I have tried to express my thoughts about this to leaders before and have not been able to explain myself related to the Biblical call to do this. The word can bring up so many negative connotations. I appreciate Rick Warren for explaining it for me:
"Pastor, who specifically is your church trying to reach? Odds are if you aren't targeting specific segments of your community, you're not reaching people as effectively as you could. Although God has called the Church to share the Gospel with every segment in society (emphasis mine), he has specifically shaped your congregation to reach particular groups. And, as your church grows, you'll have opportunities to reach even more groups. But you need to start with a target." To read the rest of the article: http://www.pastors.com/RWMT/default.asp?id=254&artid=9325&expand=1
My heart is poured out to see this happen better here in Northwest Arkansas. Even though I have only lived here about 3 years I have been a regular visitor and traveler in the state since the late 1960's with family in NWA as well as Hot Springs and I recognize the changes that particularly Northwest Arkansas has experienced.
It seems we have not connected well with that change as far as reaching people with the message of the Living Christ in the changing culture. Northwest Arkansas is blessed, as is much of the south, with a large group of people raised in the traditions of the church. This is a wonderful asset and I believe a comfort to many who have relocated to this area. I would challenge however that we as the Church (as a whole) appear to have allowed this asset of our culture to permit us to fall short of our call to be real Jesus in real people's lives here in Northwest Arkansas and beyond. Even though Rick speaks of "targeting" as a starting point for small churches, perhaps it could (should?) remain as part of the underlying vision. A church, perhaps, cannnot be all things to all people...but Christ can!
A friend serving in Japan seconds my thinking on the importance of being Christ and meeting the culture to be effective. I am not so sure that following a similar missional path in North America is not the answer. My friend Brain said, "Our mission work in Japan has forced me to jettison Western ideas of Christianity and go back to the Bible and consider the simple essence of the Gospel (emphasis mine) and of the church. I’m finding that when we strip away the cultural baggage we inadvertently bring with us the Gospel readily transcends culture and starts influencing people, even here in Japan. There’s a movement afoot among some forward-thinking missionaries (guys who are a lot smarter than me) around the world that sounds a lot like emergent thinking."
Trying to think like a missionary, I am sure there are people who will disagree with me, but I feel called by the spirit to ask...
Have we as the churches here in Northwest Arkansas allowed our area's affluence to negatively affect our connection with our most natural place of outreach, our community? Please note that I am well aware of some outstanding outreaches, so my question is more about are the leaders helping the current body of believers really connect with community. Are we consistently working as the body of Christ to build loving relationships between the various sub-cultures of our area? Secondly, are leaders helping their flock to recognize their blessing of affluence and learn to maximize it's potential? Can we make a difference in a particular way BECAUSE of this special gift that we are not doing now?
Thinking like this and coming to an understanding with God about what He wants me to do is what has drawn me into the emergent conversation. It is my sincere hope that more and more believers would begin to search for the movement of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives and allow it to empower them rather than wait to be fed by the teachings of the institutional church. The emerging movement that would happen would change the world!
What do you think?