Part 4: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

Have you noticed a decline in evangelism in your local church?

In most rural communities, the visible church is more stable and will likely remain (although many historic mainline churches are closing).  Naturally, change in rural communities do not happen as frequently; therefore, people will have the opportunity to integrate their spirituality and their religious life when they feel a need to do so (e.g., some may even decide to enter a church after a long absence after Baptism, Confirmation, wedding/funeral, or the odd Christmas worship service).

However, in the urban communities where the visible Church is less likely to be a permanent fixture.  Fast-paced change is common place (due to construction and new developments).  If an established or historic local church were to disappear from a major intersection in “City X”, the religious loss might not be very apparent; however, the spiritual void will eventually be felt by people whether we know it or not.

What does this mean for the visible Church in urban settings today?  The visible church triumphant must continue to remain and become a more visible part in our urban communities.

Are we, the Church, trying and working hard enough to make the visible Church more visible in our urban settings?  Hardly.

Tragically, many congregations of the historic mainline denominations are shrinking and disappearing from the religious landscape.  This will continue for the foreseeable future because they are failing to  help people make the connection between people’s spiritual lives with their real everyday lives.  There is a currently a huge void and lack of vision for evangelism in reaching out to people with Jesus’ Gospel message.

This means that our contemporary evangelical churches must continue to take responsibility and carry the load for evangelism and mission in urban communities.  Thankfully, many churches have not forgotten or lost their passion and vision for evangelism and outreach.  As Christ’s visible Church triumphant in North American society, we must remember and carry out Jesus’ Great Commission from Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”.

Is your local church doing taking responsibility in carrying out Jesus’ Great Commission from Matthew 28?

[ see previous post: Part 3: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural ]

Part 3: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

Is there still a need in people’s lives to express their spirituality in some way, shape or form–and within community?  Our  western culture seems to have taken individuality to the extreme where religious community life has been secularized and devalued to the sidelines of life, and even ignored.  Participation in religious community life has now become totally voluntary… but maybe this is good.  It separates true and genuine Christian believers/seekers who voluntarily commit to their beliefs from those who follow Christianity due to involuntary happenstance or family heritage.  As religious community life becomes more marginalized, what distinguishes the visible church from the invisible church will be pared down.  The expression of true spirituality and religious life will become more apparent to secular eyes.

Morever, and more to my point, is that, people who voluntarily desire to become a part of an organized religious/faith community (a church) are not as prone to sliding into spiritual oblivion. Here’s a few cases I witnessed the past month that explains our human need to be in Christian community:

The other day, a stranger walked into our church during our prayer meeting.  he didn’t know us, and we didn’t know him from Adam.  I admired his courage to enter our church.  I suspect the reason why he came might have been motivated by his desire to express his thanks to God for getting him a new job, after having been unemployed for the last four months.  In our prayers together, I felt that our small prayer group was successful in helping him express his thankfulness to God for giving him a job.  I ended up giving him a bible to take home, and we all welcomed him to come again to join us for Sunday worship and Wednesday night prayer meetings (may the Holy Spirit continue working in his life).  Also another fellow had walked into our prayer meeting a month ago. I don’t know what motivated him to come but I sensed he had a need to come.  He wasn’t a complete stranger to the church because he says he knew someone from a while back.

All of us need to have  an outlet for spiritual expression.  Without it, we will ultimately become disconnected from true spirituality.  If the opportunity for one to access  such expressions are denied them, will their spirituality become lifeless and formless? 

[ next post expresses what we need to do about this disconnect. See previous post Part 2. ]

Part 2: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

Have we, as a society, kept our spirituality hidden away too much from the eyes of others for the sake of being tolerant? 

In my move from rural to urban, I have also noticed a big difference in how people approach spirituality (as opposed to religion).   Spirituality in the urban setting (especially on the part of the postmodern generation), is much more individualized, where one person’s spirituality might not  be the same as another’s approach.  This is fine, but when one’s spiritual life is totally disconnected from the religious community life and privatized, there is a hidden danger.  When a person’s sense of spirituality goes dry and empty without some kind of organized religion to support and back them up, their spiritual lives can slide into oblivion.   They may lose their entire sense of spirituality and never know how far they’ve gone because no one is there to keep them accountable.

Has the expression of individual spirituality become too privatized?

[ next post expresses our lack or need of spiritual expression in society. ]

Part 1: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

This will be the first post in a four part series.  I want to bring up and provoke some thoughts about differences in people’s attitudes toward religion and spirituality in both rural and urban settings. The Church is at a critical moment in the 21st century. Either we work to survive and thrive, or we curl up and die in a corner.  What has Christ called us to?

Have you noticed a difference in people’s attitudes toward religious and spiritual expression between rural and urban communities?

Having moved from a small community to a large one, I have noticed very big differences in the religious and spiritual landscapes between urban and rural settings.

In the rural setting, religion is still part of people’s normal everyday lives.  Whether or not they participate in organized religion, the established Christian church is there and is accepted as an integral part of the community.  It is funny how even non-church goers understand and accept the Christian church as  part of being people’s normal everyday life.  If the church were to collapse or close  in a rural community, there would be a marked void in their life because they will feel that something is missing.  I think this is due to how the church has remained somewhat integrated into the life of small communities.

In the urban setting, religion is hardly and rarely a part of people’s everyday lifestyle.  If a church is not sitting there in front of their face, it can very easily go unnoticed and be forgotten.  Furthermore, the impact of the Christian church is minimal and hardly felt in the midst of the busy and changing marketplace.  If an urban church were to suddenly disappear due to deconstruction to make room for a new condo and business developments, most people won’t even notice.  They will have forgotten that a church had even existed on intersection of Main Street and Central Avenue.

How is your local church integrated into your community (rural or urban)? Would there be an impact in your immediate community if your local congregation were to burn down or suddenly disappear?

[ next post touches on society’s approach to finding a connection with their spiritual lives. ]

Missional church: Church When the Maps Have Changed

Alan J. Roxburgh, one of premier authorities on the missional church today spoke at Montreal Diocesan Theological College at a clergy conference, Sept. 26-28, 2010. There were seven lectures on the topic: Church When the Maps Have Changed (link).

Lecture #1 | Lecture #2 | Lecture #3 | Lecture #4 | Lecture #5 | Lecture #6 | Lecture #7 (round table discussion)

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I also recently picked up one of Roxburgh’s books at a pastor’s study conference earlier this month, and I look forward to reading it when I get some breathing room.

  • Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren.  Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, Why it Matters, How to Become One. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009.

Leaving church #7: Let’s be the missional church in the world!

This is the final post in the series on Leaving Church. Related posts in this series: #1 | #2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7

Why the missional church conversation? It seems to be a conversation that mostly involves the North American church rather than the universal church around the world.  I think the reason why this whole conversation has emerged within the last decade is because we have finally begun to notice that the North American church is no longer really working for many of the younger generations.  They are no longer seen in our churches. People have been leaving the church. Thus, the need for this conversation is a symptom of a bigger problem–and the problem is clear.  We have not been the evangelizing church that we have been called to be.   Furthermore, as a result, attendance in many churches, or at least our traditional and mainline churches, have been rapidly declining, even though our population has grown. We are now getting desperate.

The purpose in the missional church conversation is to discover a new ecclesiology for mission. In the old paradigm of mission, mission used to revolve around the institutional church, which is an ecclesioentric model.  The newer paradigm of mission revolves around God’s mission, missio Dei, and must now be theocentric.  In my readings, I’ve learned that this shift away from an ecclesiocentric to a theocentric model of mission has signalled a big change in the way we think about doing God’s mission in the world.  This is a reflection of a much bigger change in society.  Our North American society no longer values the institutional church like it once did.  It is no longer the central point in our cities, towns and villages and has not been for a long time.  In fact, churches have moved off the grid of significant institutions.  Therefore, our expressions of spirituality have also moved off the grid and have been made more personal and private.  Therefore, the way we do ministry and outreach should be from the world rather than from the church.

Who needs to be in this conversation? We already know that a huge shift has already happened and most progressive evangelical churches, e.g., seeker-sensitive, megachurches, have already began realigning themselves to a new paradigm.  However, many of our traditional-mainline churches have not yet seen the light and we are still debating whether Christians should be doing evangelism.  We are still operating under the old paradigm of an inward-looking ecclesiocentric model of church.

Let’s be missional! We can no longer afford to wait for the world to come to the church.  It just won’t happen.  It is we, the church, that must be the salt and light of the world; and we must go into the world rather than wait for the world to come to the church. The funny things is that our language and grammar still revolves around people going to, coming into, a place called church. We must think of ourselves as people going out into the world to do God’s work in the power of the Holy Spirit. The institutional church does not initiate or generate the work of God.  It is God’s Holy Spirit who operates in the lives of people and Christ’s followers to do God’s work in the world.

Some books on the missional church

Craig Van Gelder. The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit (Baker, 2007)
Craig Van Gelder, editor. The Missional Church and Leadership Formation: Helping Congregations Develop Leadership Capacity (Eerdmans, 2009)

I’ve recently finished reading two books on the missional church.   These two books have been my foundational readings about the missional church.

  1. Craig Van Gelder. The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit (Baker, 2007).
  2. Craig Van Gelder, editor. The Missional Church and Leadership Formation: Helping Congregations Develop Leadership Capacity (Eerdmans, 2009).

I am now re-reading the foundational book: Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Eerdmans, 1998), edited by Darrell Guder, who is another key author.

Another important author in the mission church conversation is Alan Roxburgh.

And if you’re interested, here’s a good list of books on the missional church.

I will give my personal opinion on the missional church movement in a post coming up.