Missional Musings

The future of global christianity

THE FUTURE OF GLOBAL CHRISTIANITY

Some time ago I presented on seven trends that impact South African Christianity at the Regional Baptist Northern Association gathering. Since then, I have spoken to various audiences on the importance of understanding context and trends that shape where we live and will affect our future. This post is a reminder to us that the trends which shape South African Christianity should not be seen in isolation from what’s happening in the Global North and in other countries within the Global South. There is a world unfolding, unlike any other we have see before, that requires we face the future with boldness, sensitivity, and courage. Allow me to share on seven such themes.

 

Using the acronym, ‘futures‘, we will explore seven macro trends that in some way impact the ministry of the church. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, rather, a helpful starting point for discussions on trends that shape ministry globally.

 

 F-  FAST AND FURIOUS

The world we live in is rapidly changing, and traditional values are constantly;y being eroded and challenged in an evolving world. Rapid and continuous changes in technology are one of the driving forces of these changes. Churches that have disengaged from the technological revolution will find themselves increasingly isolated from culture and ineffective in ministry globally.  When it comes to technology and the pastor, the expectations have certainly changed and the pace of leadership in churches seems relentless. Pastors need to guard against a super-pastor complex, and other need to guard against pastel co-dependancy.

U-  URBAN CONFLUENCE

Ministry in cities will be of increasing importance globally as the vast majority of our populace is urban-bound. Cities are not only where people are located but are important centers for the development and flow of culture and influence for any region or country. What is our strategy for reaching urban centers? In Africa, many city centers are places evangelical churches are fleeing from, and have abandoned ministry in this context for the suburbs. How do we work for the glory of God in our cities, and establish viable ministries in these contexts?

T-  TRIBAL OUTREACH The FUTURE of Global Christianity (3)

This is somewhat new thinking for many evangelicals. In 2008, American author and public speaker Seth Godin published “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us”. In the book, he identified an emerging pattern of new communities connecting with one another outside of the usual socioeconomic benchmarks, such as living standards measures (LSMs). “Tribes is any group of people who are connected to one another, a leader and an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe. A shared interest and a way to communicate”.  French sociologist Michel Maffesoli (1996:75) helps to build the idea of urban tribes, his research showed that while rural social groupings tend to be driven by authoritative systems of power, urban dwellers are socially motivated by peer influence and energy. Rather than being organized around family, modern tribes are voluntary and tend to be based on affinity. People select their social circles, however subconsciously, to replace the clans they were born into but serve the same functions. What tribes do we influence,

U-   UNREACHED/ UNCHURCHED/ DE-CHURCHED

There seems to be an evident deficit in evangelism among our churches, built upon a sense of complacently and at times, a false missional hermeneutic. There is endless conversations and debates on methodology, where few people are practitioners. How do migration trends shape the way we evangelize? What is our strategy to include these important aspects of ministry?

R-  RADICALLY MISSIONAL

The church should be BOTH missional AND attraction, centrifugal and centripetal. There are many ongoing conversations regarding the rise of missional/ incarnation movements globally, which have stirred many into action, and continue to shape our praxis. Mission needs to be seen as both our originating impulse and its organizing principle, under the overarching banner of the Mission of God. The future of the church cannot be seen in isolation from the concept of being missional in nature.

E-  EVANGELISTICALLY REVIVED 

Culture will continually experience a sifting of people, based on what they believe regarding the truth claims of Christianity. With the marginalization of the Christian faith and the dubious nature of many so-called Christina movements globally, many people are no longer self-identifying with Christianity and are becoming what may in the West have described as the “Nones”. This may not be a bad thing, after all, at least those who go to church, know why they are there and have increased involvement and commitment to the Lord’s work and to witness.

It is in this context that we are called to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. There will be increased distance from churches that do not see themselves sin they light int he future.

S-  SERVANT LEADERSHIP

Much has been written on this topic over the years, and servant leadership, in many senses is what defines Christian leadership, or service within the kingdom of God in the way of King Jesus. Our attitude should emanate from Christ’s example and we should not simply focus on service. There needs to be an authentic humility attached to our ministry and leadership, recognizing that we are simply stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Servant leadership is counter-intuitive and does against almost everything the world is aiming toward and teaching, yet it is a sign of God’s presence and example we must follow. I know too many leaders who think that they have ‘arrived’, and no longer serve as it is beyond them. God’s kingdom defies the standards of this world, and our leadership is always in submission to Jesus’s lordship- without exception. How are we leading? What will be the outcome of our ministry and life? Will we be remembered as the autocrat, or as one who spent their lives for the sake of the fame of King Jesus?

Perfect pastor? Perfect people?

I know YOU have the perfect church and see yourself as the perfect leader who gets things right most times, right? Well, you may be that kind of leader, but I realize that I am flawed and in need of much grace, love, forgiveness and understanding as those I lead in the church context. Truth is, the ‘perfect’ leader is just an illusion or an ideal, at best! Apart from Christ, who modelled this kind of leadership during His earthly ministry, none of us get it right. This follow-up post is my heartfelt response to the cry of many within congregations that I have led over the years. Following on from my previous blog entitled, “5 Disappointments to Overcome in Serving King Jesus”, this post is written from the perspective of the many congregation members that share an equal disdain for church leaders who disappoint them, and who struggle with their desire to serve God, without being disappointed or ultimately disillusioned with the Church, or the Christian Faith altogether. Below are five of the most common disappointments I have heard aired. Perhaps you have others to add to my list, please feel free to comment below.

5 Voices of Concern From The Congregation

  1. You don’t include me in the process of decision-making but expect me to follow through at every level of execution on the ground. I know that you’re full time and fully invested in the church life and ministry, but please honor my involvement and allow me some space to invest weightily in the ministry we execute.
  2. You demand increasing amounts of my time in the name of ‘ministry’, while my primary God-given roles (follower of Christ, spouse, parent) suffer or erode to the point of breakdown.
  3. Pastors and some in leadership positions tend to teach one thing and demonstrate another in their lives. You cannot expect your church to do what seems above you.
  4. Your presence and friendship is often felt in times of blessing but is missed when my life is in crisis. Where are you when I am at my lowest? Do you measure me on what I can contribute and marginalize me when I can’t perform at your level of expectation?
  5. I feel that when the church grows your attention is divided and am disappointed that things are not the way they used to be. Please honor those who helped you achieve what you have by God’s grace.

 

Truth is, because of our fallen nature and sin-filled lives, we’re all going to disappoint people at some or other time and cause offense. WHEN this happens, and it will, the test of your maturity and faith is best measured in the words of Paul in Philippians 3:13, 14:

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

We’re not in ministry for the approval of men or the glory of men, but we do what we do for the ultimate glory of God. When there’s hurt, address is Biblically and with a dose of humility, wisdom and gentleness. Proverbs 29:22 reminds us that: “An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins”. Remember that when we’re hurt and disspointed by others, that we’ve at some point been in a similar position where we have hurt and dissapointed people ourselves. Give your pastors a break, and pastors, seek to resolve these often unspoken hurts and dissapintments in a way that leads to healing and fulfils the mission of God. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). Let’s end this with a helpful passage from Proverbs 17:9, 10:

“Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.  A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool”.

 

 

There’s much about the life and ministry of Jesus that resonates with me, and that I appreciate and aspire toward. The Gospel of John is an incredible work that speaks volumes to the person of Jesus and his ministry importance. John, however, writes in order to inspire the faith of his readers, that’s not taken for granted.  There are many ‘signs’ in John’s Gospel that allude to the identity, purpose and mission of Christ, coupled with the infamous seven “I AM” sayings. The Gospel of John unequivocally points to the deity of Jesus Christ and the calling of Christ in mission that beckons readers to not only observe, but become participant observers in God’s great mission endeavor. There’s nothing like a church fired up for mission, and nothing like individuals and families set on course for the common good of a community because of the Gospel. However, as the Gospel unfolds, there are many obstacles to transformation that present themselves that require our urgent attention.

 

Take a brief moment to join me in a personal, reflective journey regarding a few obstacles that you ay encounter as you seek to serve God faithfully where you’re at.  Start this section by reading John chapter 4 and taking special note to anything that detracts and distracts from transformed lives. Using John 4 as a basis of discussion I would like to present a number of obstacles to Spiritual transformation below.

 

OBSTACLES TO SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION

OBSTACLE #1: CONFORMITY

Conformity to culture seems a norm in churches and among Christians these days, and Christians have even invented a name for this- relevance. Cultural relevance in many instances compromises the Gospel and makes culture the axis and goal instead of Christ, love and truth. Throughout his ministry, Jesus showed that he was a non-conformist when it came to the rules of men and the institutions of men that neither glorified God, nor achieved his purpose. John 4 opens with a reminder that religious folk will not always be happy with a genuine move of the Holy Spirit and growth in ministry. In verses 1, Jesus decided to travel to Galilea rather than have a confrontation with leaders who wanted to bring him down and criticize what God was doing in and through his ministry.

OBSTACLE #2: CULTURE

“Jesus had to go through Samaria”; what a statement of purpose/ intent. Truth be told, Jesus’ intent on traveling through Samaria after his first sign in Cana of Galilea and his trip to Jerusalem at the time of the Feast, was a helpful allusion to the fact that God’s Kingdom includes those who may not fit our mold, or cultural preference.  Our culture, or the recipient culture may be a real stumbling block to sharing the Gospel. Much can be written on this topic, in fact much has been written on the tools to be employed in cross-cultural mission. However, the starting point, in my mind, is the equality of all cultures at the foot of the cross and our versatility and humility in bridging the gap. Jesus illustrates this point perfectly in John 4, and provides a helpful point of reference for breaking the barrier of culture in sharing the Gospel.

OBSTACLE #3: COMFORT ZONES 

Leading on from the previous obstacle, each of us is socially and culturally conditioned, whether we like it or not. Part of this is our insistence that our culture is right, fitting and supreme. We’ve all become comfortable in may ways with our culture, beliefs, geography, worship etc. Our comfort zones can serve a impenetrable barriers in sharing the Gospel when we do not allow God’s kingdom to break down our natural proclivity toward our self-interests and desire to preserve our lives, along with all that comes with it. The Samaritan women became rather used to the rhymes of a life of social isolation from the other members of her community that led her to draw water in the 6th hour, in isolation from others. Truth is, God’s not too interested in our comfort as there is a bigger picture at play- one that involves removing the obstacle of our comfort for the sake of God’s greater good.

OBSTACLE #4: CONCEALMENT

Many of us struggle with living with a concealed identity like the Samaritan woman- our lives are filled with shame and guilt that oftentimes paralyze our ability to either see God at work, or join in his mission purposes. We may easily hide or mask our struggles, identity or sin from man, but nothing is hidden from God’s sight. Why have our churches become a place where we display our false sense of security and model our success before the hoards of people we feel we need to impress. God’s approval is the only one we need to seek, and in order to gain this, as well as the respect of others in God’s unfolding mission, we need to eat humble pie and allow our testimony to speak to those who know the best and worst about our lives.

OBSTACLE #5: CONTAINMENT

I greatly appreciate the scene that unfolds in John 4 where the Samaritan woman abandons her jar of water (immediate, real need) and runs to the village to share of her encounter with the Messiah who knew her heart, secrets and failures, yet did not abandon her or push her aside. Her enthusiasm for sharing her testimony is commendable, and yet is so lacking in my own life and in the lives of people that claim to be followers of Jesus. Containment of the good news is in effect denial of its effect and refusal to share is perhaps the greatest shame for those around us. All that the woman shares is what she has sees and experienced of Jesus, perhaps there’s a lesson in this; we’re not expected to have a perfect theology, or a vast knowledge with all the answers, all we need is a valid experience of Jesus that excites us to share it around.

 

What about you?

Which of the obstacles above best describe you personally? One aspect that I am constantly challenged about is my tendency to ‘contain’ the message and good news to the confines of the church. Throughout this year, my desire it to see my walk with God overflow into various sectors of life and see greater Gospel impact, even as a ‘leader of leaders’ within the lives of other. Feel free to share your thoughts with me and interact on this post. DH

In this interview, Desmond Henry talks to Michael du Toit, a final year student at BTC Southern Africa about the Lausanne Movement and particularly some of the helpful resources available online. Michael is seen as a young leader within this movement and participated in YLG2016 earlier this year. This post is a reminder of an African saying that goes like this: ‘If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together.’ This was very much the heartbeat of the Lausanne Younger Leaders Gathering 2016 (YLG2016). We can do more together than we can do apart- the mission of God necessitates unity in the body and love displayed in a spirit of togetherness (on mission)!

From what I can see, God is raising up a new generation, the mercy generation, that will be used of God in great ways across the globe in mission initiatives for His glory. Michael has grown tremendously in the last few years and shares in the Vlog a little of his journey as a means of encouragement to you. Michael’s first exposure to Lausanne was in my first-year lecture on the Lausanne Covenant, why not start broadening your horizons and reading what God is doing globally by subscribing to the Lausanne Global analysis. After all, we need the WHOLE Church taking the WHOLE Gospel to the WHOLE world in order to not become a cul-de-sac on the Great Commission Highway of Mt 28. DH

Serving in Pastoral ministry is never an easy role, and the road can often be fraught with many hazards and obstacles that can easily derail you from serving God’s purposes. According to a recent pastor and student survey conducted by the Department of Missiology at BTC, these are five struggles of South African Pastors that emerged you might find informative.

  1. Pastoral Co-dependency- many pastors struggle to find a balance between how they ‘see’ themselves (equippers of Believers) and how they exercise their leadership through influence. Around 12% of pastors struggle to delegate to lay leaders and about 1 out of every 4 pastors serve tirelessly and find the need to multitask because of the lack of time or commitment from lay leadership. Around 16% of pastors need all their decisions ratified by a Church council or Board creating frustration and laxity among congregants, prohibiting the effective management of Church ministry and structures.
  2. Personal growth and connection- Around 73% of respondents indicated that they did not attend a regular Pastor’s Fraternal and that those who attend usually stick within their denomination. Many pastors have unfounded perceptions of their peers because of this insular focus. Interestingly, the bulk of South African Pastors receives input from peers through one-on-one contact and ‘coffee’, indicative of a broad-based breakdown of confidence in denominational structures, which will most likely increase the need for networks without direct authority structures, and without the baggage of history.
  3. Community impact and transformation– Many pastors struggle in the area of evangelism and transformation of individuals and families and feel ill-equipped and resourced to care for people effectively. Evangelism is heavily reliant on events and Sunday sermons at a local level, and most money is channelled to the periphery toward evangelism in outlying areas that would not have a direct impact on the local church growth. Around 42% of respondents indicated that the bulk of new church members were from other churches in the area, which indicates an increasing need for effective evangelism and integration of new Believers.
  4. Effective Christian discipleship – Most Evangelical pastors would admit to a dire need for their ministry to focus on discipleship, however, most churches are geared more to reach the unsaved, but lack clarity regarding a process of discipleship that works for their congregation; moving Believers toward greater spiritual maturity. There is a direct correlation between transfer growth in South African churches to the growth of Christians in our Churches.   
  5. A dynamic relationship with God– many pastors indicated that they struggled on a daily basis with maintaining devotional integrity. 1 out of 3 South African pastors do not have a consistent quiet time and about 1 out of 6 indicate that ministry consumes all their time and they find it hard to meet recreational needs. I would imagine that there is a direct correlation between the lack of dynamic relationship with God to pastors leaving the ministry for secular employment.

 

What are some challenges you face, or you know others face that have not been included above?