The New Mission Field

A reading for Friday, March 13, 2015: John 8:33-47.

North America, and certainly the United States, is the new mission field. In 2007, researchers from Pepperdine University published their Status Report on North American Missions highlighting several factors contributing to this strange new reality for the US church.

Among those were urbanization. One hundred years ago, 75% of Americans lived in rural areas scattered and spread all across the nation. By 2000 the numbers had flipped, and now over 75% live in cities. The country church has gone the way of the buggy whip. Pluralism and globalization was another factor. Our "melting pot" culture is more diverse than ever before, and public schools where dozens of languages are spoken is commonplace. Christian culture is no longer the norm. Increasing marginalization of the poor in America is another contributing factor. By almost every measurable statistic, the middle class is shrinking and those living in poverty are increasing. While at the same time, total household income and assets are increasing. It's now a cliche', however the twist is that the rich are in fact getting richer while the poor are growing in number. Every major denomination in America has had to adjust to a reduced revenue of resources over the last several decades limiting it's ability to do traditional ministry and mission. Finally, we live in the shadow of a baby-boomer generation that fractured, most of the time appropriately, almost every institution including the church. All this adds up to a consistent decline in those professing Christianity in the United States and other parts of North America.

The problem is that we have yet to adjust to this new reality as fully as will be necessary. Many in our church leadership and even in the pews continue to operate out of a Christendom reality. We believe all our fundamental assumptions about what it means to do church are inherently correct, and if we just double down on them all will be okay. Keep inviting people to church and they will come. But it's not working...

A new approach is necessary, and it's one that missionaries have been using for centuries overseas and around the world. It's an approach that depends on living daily with people unaware of their need for the gospel, modeling what it means to follow Jesus for hope and for life, and practicing faith in incarnational ways observing the sacraments and praying God's word.

The good news is that this is exactly the way we see Jesus living and practicing faith. The Pharisees and the religious leaders think they have no need for Jesus. They are the chosen people. They are people of privilege and wealth, with power the regularly enjoy. What do they need Jesus for?

Jesus reminds them that he has come to set them free. Free from themselves and the lies they tell that everything is okay. Free from a world of sin that denies the goodness of God to provide blessings for all, and God's love for all. Jesus came even to the chosen people, and yet they didn't recognize him.

It's perhaps the very same world we live in today?


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