Even though I grew up in a pastor's family in Germany, that does not mean I lived as I should have lived. I didn't. I needed to find out for myself what the world had to offer, and I certainly did. Today, as a youth pastor in the Netherlands, I see young people beginning the same journey and discovering the same things. The world offers them what it offered me: fun, contact, action, and food. As churches, we try to keep up with those needs in the lives of congregation members.
Over the years, we have perfected our response in evangelistic campaigns. We tried to be fun, we dressed differently, offered something to eat, provided action, sang different songs, skipped the offering, used different language. We did everything trying to not look like the Church we really are. We got so good at this that, when it came to making the gospel known, we expected God to only work in this method of evangelistic outreach. But the number of visitors and converts steadily decreased.
So we focused on perfecting events, thinking of more crazy ideas, and torturing ourselves to be more creative. But in the end, we did the same thing over and over again, still expecting different results. Today's world is a consumer society. The church continues with an event-driven attitude because we believe that is the way to reach people. We do everything we think they want, and therefore offer fun, action, contact, and food. But where is God?
We've come to spend so much energy on perfecting the event that trusting God becomes less of a focus in our evangelistic approach.
For a number of years, Western European Christians have been declaring that our society has become postmodern. We've discussed the main characteristics of a postmodern society. We have acknowledged the spiritual indecisiveness, the supermarket mentality, a lack of absolute truth, the search for spirituality but not necessarily for God, a focus on personal morality, a respect for all religions...But what do we do with it? How do we bring God back into the equation?
Church life now reflects the consumerism of our society. It's more and more difficult to reach people and get them involved. We try to compensate with more professionalism. We spend thousands of dollars before we even see one convert. However, we need to get away from performing Christianity and playing church.
Until now, the standard solution to help a performing church become an authentic church was for us to "be the church" instead of "doing church." Be the church? After we take strategies, projects, and events out of the equation the only thing left is the weakest, least predictable, and uncommitted part in it - people. Yes! That is exactly how God can reenter the equation.
Focusing on a week of outreach, a project, or an event takes all of our time for a few months. But focusing on people takes all of our time-all the time. It becomes an evangelistic outreach that never ends.
We need to focus on people and their daily needs first.
In some ways, event-driven churches seem to trust less in God. They don't seem to believe that God can work through people, but instead believe that a strategy, an outreach campaign, or some other event will do the trick. As Nazarenes we believe in the doctrine of prevenient grace, but we seemed to have limited this theology to people responding to our invitations. But prevenient grace, the work of the Holy Spirit, is for all people.
I believe that if we remember that God is already at work in the lives of the people we meet, we won't be as reserved and pressured to witness as we are now. I even offer God's love. If we don't offer God's love, we run a predestined race against the world - one we're predestined to lose. I believe that this awareness releases us from our imaginary burden to convince the world of the truth because God is already at work. We are called to be Christian. We know about being Christian.
What if we just practice what we know? What if pastors, church leaders, and laypeople would truly be authentic Christians that people naturally look up to? People who are not Christians would see something in these people that would make them desire fuller lives. What if we really would be authentic Christians who stimulate others to know God more, not with events but just through who we are? If we talk about being the church, this has to start with us.
What Western Europe needs are people who trust God more than their strategies, projects, and events to "win" people. We should focus on being what we are called to be-faithful.
How can we be faithful, authentic, and sanctified Christians? All we can do is to ask God to fill us with His Holy Spirit, and remind us of His love for us, so this overflow of God's love in our lives will reflect on others. We can get fun, contact, action, and food almost anywhere, but authentic Christians can offer much more. The Church needs to become a place where people want to discover God's love because they see Him in its members.
Dennis Mohn, raised in Germany, now pastors in Koog aan de Zaan, Netherlands, and serves as district youth pastor.
Holiness Today, September/October 2008
Please note: This article was originally published in 2008. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.