Today, when we speak of recovering the missional purpose and nature of the church, we naturally draw upon the Bible’s account of the first-century church. However, recovering the church’s missiological purpose should not be understood as an attempt to replicate first-century Christianity in our time. Our times are dramatically different, especially given Christianity’s unrivaled influence over the last two thousand years. Thus our cultural context in no way compares to that of the Roman Empire. Our challenge, then, is to appropriate the mission of the church (which never changes) to our current cultural context. This is not an adaptation of the gospel message in order to be relevant but rather an adaptation of how we express the gospel relevant to the culture we are trying to reach.
I can think of no more radical example of this than that which took place this past fall on a Friday night in Texas. In a place where high school football often rises to the level of idolatry and players are worshipped, one small Christian school⎯intent on being missional⎯displayed, on the field of competition, the radical values and nature of the kingdom.
As Rick Reilly of ESPN The Magazine reported:
They even made a banner for players to crash through at the end. It said, “Go Tornadoes!” Which is also weird, because Faith is the Lions. It was rivers running uphill and cats petting dogs. More than 200 Faith fans sat on the Gainesville side and kept cheering the Gainesville players on—by name (Rick Reilly, “Life of Reilly,” ESPN The Magazine, December 23, 2008).
You see, the Gainesville State School is a maximum-security correctional facility. Few schools are eager to place such a team on their schedule and every game they play is away. They haven’t won a game all season and they have few fans. These are young men who have suffered the worst of family circumstances and experienced little or no love in their short lives. This is precisely why Kris Hogan, coach of the Grapevine Faith Lions, invited the Tornadoes to play.
As Rick Reilly wrote,
Hogan’s response expresses the heart of what it means to be missional. “Imagine if you didn’t have a home life. Imagine if everybody had pretty much given up on you. Now imagine what it would mean for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you.” This attitude, which is contrary to our cultural conditioning, our nature and natural instincts, sought to demonstrate life under the loving rule and reign of God⎯to bear testimony to the fact that they have been transformed by Jesus Christ. The response was nothing less than miraculous.
The Faith fans cheered on the Gainesville players. Reilly noted,
Despite losing 33-14,
As the Gainesville players walked back to their bus accompanied by armed guards, Reilly reported: “they each were handed a bag for the ride home⎯a burger, some fries, a soda, some candy, a Bible and an encouraging letter from a Faith player. The Gainesville coach saw Hogan, grabbed him hard by the shoulders and said, ‘You’ll never know what your people did for these kids tonight. You’ll never, ever know!’” (Reilly).
Friends, this coach and this community⎯driven by love⎯thought about their unique cultural context and how the gospel of Jesus Christ might be demonstrated in a relevant way to a particular people. This is the kind of missional creativity we need to engage in⎯to lay a foundation in demonstration that gives credibility to our proclamation.
© 2009 by S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture. Michael is the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress), foreword by Josh McDowell. Michael's ministry is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.
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About Michael Craven
S. Michael Craven is the President of Battle For Truth and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Battle For Truth is dedicated to equipping Christians with a serious theological understanding of life and reality. For more information on Battle for Truth and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org
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