Borderland Churches II

To walk through the first chapter, go HERE.

The second chapter in Gary Nelson’s recent book is titled,  “Crossing Over.” It’s an appropriate title and contains a certain poignancy. While every church and every leader wants to make this crossing, like Moses, some will not make it…

Gary begins by noting that Joshua’s experience of moving across the Jordon to the promised land serves as a framework for today’s church — we are invited out of the security of the familiar into the borderlands. For Gary the Hebrew word, ‘abar will define this experience. It is translated “crossover,” and this is the first time it appears in the Old Testament. It describes a decisive moment, perhaps a “kairos” time. The people of God will cut themselves off from what has been and move into the unknown world. Like the Latin word “limina” it describes a threshold — we can’t go back and we may not want to go ahead — and it conjures the anxiety that we experience in those moments that require us to intentionally leave our comfort zones behind.

The challenge is that we have to manage our own anxieties as well as that of those around us. But there are other challenges, and I think of Eric Hoffer’s comments from many years ago:

“Moses wanted to turn a tribe of enslaved Hebrews into free men. You would think that all he had to do was to gather the slaves and tell them that they were free. But Moses knew better. He knew that the transformation of slaves into free men was more difficult and painful than the transformation of free men into slaves…Moses discovered that no spectacle, no myth, no miracles could turn slaves into free men. It cannot be done. So he led the slaves back into the desert, and waited forty years until the slave generation died, and a new generation, desert born and bred, was ready to enter the promised land.” (Diary entry, May 20, 1959).

Gary notes that we live in a crossover time. On page 30 he quotes Mike Regele, noting that change today is not like change in the past. First, it is global rather than local. Secondly, the rate of change is much faster. We are mostly aware of this, but many of us continue to live with the illusion that we have a choice whether or not we will engage this strange new world. Our choices are crucial. We must find the faith to move forward.

But HOW we move forward – how we engage — is also crucial. Some may want to rush across into the new land. This is also a choice generated by anxiety and fear. We want to rush into solutions. Gary describes the people of Israel as they move across the river (31).The Ark of the Covenant goes before them and it is set up in the middle of the river. God’s presence.. not our own skills or our courage.. secures the ground. Moreover, we are not permitted to run ahead. We follow the leadership of the Lord.

Next Gary typifies the difference in American and Canadian approaches to change. The American approach may be to rush ahead. The Canadian approach may be “let’s have another conversation.” He quotes Jonathan Wilson who argues for a third way, participating together in God’s grace. We must reframe our attitudes and assumptions, listen to the Holy Spirit, and embrace the process at His pace. “Tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you”  (3:5). Gary writes, “Borderland living comes from the kind of people who are open to the God who is the ever-present surprise of the Christian life and sovereign over the church and its mission.”

Next Gary notes that while this time may be unique, it is also similar to other places the Church has been — like Joshua’s crossing over. Recovering a missional theology, then, is really the recovery of a central biblical story. As a result, the church that is emerging in this crossover time is very different from the church that grew out of the last two decades of the twentieth century. Many churches have continued to operate in the “come to” model (attractional), a model that was a product of Christendom. With the death of that compact we are in a new place. The old model was a success because of certain cultural conditions — conditions which are now disappearing. The shift we are now seeing takes us to a new location and requires a new posture — an incarnational “go to” posture.

Gary references the work of Lesslie Newbigin in helping recover a theology of mission and a missional posture (see a tribute HERE and HERE). Newbigin noted that it was not enough to understand culture and then to shape mission and ministry in response; church communities must themselves first be shaped by the Gospel (37). Gary tells the story of a church family that met directly across from a high school and yet never saw itself as in a mission field. Eventually they began to see themselves in a new way, and they made connections with staff and administration in the school. The entered the life of that community and became a resource — serving the school. Gary references Bosch here and makes a strong connection to the Trinity. “The missio Dei emerges from the very nature of who God is.” He quotes Gibbs and Bolger: “The missio Dei changes the funcation direction of the church from a centrifugal (flowing in) to a centripetal (flowing out) dynamic..” (39).

“How will we know we are crossing over?”

“It begins with a new attitude that can only be described as ‘openness.'”

“Members ask the exploratory question, “Why not?”

“Borderland churches know their  neighbours, their politicians, and their neighbouring businesses. They share in the community activities and are recognized by the agencies that work there.”

Next: Chapter 3 – “Recovering Our Roots

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