Mission New England
Josh Cousineau, a native to the Northeast and a church planter in Auburn, Maine, offers some compelling and instructive reflections on the mission field many of us call home.
His first post traces the landscape of what he describes as the “gospel-depleted culture” of New England. He writes:
In the Northeast, Christian is more likely to be found on the lips of someone making a derogatory comment, than someone talking about the hope which they live their lives by. Jesus is about as far back in people’s minds as who won the medal count in the 2008 Olympics. Not only do the vast majority of people not know about Jesus, they don’t even care that they don’t know about Him. It is not relevant for them, so therefore there is no need. See, it is not that they have turned their backs on the family religion, or let their parents down by bailing on the Easter service this year, or the Thanksgiving Eve prayer service. Their parents probably didn’t go to church much in the first place, so they don’t really care. You would have to go back to grandma, or even great-grandma before you would find someone who actually had a ‘Christian-Rhythm’ to their life. This is just how life is, and there is nothing one can do about it.
Yet this is not cause for despair. Rather, it’s a unique opportunity:
In the midst of this darkness, I find hope. The pastors I talk to have a joyful expectancy upon their lips. Student ministers are eager to pour their lives out for the next generation. To be honest I would rather work with people who don’t have a care in the world about God, the Bible, the Church, or Jesus. Because what I find is when these people come face-to-face with the gospel, it changes everything. They are more like the prodigal son who ‘comes to his sense (Lk. 15.17 NIV) that living as a servant with his father is better than the life he has now, eating pig slops, than the elder brother who sits by ticked that his sinner brother got back into the family (Lk. 15.28).
So what does it look like to engage a culture that has little or no awareness of its need for God? In his second post, Cousineau offers four suggestions and a critical conclusion.
Preach Jesus – The number one thing our churches must do in any culture, especially one who doesn’t know anything about Jesus, is to preach the real Jesus. . . .
Preach Truth – We need to not waver or wallow in our view of firm Biblical doctrine. . . .
Be Real – Fakeness has struck many blows to the church. What is needed now is not more hypocrisy, but transparency. . . .
Be Normal – All those things listed above are not to be done on Sunday during an hour-long service, but in our daily, normal lives. We need to be real at our 9-5, when we drop our children off at day-care or school, when we go on a date with our spouse, or sit and play catch at the local park. We also need to preach truth in our dealings with our boss and co-workers. We need to show that the truth we believe in is not simply a good, morally upright set of beliefs, but something that has changed us from the inside out. We need to be people that will hold firm to the truth of the Scriptures and be willing to take it on chin if need be.
And his critical conclusion about the church as a family serving on mission, rather than something that happens for an hour each Sunday morning:
Church in New England will never penetrate the culture by meeting for an hour each week, even if it is the greatest show in town. What we will do when we have the greatest show in town is draw people away from the other shows and have them join ours. This drawing is not true conversion, but transplant growth. No matter how great our show is, people that are not interested in watching the show will never attend. . . . no matter how much we tell them it is amazing in our advertising, or no matter how ‘cutting edge’ we think we are, the only people wowed by it are those who are already playing church.
This is where things need to change. We need to take Ephesians 4 and live it out. We need to be pastors and ministers who equip our people to preach Jesus, be real, and stand firm on the truth of what Jesus has done for them.