people see their world as a mission field? Wouldn’t that emphasis change the way we, as leaders, spend our time, resources and teaching toward a more evangelical perspective?
- There is a renewed desire for ancient practices of leadership. It’s all of us together. Not just “staff” or “leaders” but everyone has an active, integral role in the advancement of God’s Kingdom initiatives.
“The form of Christianity established in Latin America at the end of the fifteenth century was deeply shaped by the “evangelization” carried out by the conquerors in association with the military. The church was conceived as essentially a top-down, hierarchical and sacramental institution, rather than a community of followers of Jesus Christ from below.” (Loc. 2758-2760)
The question for leaders is: how often do we take time to listen to and integrate what our “everyday” people are seeing in our communities into the ‘vision’ for the church?
- We have so much to learn from God’s work in other nations. However it will take humility and rethinking of current leadership practices to embrace what God has already made abundantly available.
“As the centers of evangelical Christianity moved south and east, churches in the West struggled with their need to recognize that they had much to learn from their fellow Christians elsewhere in the world.” (Loc. 811-813)
“Christians in the West are generally insufficiently aware of the works of theologians from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and the experience of interacting with these would greatly contribute to “building up the body of Christ”…” (Loc. 2943-2945)
The question for leaders is: What needs to change in our organizational frameworks to move from “missions or outreach” as one small part of what we do to, “mission and engagement” being everything we do?
After so many years, my fear is that we’ve conditioned those who follow Jesus to be satisfied with only belief and action, which both flow out of convenience. We would do well for their sake and for the sake of those whom they have the potential to reach, to recapture both right, unyielding belief and compassionate, sacrificial action. The benefit for us is that we have teachers around the world who can model the way for us, like those in parts of Latin America: “Many thousands of people leave the “official” Church because they feel attracted to faith communities that not only preach the gospel but also enable their followers to live the Christian life deeply rooted in their socioeconomic and cultural context.” (Loc. 3032-035)
While problems may seem complex and the variables may constantly change, with Jesus all solutions are possible. It’s simple math.
“Now to Him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ…so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen” (Romans 16:25-27)