Secular sensitivities

In Church and Countryside Tim Gibson observed that local church must not fall into the trap of trying to define its form of community in secular-sensible terms.  The community of faith is God’s answer to the troubles of the world: strong community should look like what the Church looks like at its best because secular ideas of community are always going to fall short.  The world’s terminology simply cannot tell the full story of what God intends from the Church as the fellowship of the elect typified by the interrelationships of humankind made in God’s image and likeness.  Gibson connects the Church’s story to the life flowing out of Eucharist: what shapes the community of faith within itself and motivates local Christians to volunteer in greater proportion within the village is the worship life of the table.  Mission amongst rural people is about being ‘one of us amongst us’ in the way that Immanuel was, which is to say not uncritically. Jesus challenged the culture he lived in, calling it back to the ideals and practices of the Reign of God even as he participated in the activities of a shared life.  This is the work of the Church in mission, the whole Church, so context and inculturation are important.  This is also the way of Paul (1 Corinthians 9:20-23) who became a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks.  Where a new to the district pastor might ask what it would mean to live more like a Kangaroo Islander and less like an Adelaidean she might choose to give up her preferences and ways of doing things (and showing her expertise).  She might learn to do it ‘their’ way so as to minister more effectively to ‘them’.  This must occur with a necessary critique of bad habits and old ones, but it must be done; however, this is true not only of city ministers moving to the country but of country churches seeking to serve the local lost.  Our projects matter not nearly so much as our being with people; Jesus wants ‘us’, not our ‘programme’, to be the means of evangelism and discipleship.  The church exists for mission and true mission is both incarnational and sacrificial for life because even diminishing, dying churches find vitality when they are active in giving out.  Inculturation is about learning to belong and then living that belonging out in Christ honouring, people-favouring ways.

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