Lessons Learned From Pastors and Churches in Europe
It's a long story. It seriously is. But, through God's Sovereign Goodness and in His Providence and in is graciousness, He has given me friendships with pastors in Western Europe, Italy and Sardinia to be exact, and Christian friends in the Netherlands as well.
To say that Europe is post Christian would be a very fair assessment. Yes, there are vestiges of cultural Catholicism still present, but largely, what one will find in Europe will be a mixture of cultural Catholicism, various 'spiritualities' and of course 'no' belief system and secularism as well.
My minister and Christian friends are living in a reality now that we in America will experience soon, unless there is some sort of Third Great Awakening in our culture.
I am blessed to keep up with my friends. I use Google Translate and email and Skype and Facebook to keep up with them and vice versa. They think I am blessing them, but the reality is, they are blessing me profoundly and teaching me very much.
I admire their faith, their resolve. They are on the margins. They do not enjoy favored status in their towns and cities. They are not seen as 'mainstream' and certainly not as a people who 'fit in' with societal norms.
Yet their faith trives.
We can learn much from people who are fleshing out their faith in a culture that is just as prone to neo-paganism and alternative spiritualities as it is agnosticism or athiesm or a mish-mash of various spiritualities blended with cultural Catholicism. I have learned much from them.
I want to pass along a few things to consider, things to pray and think about. These are lessons we can learn that we might stand firm in the days and age to come:
1) Embrace the margins. You won't find my friends or their churches pandering to culture to try to 'fit in' or 'be liked.' They realize the power of the gospel, of God's Word, of the Truth is what changes lives, that Jesus is the Answer, so they do not dilute Him or change the message to make things more palatable. They stand firm in the grace God provides and are willing to be relegated to the margins and from that position, minister to others and flesh out their faith.
Many churches in our culture are pandering and altering the message (which dishonors the Lord) to 'fit in' and 'remain relevant.' The inevitable outcome will be, for such churches and denominations, death. When the people of God hide their light and the salt loses its saltiness, it's good for nothing. When the church looks more like the culture, it ceases to be the church.
We must embrace the margins, trust God and minister lovingly and graciously as we proclaim the Truth, trusting God to do what only He can do. Compromise and trying to 'fit in' is not the answer.
2) Evangelism and Making Disciples is About Going and Telling and Relationships and Serving, Never 'Come and Hear.' The attractional model of evangelism 'come and see' or 'come and hear' still 'works' to a degree in our culture, but its efficacy is on the decline. Still, under the illusion that if we just put on a good enough show, people will come, many churches in the U.S. are still trusting in budgets and buildings and bells and whistles.
My friends in Europe don't because they can't. They understand something important: they must serve the lost, develop relationships with the lost, take the gospel to the lost. They know the lost have little interest in coming to 'their events' so believers personally engage in the workplace, at school, in the community. One pre-med student told me: 'I am the only born again Christian in my school.'
That is for us, pressure. She simply asked for boldness and faith and for prayer that she would shine as God expects her to.
When people come to faith there, it is usually because someone has invested in them personally.
That is biblical, my friends.
A common thread I've seen as I've gathered their stories, for so many of them, they are the only born again believer in their household. Imagine that. So, they ask for prayer for their families and friends and for courage and faith to share the gospel even as they ask for prayer for their lost family and friends to come to faith.
In this, they learn something invaluable as a church: they encourage each other and exhort each other on. They need each other.
That is biblical!
Our culture is changing rapidly. Some of these changes are unsettling to many evangelicals. But, we must remember: God is Sovereign. He reigns. We need not fear. There is actually a blessing for us in all of this: if we move from old cultural models of Christianity that were shaped as much by marketing and corporate America as anything to a more biblical model of Christianity, it will actually be far more healthy for us. And, in such changing times, we are forced to make a long-overdue decision: are we going to go 'all in' and trust the Lord or do we prefer cultural expressions of casual Christianity that are designed to make us comfortable but not Christlike?
Yes, times are changing. Thankfully, our God has not and does not change.
May we learn from people across the Atlantic who are standing firm in challenging circumstances. God is able to make us stand and this should give us great joy and hope moving forward, no matter how dark the culture may become.
Grace and Peace,