(This is the final post in a series reflecting on David Bosch’s six distinctives for a missiology of Western culture. See the introductory post for a little background.)
in the context of the secularized, post-Chrsitian West our witness will be credible only if it flows from a local, worshiping community.
Of all of Bosch’s six distinctives, none resonates with me more than this one. It seems that there is a great deal of opinion (and tension) over what it means to be the church. The discussions are full of rhetoric as people make their cases for house churches, local parishes, regional megachurches, or no organized form of church at all.
But I think the question is not what structure of church is best, but over how a church community can best engage with its own context. Bosch goes on in this section to quote Lesslie Newbigin: “the only hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” We must perpetually ask ourselves how we can form, and reform, our community so that we can be a living and visible gospel to our local culture.
Bosch emphasizes this:
the question about the feasability of a missionary enterprise to Western people hinges on the question of the nature and life of our local worshiping communities and the extent to which they facilitate a discourse in which the engagement of people with their culture in encouraged. Local church “happens” where believers are involved in what is critical for people and society.
There is a unique challenge we face in our North American metropolitan areas, and I think this is true for both urban areas and suburbia. We are a transient culture. We have few relationships that happen due to our geographic proximity, where we tend to bump into the same people simply because they live, shop and work closeby.
I was challenged a few weeks ago in a conversation with a respected retired pastor who knows the heart of Austin well. I asked him what he would do if he were planting a church today. His response was that he would focus on an elementary school, and do all he could to bless it. In his view, and I can’t disagree, elementary schools are our last remaining gathering points for any neighborhood, where we can interact with people who share our proximity.
If the church is to be a local, worshiping community, then we have to seriously engage with the idea of what exactly it means to be local. Who are the people we can connect with regularly because of our daily life patterns? What does it mean to minister to, and alongside, those that our lives happens amongst?