There are moments when you recognise that something has changed. Not always easy to identify an exact moment but you recognise that things are different. For example, when a child becomes an adult. When we look at the current political landscape in the UK things have changed. The old left and right preferences have been pushed aside by leave and remain.
I remember when my football team Huddersfield Town were promoted to the Premier League. There was a change in culture. The games were now on a higher level. The football ground had alterations to suit higher standards and global profile. Now back in a lower league again there is a culture shift.
In our society we need to recognise a shift in the spiritual culture. The UK was once a country where the majority of people would call themselves Christian. When the British Social Attitudes survey in 2016 asked, "Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?" 53% selected "no religion". Less than 6% of people in the UK go to church once a month or more. Two thirds of UK adults, 32.2 million people, have no connection with church or any other religion.
Acknowledging this culture shift is really important for us Christians. The church is not a place most people are comfortable with or in. The religious terms we may use such as sin, salvation, born again and even who Jesus is, are not understood by the majority of people. It means we have to think carefully about how we are to reach the world around us with the good news of Jesus Christ. We need a culture shift in our approach.
Part of our vision is to be transforming communities, to be salt and light in Huddersfield and beyond. I believe that God has called all followers of Jesus to unique places that only you and I can go for Him. There are two things I want to emphasise. Firstly, we need a culture shift in how we see our mission in the world around us. Secondly, we need a culture shift in how we encourage people in the journey to believing in Jesus.
How are we to see our mission in the world around us?
Jesus said we are in the world but not of it (John 17:14-16). We are called to live our lives for Jesus in a world which has a different attitude to God. I’m drawn to the words of Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet, written to the Israelites who were being taken from their homeland into exile in Babylon. The people were being taken to live in a culture which was different to their Judaism. Not unlike how we are living in a ‘post-Christian’ country.
Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiles telling them to build houses, plant gardens, get married, have children. They were to carry on doing the normal everyday things of life in an alien country. Then he said, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). The people’s attitude was to be a blessing to place their lives in exile, pray for it. This did not mean compromising by adopting the attitudes and pagan customs, rather, while maintaining lives of godly integrity the place they live should be better for them living there; Inviting God into circumstances of the city through prayer and, where possible, action.
This I believe is a very relevant message for us today. We are called to be a blessing in the places God has called us to go. Being people of God’s kingdom transformation in the world around us. Acting and speaking truth, praying and blessing. This means we see our Monday to Saturdays as mission. We work, rest and play in God-honouring ways as a witness to the world.
How do we encourage people in the journey to believe in Jesus?
In the late 1980’s I was part of a street evangelism team. Regularly we would be on the streets of Huddersfield sharing the gospel message in drama, song and preaching to anyone who would listen. There was an unsaid process that we hoped to lead people on. Firstly, we hoped that people would respond to a gospel message or conversation on the streets and believe in Jesus. Secondly, we would then want them to come along and belong to a church. Thirdly, they would then become more like Jesus in an ongoing journey of discipleship within a church. Believe; Belong; Become.
Looking back, while I don’t disagree with the message I have to question the approach, especially as we didn’t see many people respond. We have to acknowledge a change of culture in the world around us. The majority of people do not understand Christian terms such being ‘born again’ or what it means to believe in Jesus. We need to start a journey towards belief in Jesus much further back. It means that people will more likely need to ‘belong’ before they will ‘believe’ in Jesus, see His followers, feel the love of God through them, and being presented with the truth then choose to believe in Jesus. We see this in many things we already do as a church. We have asylum seekers who ‘belong’ to our church, they attend meetings and services a long time before putting their faith in Jesus. The Living Well bus ministry has for many years provided a sense of belonging for people long before some have decided to follow Jesus. This is a shift that encourages people to know the love of God from His people, which we hope and pray leads to a personal relationship with Jesus. The Alpha course is another example where people have come to grips with the broad gospel message, getting to know followers of Jesus before finding Him for themselves. Belong; Believe; Become.
Some people already get this culture shift of mission and have been living it out for years. Others are starting to get it. For some this is something that you need to process by yourselves, and in Life Groups, if we are to be transforming communities.
In the Autumn we are going to have a series of ‘Frontline Sundays'. Using some material developed by the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity (LICC) we want to shift our culture of mission. Using various resources, we want to ignite a biblical and missional imagination for Monday to Saturday life and to champion Sunday life too. While gathered, compared to the world we are few, yet when scattered in the world Christians can influence and connect many people with the truth. Let us, with God’s help, shift the culture back to Him.