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Don't Try This At Home...
The "M" in MTV Doesn't Stand for Missional
Prior to the official launch of The Journey, we held Bible studies and missional events to encourage our launch team and to draw in non-Christians interested in learning more about our community. One of the most memorable of these “missional events” was the time when I decided it would be a wise to gather all the men of the church in the basement of my home for a marathon viewing of the Emmy-worthy MTV “variety show,” Jackass. We sent out a general invitation to the community, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Nothing attracts a bunch of dudes to a basement like the opportunity to watch a group of irreverent grown men prolong their adolescence by acting like middle schoolers, all on national television.
If you aren’t familiar with Jackass, I can sum it up for you in a phrase: “Don’t try this at home!” Which is another way of saying, “Many young men are morons and are more than willing to prove it in front of a camera and an audience for not much money.” Known for its objectionable humor and its dangerous homemade stunts, Jackass provided an odd gathering tool for a start-up church. But when young men who embodied my target demographic started showing up and engaging in conversation, I felt like a cutting-edge hipster who happened to be a pastor. This was, in my mind, confirmation of my down-to-earth personality and general awesomeness, and I was convinced that I was the best pastor even without an official church in town. This über-missional event would be the beginning of conquering St. Louis for the gospel by means of shrewd cultural engagement. The night was young and the sky was the limit for ministry victory.
And then the wheels came off the church bus...
Church Plant Gone Wild!
This missional shindig was a raging success for all of ten minutes. Everything changed when our least-churched guy brought several bottles of hard liquor and began encouraging many of our non-Christians and new Christians to drink shots of liquid Christian liberty in Jesus’ name. Before I knew what was happening, the party lost every bit of gospel focus and devolved into something worthy of an MTV show of its own: Church Plant Gone Wild!
I didn’t know exactly how to respond to the billowing chaos, so I avoided/justified it by having one-on-one conversations with some of the non-Christian dudes whose tongues were being chemically loosened by the booze. But in my mind, I knew something had gone terribly wrong.
I over-contextualized in my approach because I tried to make the gospel submit to the culture rather than letting my pop culture sensibilities submit to the gospel.
Discovering Healthy Contextualization
My failure was classic over-contextualization. Over-contextualization is when you view missional opportunities primarily through a cultural lens instead of a gospel lens. In this instance, I was more concerned with providing a cool, “unchurchy” environment than I was with making sure the environment didn’t reflect poorly on the gospel. The guys I tried to reach needed healthy gospel boundaries around their newly discovered Christian liberty. I failed to provide that for them. I over-contextualized in my approach because I tried to make the gospel submit to the culture rather than letting my pop culture sensibilities submit to the gospel.
But a church for the city, most simply, is a church that practices healthy contextualization. It’s a church that soaks in the Scriptures and is saturated with the gospel. The gospel message should flow down deep into the church, like a marinade that flavors and tenderizes a piece of meat. A gospel-saturated church then takes the gospel into its culture. Submitted to and saturated with the gospel, the church does not have to fear the culture or become the culture, but it can influence the culture, redeeming it, and presenting it back to God as an act of worship. And because the church is securely rooted in the gospel, it is free to consider the information it receives from culture and adapt its methods of gospel proclamation to most effectively influence the culture.
If you're in or near the Chicago area, check out A29's upcoming Boot Camp September 15-16 where Darrin Patrick and others will be speaking.
This post is a modified excerpt from For The City: Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel by Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter. Find out more about the book in the below video: