In less than sixty days, I plan to be back to the United States after spending five years in the United Kingdom (UK) as an independent missionary and I have no plans to return to my previous life as a lifetime, died-in-the-wool Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) loyalist. I’m not going back as a church planting strategistâ€¦not as an SBC pastor or church planterâ€¦and not even as a member of an SBC church.
And it has nothing to do with my previous employment and experience in denominational life, in spite of what some may think. Yes, I have been hurt and disappointed and wrongfully treated, but then who hasn’t? As the saying goes, “Join the club!” You cannot be engaged in meaningful ministry without making yourself vulnerable to misunderstanding and there’s often nothing you can do to defend yourself.
This may come as a shock to many life-long friends and family, but I believe God is leading me to follow Jesus into places where no one else is going and in ways that few evangelicals may understand, much less engage in. That may sound like I’m putting myself on a pedestal, but I honestly don’t mean to do that. Living and serving in the completely secular culture of the UK has radically altered my priorities and assumptions about what it means to follow Jesus, something that previously seemed so easy to do within the utopian Christian bubble of “come and see” evangelical churchianity. For those who may be avid readers, the following books have shaped my thinking and plans for future ministry.
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While it may seem that American evangelicals have completely penetrated the middle class culture of the Deep South, I can remember being startled that only 10% of the population in the traditionally “Bible Belt” counties of western Florida attend an evangelical church. The SBC represents the largest single grouping with approximately 5% attending their weekly services on a regular basis; and I would be willing to guess that the numbers have declined even more over the past five years.
I love Bill Easum’s open remarks in Unfreezing Moves: Following Jesus into the Mission Field:
Faithful congregations follow Jesus into the mission field to make disciples who make a difference in the world. Jesusâ€™ command to â€œGo make disciples of all nationsâ€ (Matthew 28:19) describes the heart and soul of any authentic Christian community of faith, because it is Jesusâ€™ Last Will and Testament. Faithful congregations intentionally go out from the congregational mission post to make disciples; congregations that omit this purpose are unfaithful. No individual, congregation, or denomination is excused from this mandate, because disciple-making is the reason the Church exists. Take disciple-making away and our congregations have no justification for existence.
In the closing story to St. Lukeâ€™s Gospel, as well as throughout the Acts of the Apostles, we encounter a series of â€œroad stories.â€â€¦In every instance Christianity is depicted as a movement away from the center of religious institutional, professional life into the fringes of the mission field.
Once again, God asks Christians the question: â€œWill you follow me again into the mission field?â€ If we wish to be faithful and claim the future for Jesus, we must quit trying to save our institutions and be willing to follow Jesus into the mission field, even if it means abandoning or sacrificing our institutions. The basic purpose of Christianity is to be with Jesus on the mission field. Every faithful hero in the New Testament joined Jesus on the mission field. The purpose of Christianity has nothing to do with health or growth.
So consider this a brief update of where I’m heading for the immediate future. While I do have some specific plans in mind, it’s going to take some time to get reoriented to American life, including getting settled into new employment and a host of other things. I’ll keep you posted as details unfold, so that you can either pray for God’s provision and/or for my sanityâ€”not sure which is the most pressing issue right now. The future is exciting! We can always look forward to life when we’re learning to rest in God’s love and mercy.