I just read this insightful interview about the nature of the church’s mission in post-christian North America. This Christianity Today interview is with Pastor Colin Smith and there are two issues he addressed I absolutely agree with in my own experience.
Church Size vs. Church Health:
Question: It’s hard to deny that we are living in challenging times culturally. The church’s influence is fading, and we are struggling to find answers to some hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church today, especially as it relates to our witness?
Colin’s Answer: Church health is not the same as church size. I come from the U.K., where secularism has made deeper inroads into the culture than here in the U.S. Church attendance has dropped dramatically but, in my opinion, church health in the U.K. is better than it was 20 years ago.
One reason for this is that as nominal Christians abandon the faith and leave the church, those who remain realize their dependence on God in new ways. When numbers go down, spiritual temperature can go up, and I have seen new resilience, new cooperation, new faith and new venture in many U.K. churches.
If that happens here in the U.S., we may be in a better position than before and, like Gideon’s army, more useful to the Lord than when our numbers were larger.
A Patient View On Our Mission:
Question: What does evangelism look like today, and how can we begin to develop a passion for showing and sharing the love of Jesus on a daily basis?
Colin’s Answer: The first priority is always that a person becomes one of Christ’s sheep. Evangelism today needs to begin further back. For much of the 20th century, Christians were able to assume a basic understanding of who God is, what sin is, and why we need a Savior.
When people rebelled, they usually had some knowledge of the God they were rejecting, and when they chose not to believe, it was the God of the Bible they chose not to believe in. So when Christians shared the gospel we could assume a basic understanding its categories. But today, many of the people we are called to reach do not understand the basic categories of the gospel—hence the need to begin further back.
Some years ago, I met Tony Howarth, a pioneer missionary, sent by his church in the U.K. to an unreached people group in northern Thailand. He described the long process of gaining the trust of the tribe he served, and then of learning to read and write their language.
When I asked him where he began in sharing the gospel with these people, he said, “We tell them the Bible story.”
This answer made immediate sense to me. The Bible begins with God introducing himself, and the Old Testament builds a framework for understanding who we are, why we need saving, and what a Savior would need to accomplish.
God has given us all that we need for explaining the Gospel to any person, at any time, in any culture, and I am convinced that we need to rediscover the longstanding practice of pioneer missionaries, and learn how to evangelize by sharing the storyline of the Bible.