Saturday, May 24, 2014

Perspectives on Reaching Out

I wasn’t raised in the United States, though I was born here. My family dates back to 1652 in the Republic of South Africa. So, I suppose I have a slightly different perspective than many people do. We are all products of our environments, no matter how much we try to deny it.

For those of us who were raised in church-going homes, we have a certain perspective of organized religion—either positive or negative. If you were not raised attending church as a child or being closely associated with a particular religious group, you likely look at things differently than the rest of us.

Oftentimes, our biases and personal experiences keep us from viewing spiritual matters objectively. We can’t stand back and take a good, honest look at our own internalized beliefs and familiar religious context because we are so deeply “immersed” in them. There is certainly comfort in familiarity, but also blind spots that keep us from being open to different theological and spiritual perspectives.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for Jesus’ first followers? They approached scripture with many preconceived notions about the Messiah and their conceptualization of the kingdom of God. As we read in the Gospels and New Testament epistles, one thing we observe is that the early disciples were way off in their initial thinking. Their thoughts and desires were on physical things and material structures, but Christ was ushering in a spiritual—not an earthly or political—kingdom.

Moreover, their Jewish roots and strong nationalism made it difficult for them to accept, at first, the counter-cultural reality that the kingdom of heaven was intended for all people, regardless of gender, race, age, nationality, political persuasion, or socioeconomic class. The gospel was and still is for all.

I wonder how many obstacles we inadvertently put in God seekers’ paths. We are often more tied to our own religious traditions than to the plain and simple teachings of the Bible. Our stale worship format and formal style, out-of-date approaches to evangelism, missions and outreach, pet peeves (i.e., selective doctrines) that we elevate above the entirety of biblical theology, internal power struggles, denominational divisiveness, and self-serving programs are likely a significant disconnect and huge turn-off to non-believers in our society who may otherwise be interested in learning more about God.

So what should we do about these formidable challenges as Christians? First, we need to get back to Bible basics. What are those teachings and principles that Christ and his apostles emphasize the most? If we can identify these important spiritual issues and rethink our present religious practices and liturgical traditions, we will renew and transform both our thinking and doing.

Second, a helpful strategy would be to sit down with other Christians within your local congregation and discuss those stylistic things (i.e., non-biblically mandated) that could be altered to make your worship gatherings more appealing and relevant to outsiders who have little-to-no church background or experience. Look for new ways to connect within your worship services in appropriate ways to persons living in our postmodern culture today.

How could we make them feel a bit more comfortable in the unfamiliar environment of a church building? Perhaps, in some cases, it would be more advantageous to take the church to them, rather than expect them to “come to church.” Many individuals feel out-of-place and awkward in church buildings. The first century missionaries, like Paul and Silas, took the gospel to the market place where the people were—to their own turf.

Third, figure out what the greatest needs are, physical or otherwise, of those people living in your community. Then go about strategically meeting those needs in the name of Jesus Christ. When people see compassionate Christians mobilizing their resources and efforts to meaningful action they will take notice and be touched.

Isn’t it time that the body of Christ takes her mission, energy, and resources beyond the walls of the church building? Let’s not just “go to church.” Instead, let’s be the church!