If you read our EFCC Blog regularly (or even semi-regularly), you will know that over the past several months we have been talking about “rebuilding.” We have talked about the foundation of our rebuilding work, which thankfully has remained unchanged. And several of the posts have challenged us with considerations about “how” to effectively rebuild. But there is one consideration of rebuilding we have not yet talked much about: Who are you rebuilding for, and with? Certainly, we are working for God’s purposes, yet there remains an important consideration regarding the specific target group our calling embraces.
Allow me to start with this: We need to rebuild, not refresh. Refresh assumes many things remain the same. Rebuilding assumes many things have changed. So, to rebuild, we must consider well the context we are rebuilding with and for.
Paul had a special calling to the Gentiles (see, for example, Acts 9:15). Peter, on the other hand, spent much time ministering to the Jews. They both understood something of the groups they were called to, and their ministries took into account the culture they were seeking to impact. Even as Paul spoke to the philosophers at Mars Hill in Acts 17, he made certain that he knew something about what they believed, what their worldview was. Without pushing further into these examples, I simply want to say that it is really important that we have an accurate picture of the people God has called us to minister to and with.
Friends, you do not need me to tell you that the world has changed over the past couple of years. And I would say that more change is coming – to our world and thus to the church. What people expect of the church, what people are willing to give to the church (time and resources), what the community expects of the church, what will be effective in engaging the community – in sum, the culture we are ministering within and to, has all changed and will continue to do so. My question for you to ponder is simply this: are you working to rebuild for a 1999 culture/world, or a 2025 culture/world. We may wish things were the same as they used to be. We may wish that people in our churches were the same, that the people in our communities were the same. But wishing will not make it so.
We cannot rebuild the past. Nor should our rebuilding ignore reality.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” (Life Together, p 27). Stretching Bonhoeffer’s observation into our context here — if you have a picture of the church you are trying to rebuild that is based on your personal dream and not the reality of where people are truly at, the world you want versus the world we have, you will struggle to experience fruitfulness.
So, my plea is simply. Look around. Ask. Listen. Learn. Do your best to understand where people’s hearts are at today. What are their needs? Will you meet them where they are at, not just where you think they should be? Will you rebuild based on where they are at, not where you think they should be? Will you be flexible enough (as Neil talked about last week) to rebuild based on the “new normal” not the comfortable past, or your ideal future? More than ever, we need to be students of the culture, students of the people, students of worldviews different than what we are used to, maybe even different than what we are comfortable with. Only then we will be able to rebuild with the effectiveness God calls us to.
When rebuilding the right focus and foundation is essential. Wisdom, humility, respect, and a gracious attitude are key. But knowing and understanding the world around you cannot be ignored. We all need to take another, honest, brave look around us, and then begin to rebuild with the context of our world in mind.
EFCC Leadership Catalyst