One of the most challenging things that I have ever encountered was truly living a gospel led, missional existence and attempting to infuse that into a Midwest culture. A culture that is at the very least resistant, and at the very most combative.
I do not place blame anyone for this, but it is continually being propagated by traditional and repetitive nature of religion that does not really line up with God’s word. I have searched the history of this and found a couple of things to be true.
1. This great Midwestern land of ours was settled by some wonderful God fearing people. They settled on the East coast and slowly moved through our great land. When they landed in and around the Midwestern states they found themselves still bound by the ways of the king and what they knew was the liturgical church. Due to a combination of seasonal weather, including those harsh Wisconsin and Minnesota winters they had no choice but to build buildings and settle right where they were. A roof over their head would provide the needed shelter to continue the Lord’s work no matter the weather outside. They got comfortable and they started life.
2. While the colonization of America occurred in the early 17th century, people had already been exposed to a very stringent, Christ-less Christianity. It was about rules and regulations and stepping out of line and the punishment from God for doing so. Then came the California Gold Rush in 1848. This was a time when about half of the prospective prospectors would come from across the sea and the other half would travel West from their nice cozy shelters in the great Midwest. Those that were saddling up to head West and find all the riches waiting for them found themselves accompanied by men and women who were anointed with the Holy Spirit and led by that Spirit to take the word of God with these “forty-niners” West to a new land. The gospel was moving across the country as fast as the wagon trains would carry it.
The reason I show these two comparisons is that if you look closely you will see that the early movements of God that were occurring in the name of the Holy Spirit were spurred on by such leaders as Aimee Semple McPherson, Charles Parham, and William Seymour, all who were on the West Coast. These men and women were, in my opinion, products of an earlier leading generation that threw caution to the wind and decided to GO. This remains to be the call of the men and women of faith today, but unfortunately, the vast number of Midwestern churches are not teaching the greatest charge ever given, GO and make disciple of all the nations.
Midwest culture has adopted the “this is how we have always done it” mentality and it is proving to drive people from their faith at an alarming rate. According to a recent Barna study, nearly three out of every five young Christians (59 percent) disconnect from church life, either permanently or for a long period of time after the age of 15. I am not saying this is just in the Midwest but I have lived here all of my life and I can say that it appears that these numbers are pretty spot on. The number one reason for the mass exodus that Barna gives is the fact that churches seem overprotective and that they tend to demonize everything outside of the church. Hence, “this is the way we have always done it”. The traditional model of church will always preach fire and damnation for things that they do not understand (i.e the Bible), mostly because people have never been told that they could understand it and that it is for them personally. It is better to keep them under the gun so that they keep returning every week and stuffing those envelopes.
Now don’t get me wrong this is not just a liturgical community thing. Evangelical’s have built their fair share of palaces and settled down here as well. The relevance of the Bible and the call to make disciples and go into all of the nations to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ seems to end at their doorways just as much as it does at the other places in town. The issue that I see most I think is that those that are pastoring those types of “hospital” churches are doing everything in their power to turn those hospitals into hospices by simply ignoring what God has called us to. They preach love and grace and redemption and some even are Spirit filled and Spirit led families of God. However, their backgrounds and their heritages are steeped in the tradition of the culture that they grew up in. It becomes a matter of “this is what I grew up in and this is how I will do my church today because of it”. There are quite a few of us these days that grew up in some other form of faith and what we witnessed was what could be considered the “old-liturgy”. That “old-liturgy” has shown to tie us to that same way of thinking even after encountering Christ fully. The result is evangelicals sitting in the same building every week praying for a change to happen and that God would show Himself mightily to their congregation. The only problem is, A. He already has shown Himself and 2. people are still being told that place that they go to every week is God’s house and His dwelling place, all the while murmuring “can we please wrap this up in under an hour?”.
Then there are those of us who have had a radical transformation by the Holy Spirit presence. I mean a full on encounter with the Lord of biblical proportion. Life changing, life altering, come to Jesus moment. That moment where you realize that while you may have been saved 4 years earlier in a neighborhood church at a place far from your current location, it was not until a group of men prayed over you to receive the baptism of the Spirit that your life truly was altered. When this happens you will never look at God’s word the same again. It now has meaning and purpose and you feel that God is moving you to greater purposes. This becomes a Acts 2 moment. You will experience an undesirable call to serve those around you and experience the supernatural presence of God, that no one ever told you about in Sunday school in the Catholic school you attended. The fact that God is asking you to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples is now a charge that can’t be denied in your life. There is no pull in the world that can take you from the Missio Dei “mission of God”. You are called to live a gospel existence that is not spoken of for the most part in the Midwest because it goes against the grain of what people have always known.
Being missional is the Christ infused gospel of Jesus Christ and realizing that the church does not have a mission but rather God’s mission has a church. It is realizing that the way of doing things like we have always done them is antiquated and in need of an overhaul. Missional is a change of paradigm to understand that when we are fully submitted to the Lordship of Christ we have no choice but to look different than our predecessors. The old has gone and the new has come.
I have lived this missional call in my life for ten years now in good ole Wisconsin and I can say that it has never got any easier. The winters get every bit as cold as the people can be when it comes to change. The idea of change is still foreign to people. The amount of those that are good right where they are stays the same. Although in the middle of it all God’s voice is beginning to take hold of those that are turned from the liturgy of the church and they are turning to the life of Christ. They are seeing a God that does not judge them or tear them down but only desires a relationship with them. They see a Church (capital C for the body of Christ) that will care about them no matter where they have been, their social afflictions, their strengths or their weaknesses, their background or their short comings. These folks are encountering the gospel and Jesus in the lives of the men and women of God that have embraced new wine offered and deiced not to put in back into old wineskins. When they decide to make a decision for Christ it will be because someone took the time to invest in them and listen to them and share their journey. Does that sound like anyone we know? Even though my wife and I are not fans of the Midwest natural climate and we would love to be somewhere else, God has made us followers of Him and we will continue to answer that call and be Missional in the Midwest.