Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Missional Exiles in Post-Christian Culture

Today in my mailbox I received a promotional flyer from a major evangelical ministry that promotes "outreach" through mass marketing. The flyer served as an example of what churches can purchase and use in mass mailings for their communities. Across the top were the words "Invite your community back to church!" On the other side were the words "You're invited" with cozy Autumn photos of smiling people, pumpkins, Autumn leaves, and hot chocolate (with marshmallows, of course).

Do evangelical churches really think it's this easy? Simply mail a seasonal flyer with smiling evangelicals offering pumpkins and hot chocolate, and the community comes "back" to church. I question the premise: Invite your community back to church. It assumes they were there in the first place. And it assumes that people are willing to come into our sacred space and engage church culture, a very questionable notion given the anti-institutional nature of the post-modern spiritual quest. We continue to ignore the increasing numbers of people who have never been to church, as well as the post-Christendom context of the West. While American Christianity may be faring better than the church in the U.K. and Australia, the winds of late modernity/post-modernity and post-Christendom are blowing our way and the leaves have already fallen off the trees of church in modernity. Gone are the days of the church as the focus of the community, and yet our self-understanding and approaches to Christian spirituality and how we "do church and outreach" still presume a Christendom context.

We need a wake up call, and ideas as to how to think missionally in post-Christian culture. This is why I was pleased to secure a copy of Michael Frost's new book, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture (Hendrickson/Strand, 2006). I had the privilege of meeting Mike during my trip to Australia a few years ago. He's part of the Forge Training Network, and he is the co-author with Alan Hirsch of The Shaping of Things to Come. My friend and colleague John Smulo has a two-part interview with Mike where they discuss the book on his blog.

To wet your appetite, feast on a sample from the first chapter:
This book is written for those Christians who find themselves falling into the cracks between contemporary secular Western culture and a quaint, old-fashioned church culture of respectability and conservatism. This book is for the many people who wish to be faithful followers of the radical Jesus but no longer find themselves able to fit into the bland, limp, unsavory straightjacket of a church that seems to be yearning to return to the days when "everyone" used to attend church and "Christian family values" reigned. This book is for those who can't remain in the safe modes of church and who wish to live expansive, confident Christian lives in this world without having to abandon themselves to the values of contemporary society. This book is for those Christians who feel themselves ready (or yearning) to jump ship but don't want to be left adrift in a world where greed, consumerism, laziness, and materialism toss them about endlessly and pointlessly. Such Christians live with the nagging tension of being at home neither in the world nor in the church as they've known it. Is there some way of embracing a Christ-centered faith and lifestyle that are lived tenaciously and confidently right out in the open where such a faith is not normally valued? I think so, but it will require a dangerous departure from standard church practice. It seems that the church is still hoping and praing that the ground will shift back and our society will embrace once again the values that it once shared with the Christian community. But for many of us, and for those to whom this book is written, this hoping and praying is a lost cause. We acknowledge that the epoch of history that shaped the contemporary church has crashed like a wave on a shore and lef the church high and dry. That epoch is known as the era of Christendom.
As a missional Christian in exile in the post-Christian West I encourage other exiles to join me in benefitting from Michael's wisdom. May our tribe increase.

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