It’s not a new question, but where does the wider church happen? Surely we’ve gone past the days when we thought it had to be in a holy building and a man in a black outfit had to do some mysterious thing at the front while we all sit quietly waiting to be told what to do. I’m using the word ‘man’ deliberately here. It is much wider than that.
If an experience of being the Church is what happens when two or more people intentionally meet to encounter Jesus through prayer, conversation about what God is doing in their lives or mutual support then it’s happening in thousands more places then we’ve believed.
In fact, church buildings may be the last places “church” is happening most days of the week!
Some of the wider selection of more dynamic places we see people encountering Jesus today are:
- House groups
- Coffee shops
- Prayer on the streets
- Through Street Pastors in the small hours of a weekend
- At festivals
- On street corner in the tough times
So how are we the pioneers of wider mission?
Perhaps it’s by learning to stand closer to the edge.
American writer Kurt Vonnegut, who died in 2007, was no friend of the Christian faith, but there is a ring of truth to this quote: “I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the centre.”
It mirrors the experience of St Paul, which is recounted in Acts 17. Paul finds himself in Athens (read the passage) and is invited to explain his “strange new ideas” to the idle speculators of the Areopagus, the Athenian debating council.
Paul has been preaching the resurrection of Christ but the Areopagus think it’s just the latest philosophical fad. Paul knows that staying close to his Jewish roots will get him nowhere so he moves “closer to the edge”.
- He does his research – studying the city and learning the territory he is evangelising; even finding the ”unknown” element he can use to his advantage.
- He moves “closer to the edge” – using the Athenians’ cultural references and poetry to put them at their ease and gets them on his side.
- Once he has earned the right, he talks about Jesus – even though he expects rejection.
- The outcome is part rejection, part tentative interest and some commitment. All from going “close to the edge”.
What are the lessons for us?
People experience Church in many places and those of us who seek to share Jesus need to look wider. We need to learn how to be comfortable in places where we have not been before. After all, there’s no point in Christians saying they don’t like coffee shops or pubs and then complaining that people would rather drink coffee and beer than come to church.
We need to discover how to make the journey from people with a “holy language” to communicators with “the capacity to speak of God and faith in ways that make sense”, as the Priorities for the Methodist Church have said for some years.
We need to be willing to risk rejection by taking the Good News of Jesus to every place.