Why do missional Churches in the West struggle? Sure the concept sounds right. The theories seem to strike an intuitive chord within us. So why do so few come to faith in missional churches in the West?
Churches and movements that see people come to faith are a result of two inward and personal movements. A movement of joy and a movement of sorrow. In the 21st century we like the joy bit, the idea that God beat death, that he got up from the grave and offers us abundant and eternal life in the here, now and to come. We also dig the concept of the kingdom, the Messianic feast. Homeless people coming to the great banquet, justice breaking out. We love that stuff, I know I do, thus we involve our selves in works of justice. We also dig the idea of God’s kingdom as a kingdom of Goodness, of the worshipping God through enjoying a good meal, of seeing the touch of grace in a child smile or a panoramic sunset. All of that stuff is cool. We love the joy bit. We can’t get enough of hearing about the air punching implications of the resurrection.
But we don’t like the sorrow element of the Good News. We don’t get as excited about the idea that some people might miss out or choose to not partake in the good stuff. We don’t like the concept of lostness. So like mid nineties bad techno-pop from Belgium, it just drops of the radar, out of fashion, out of sight. It is to us unpalatable. But the tough thing is this does not mean it is not true.
I realised this the other night as I watched an old movie. It was Mike Hodges 1971 crime drama Get Carter. It is a brutal and callous film. Half way through I considered going to bed. But I was intrigued by the fact that the movie had been named by total film magazine as the greatest British film ever. As I continued to watch, the true meaning of the film began to dawn on me. The story is basically a revenge caper, Carter played by Michael Caine is a hired killer who returns to his hometown of Newcastle in England’s north to avenge his brothers death. But the true message of the film is deeper. There are no good people in the film. Everyone is complicit in some way in the sordid happenings. There is no trust, no decency, no love. Carter kills with no remorse, his vengence is cold, calculating and without mercy. The film’s sex scenes which were quite explicit for the time, are mechanical and loveless, performed between people who have only disgust for each other. The action takes place in an urban landscape comprised of early Le Corbusier-esque half completed concrete buildings.
The movie is brutal and souless, that is its genius. It portrays a world devoid of anything good. In which violence and evil play out against a desolate and disenchanted landscape. You could say that it is a world in which good and God have been removed. It reminded me of the boring, grey english city in which C.S. Lewis set his allegory of an eternity without God, in his classic work The Great Divorce. The brutality of the movie, made me contemplate a present and a future devoid of God. It made me think of what this meant for others. I sat late in my lounge room and wondered to myself how I slowly had come to care less about the present and eternal futures of those around me. I realised how I love the joy element but forget the sorrow element of the Gospel.
Thus any individual, any church, any movement who wishes to see mission happen, must hold in tension the joy and the sorrow, the kingdom and the Cross. We must be compelled into mission by the joy of the resurrection and all the good news that it brings, but we must also be motivated by the reality of lostness, and the sorrow of the fact that there are those walking the path towards a future without God. People who desperately need you and I to share with them the entry point to a future filled with love, goodness and God.