I am in the wonderful position of receiving a ton of free books from publishers in exchange for a review. Lately I have read, or at least skimmed, a good number of books on missions in a “post-Christian” world. Many of these books are written by guys that are ministering in a bigger city. They are encouraging us to stop trying to do ministry as if we still live in a “Christian” world. Just as Dorothy woke up in Oz and discovered that she wasn’t in Kansas anymore, so also churches need to wake up and realize “we aren’t in Kansas anymore”.
That is really good advice. Helpful. Mostly…
Unless you actually do live in Kansas*. If that is the case such advice is really not helpful because you are being taught how to do ministry for postmodern people living in New York City and not a dairy farmer mending fences. “Stop doing ministry like you live in Kansas”, is bad advice to some guy that is actually living in Kansas.
Honestly, this is why I have found many of the modern books on missiology mostly unhelpful. Very rarely do they offer even a paradigm that I am able to grab and say, “yep, that’d work in my city…I mean town…I mean village”. If I really want to make use of the ideas I have to do some serious work to adapt them. Of course this is okay, but if I’m doing so much work perhaps I should cross their name off the front cover and pencil in my own.
The best of these books will acknowledge that they are not intended to be cookie-cutter solutions but to give principles to apply to your own setting. The very best of these books will go one step further and actually help you figure out principles to apply in your own setting. (Ed Stetzer’s Breaking the Missional Code is helpful in this regard). Unfortunately, a vast majority of them do not offer such encouragement.
A Black and White Kansas or a Colored Oz
The town in which I minister is weird. It is largely German Catholic. Yet those numbers are diminishing. This is brought on not only by the growing ecumenical Protestant influence but also the growing atheistic population. Jasper is beginning to feel a little more like a city. Yet, even still it is surrounded not by suburbs but farmland and other rural communities.
Jasper, Indiana is not largely a post-Christian community. It is mostly a culture inundated with what Christian Smith calls a moralistic therapeutic deism. It is a sentimental, almost folkish, version of Christianity. But for the most part people still have their address as “Kansas”. In other words if I went knocking on every door in our neighborhood most people would self-identify as Catholic/Christian.
Therefore, if our church began treating Jasper, IN like Seattle, WA we would miss the boat. Seattle, WA is probably rightly labeled “post-Christian”. The Jasper, Indiana’s of the world are not quite there yet. (Certainly not the New London, Missouri’s where I ministered before). This is not to deny that the lure of the city is not present. The city influences television, music, and many other things that rural people devour on a daily basis. We are not immune to the post-Christian world of the city. Yet, we are not there yet nor can we begin ministering as if we are.
Therein lies my main concern. Many ministers are being told “you are doing it all wrong by thinking you still live in Kansas”. They are told that they need to start ministering to the post-Christian world in which they live. And indeed they need to be prepared for that and that ministry to the city needs to be in their repertoire. But if they are still living in Kansas then they need to minister like they are in Kansas.
Listen, if we devote our times to studying the human heart through doing battle with our own we’ll be equipped to exegete any culture. If we devote our time to knowing the Christ that transcends all cultures we will learn to lovingly proclaim him to people of any culture. This is not to say there is no value in really attempting to understand the perspective that our neighbors are coming from. But isn’t that just being a good neighbor and a good listener?
This may seem overly simplistic but I am increasingly convinced that if we simply concern ourselves with truly loving people and being enamored with Jesus we’ll be able to minister in the black and white world of Kansas and the technicolored world of Oz.
*If you really do live in Kansas I’d offer my condolences. But I will not, because you’d never read them, since I doubt you have the internet yet.