This week’s conversation is greatly indebted to Mark Sayers’ weblog for really good observations about three things:
1) Five reasons young people leave church.
2) Refering us to Tim Keller’s observations on what the Gospel is.
3) His tips about “Fresh Speech” or how to make the Gospel “unfamiliar” enough to engage (rather than entertain) people in new ways.
As we talked about Mark’s five reasons we encountered another one that is germane to our particular circumstances: extreme change in our own church that shattered the identity of our church and its youth. This is not to say that change was not needed. It most emphatically was.
What we need to keep in mind as we consider change is the same thing that all churches need to learn about presenting the gospel. We need to be mindful of the personal context of the hearer, the context of the hearer’s subculture (e.g.: our church context or the young person’s friendship network) and the larger context of society. We need to help believers discern within themselves an identity that does not compromise their own personhood, yet transcends it. We all need a story that is bigger than we are, one that has a place where our unique gifts and personality, and one that has a “place” where we may truly belong.
The key is that we will always need to be “smugglers of fresh, holy, subversive, life-giving words.” God’s speech is about creating worlds, about creating new possibilities, and about new life. Unfortunately, truly new speech creates something that the power structures of the world hate: free people. People who are free from fear, hate and lust are people who cannot be controlled by a world that is ruled by means of shame, guilt and fear.
Jesus is calling us to plant the seeds of new life via the gospel. The gospel is not just about individual relationship with God. The good news is also that Jesus plans to “remake our world, removing the structural evils of economic oppression, racism and environmental abuse.” No wonder the penultimate (second-last) statement in the Bible is, “Amen!, Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22: 20 NLT). In the meantime we may join John in wishing in the next verse, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.” .
The people of God are in desperate need of the grace of Jesus Christ in everything they are and do, because this is big stuff. It is God stuff. We don’t have it in us to do this kind of stuff. But maybe, if we ask and wait patiently, he will give us fresh words to talk about his stuff.