I think it’s fair to say that many churches and Christian groups recognise that we need to get past an embattled ‘fortress’ mentality in relation to contemporary culture.
No doubt there’s lots more to say about this. Especially about how this recognition should be underwritten theologically.
(In fact, I hope we can spend a bit of time this year working through what difference it would make to place our doctrine of church decisively in the context of mission — and to anchor this in an adequate doctrine of the Spirit.)
But for the moment I’d like to flag one place where I think it’s possible to get stuck as we seek to move beyond the Fellowship As Fortress approach.
You see, we can realise that it’s not valid to cut ourselves off from our culture — flat out rejecting what we feel is evil in it and setting up parallel institutions to ‘sanctify’ what we’re happier with.
And we can embrace the call to missional engagement in word and loving service. Perhaps establishing our fellowships as ‘mission bases’, sort of spiritual pit-stops where we resource and refuel ourselves for the task.
But we can still end up a long way from the biblical ideal — and prove deeply ineffective while we’re at it!
The missing ingredient is hospitality. Hospitality together with mission. Or, better, as an integral part of mission.
Look at how Christine Pohl puts it in her fabulous book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (pp 159-160; you can watch her sum up the major themes of her work HERE):
Congregations committed to ministering to people in need sometimes overlook their own greatest resource — the fellowship of believers … Churches have generally done better with offering food programmes and providing clothing closets than with welcoming into worship people significantly different from their congregations. Because we are unaware of the significance of our friendship and fellowship, our best resources often remain inaccessible to strangers.
If find this so challenging.
What would it take, I wonder, to equip Christians to welcome into our fellowships — and to be with — people who aren’t necessarily like us?