In class today, Ryan Bolger introduced himself and gave a background to the course. The root of this discussion really began with Lesslie Newbigin, who served in India as a missionary from the 1930s to the 1970s. When he came back to the UK, he experienced a bit of a culture shock. He found that India was actually more spiritual than England. This led him to pose a groundbreaking, yet controversial question. What would it look like to do mission in the west?
This led to many discussions, controversies and books. Wilbert Shenk, a colleague of Newbigin in the early 90s was hired by Fuller Seminary in 1995 to put these ideas into a course. It grew from there.
Next, Bolger skimmed through a few topics we’ll dive into with more depth later in the quarter. Here area few things that stood out:
- Newbigin pointed out that the problem in many churches is the actual practices of the church. They’re not engaging everyday life with people, giving them the tools to engage life, art, film, etc. For me, this ties into the idea of the domains of society. As church leaders, we have to help individuals engage these domains (business, art, governance, etc.) in their daily lives.
- Bolger mentioned a conversation he quotes in his book. He said a pastor in England said that people today just aren’t interested in being invited to church. It’s like someone inviting a heterosexual to a gay bar. For many people who aren’t Christians, it brings the same response. “That’s a thing Christians do, why would I?” Unless someone has a church background of some type, they have no reason to be interested.
- Finally, one part of discussion helped clarify for me why seeker sensitive, invitational churches have seen legitimate success in today’s culture and why some don’t see that lasting. Up until the 1960s, everyone followed their parents’ religion. It wasn’t really a choice. But with this 60s came the first generation that didn’t follow their parents to church. When they started their spiritual search later in life, they came back to churches (which they were familiar with from their parents and their childhoods). That’s why seminaries could focus on training people to preach a good sermon. That’s how people connected. They walked in the door on Sunday and heard the Good News.
This model still continues to a certain degree today. People who have a religious history somewhere in their life may return to church when they enter a time of spiritual seeking. That’s why attractional models still see some fruit. But that’s changing. Now, we see people growing up without ever going to church. When they start their spiritual search, they look elsewhere. They don’t have a history with the church and really have no reason to look their for answers. The language and context of the church isn’t connecting with them. If they’re going to hear any news of Christ, it’s going to be first through relationships and more missional, incarnational models.
It’s possible that the future will bring a polarization, where you have large mega church ‘brands’ in every major city and smaller, more emerging, congregations as well.
Questions from the discussion
- In class, Bolger said Wilbert Shenk’s class (the original version of this Contemporary Culture class) was controversial. It brought heated arguments because he’d name things people thought were ok. What type of things within culture would he point out?
- I see two different ideas when we discuss cultural impact. The first one is for individuals to be who they are and impact culture as that person God has made them to be. The next is to read a culture and create indigenous worship experiences that are native to the culture. Is the second idea insincere if it doesn’t come from someone who is a part of that culture? I grew up in a church setting, but was exposed to different cultures as well. Still, I come from a ‘churched’ environment. Is there any hope for someone with that background to connect to the unchurched culture in the ways we’re discussing in class?