I love Jesus and I love his church. When done right, the church should be a taste of God’s dream for the world.
Tim Morey, author of Embodying Our Faith and pastor of Life Covenant in Torrance, California, is doing it “right.”
Morey understands what Tim Keller has popularized with the future of 21st century churches – that there will not be one model of successful churches.
“Rather, the new model will be to create one’s own model, to live as highly inquisitive missionaries who exegete the culture, understand both the believers and nonbelievers living in it, and build the church to function effectively in that context.”
In the introduction of Embodying Our Faith: Becoming a Living, Sharing, Practicing Church, Morey lays out the difference between unreached (those who know nothing about the Christian faith or gospel), the unchurched (those who have not attended church in the last six months), and the dechurched (those who were once involved in the church but became disillusioned and left). And he has a heart to reach each of these groupings of people. Further, he lays out reality (17.5% of people attend church, as of 2005) and the numbers are only dropping. In today’s postmodern and post-Christian world, people just don’t wake up thinking ‘where am I going to go to church today?’
The Church must navigate the postmodern worldview in order to bridge the gap. Today’s world is a world that freely deconstructs any and all language and beliefs (how do you really know?!; a world that freely adopts morally relativistic worldviews (that is true and this is true, even though they blatantly contradict one another); and a world that holds religious pluralism as a key guiding value (America isn’t a land with no God; it is a land of many gods).
Postmoderns are not all bad. We hunger for meaning and purpose, for community; we are open to spirituality and mystery; and possess a strong desire to experience the real and the genuine.
For any church to succeed in the 21st century, they must acquire a strong understanding of where the changing landscape is heading. Therefore, these leaders must be able to exegete and analyze the surrounding culture. Otherwise, the “containers” of The Gospel message (the content) will never change. If we fail to contextualize the containers, the message will simply fall on deaf ears or never reach any ears. “We must remember that as missionaries to our culture, we have to approach people where they actually are, not where we wish they were.”
If postmoderns contain a need for transcendence, community, and purpose, the church must respond with embodied apologetics capable of meeting these needs in culturally relevant “containers.”
Morey maintains that the church is more than capable of meeting these needs. Through experiential worship gatherings, through communally-focused small groups and accountability groups, and through ministries of compassion and justice, the Gospel will be more than relevant for an unchurched, dechurched, or unreached person.
If these people groups are ever going to enter into a church, they are first going to ask: Do I want to be like you? If we aren’t presenting the Gospel in culturally relevant containers, then forget about it.
Morey ties together a number of sources, authors, and thinkers and presents a strong case for a contextualized Gospel. Further, he presents tremendous chapters on spiritual formation (Leaders must provide people with a vision of what could be, show people growth takes intention and discipline, and provide a means to apply to spiritual growth) and disciplemaking (“Discipleship is the Christian’s life”).
If you are a church leader who has any heart to reach the unchurched, the unreached, and the dechurched, I strongly recommend reading this book. If you don’t have a heart for these groups, I recommend considering not working in ministry (but that is beside the point). Do yourself a favor and apply Morey’s teachings in this book.