becoming a church of irresistible influence (2)

Step into the shoes of the average non-Christian in your suburb for a moment. Imagine how they’d react if they woke up tomorrow and your church had vanished. Would they feel much do you think? Would they even notice?

The tragic reality is that its very easy for a local church to become a more or less self-sufficient island. Effectively cut off from its community. Doing the odd letter box drop at Easter and Christmas. Maybe turning up on people’s doorsteps occasionally. Or holding a stall at a community festival. But making no significant or lasting impression. And falling far short of Jesus’ insistence that like a city that can’t be hidden because it’s so brightly lit, those in the kingdom will offer impossible-to-ignore testimony to the glory of God by our good deeds.

Rottnest Island, WA (Jan 2009)

Rottnest Island, WA (Jan 2009)

This is deeper than an image problem, isn’t it? It’s a full-blown credibility gap.

The authors of The Church of Irresistible Influence have a simple but profound word for this situation: Start working on bridge building. Don’t just continue to fortify and ‘build up’ the island. Re-establish your credibility by doing good in impossible-to-miss ways.

Of course, bridges cost — both to build and to maintain. And they often bring change. Threatening to disturb our comfortable island lifestyles. But they also offer concrete answers to the biblical challenge: ‘Don’t cut yourselves off from the world (like a sect). And don’t blur the boundaries between church and world so that no difference remains. Instead, be in the world but not of it — for the world’s sake.’

Do you have a sense of what might be different about your church if it was connected to its community by a significant bridge or three? What sort of bridges have you seen or tried to establish?

2 comments

  1. I was reminded of this blog post yesterday, so I thought I would comment…over a year after it was posted! A recent book by Jason J. Stellman called “Dual Citizens” says:

    (and I’m half quoting, half paraphrasing)

    The underlying assumption… [of your post, and of the book you cite]… is that one way to measure a church’s success is by gauging its popularity among those within its community. But is such an assumption to be gleaned from a reasonable exegesis of Scripture, or from confusing the earthly kingdom’s idea of success with that of the heavenly kingdom? Does the question asked represent a biblical expectation to lay on the shoulders on the local church?

    He then goes on to apply the idea to Christ’s ministry, which was certainly successful, by contemporary standards. Mark 3:7-10 has him taking to a boat because of the crowds. John 6:14-15 has the crowds esteeming him: “this is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” However, Jesus puts no stock in their acclaim (John 2:23-25), and for good reason. The same multitudes that hailed him with hosannas on Palm Sunday screamed for his blood on Good Friday. Fickle human opinion saw people laid their cloaks before the Lord, and then a few days later, gamble for his cloak at the foot of the cross.

    In Stellman’s exact words:

    “If even Jesus’ own disciples “forsook him and fled,” how much greater popularity can we properly expect without shirking the cross to achieve it?”

    Unsurprisingly, I agree with Stellman’s comments, and would love to hear yours.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful — and obviously long-considered reply — Chris!

      I’m not sure my head is entirely in this post (or the series in which it’s embedded) right now — I certainly think the mission I’m involved with at La Trobe as well as my more recent reading of James Davison Hunter’s important book To Change The World is reshaping and sharpening at least some of my approach to these issues.

      But I do definitely agree that there’s a danger of endorsing a kind of Apparent Popularity And Numbers = Faithful, God-Approved Fruitfulness equation. However, while we’re speaking about underlying assumptions, I’m not quite sure I buy into your two kingdoms-ish approach.

      I’d love to hear how you make sense of the NT passages (e.g., in the pastoral) that indicate that one of the qualifications for Christian elders is being well thought of by ‘outsiders’, for example. And why not throw in the sense 1 Peter gives that distinctive Christian living ‘among the pagans’ will produce a mixed response. Part of this will be persecution and speaking ill of Christians. But another part of it sounds like people will be drawn towards the Christians community (and its Lord) — and ultimately glorify God.

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