I want to share with you an incredible opportunity I had this past week. On Tuesday I was honored to be asked to be a conference preacher for the Princeton Theological Seminary Youth Forum in Santa Barbara, California. Previous luminary speakers at this event have included the great theologian/ethicist, Reinhold Niebuhr, and the more recent spokesman for poverty and global justice issues, Shane Claiborne. How I got invited to present at this conference is beyond me, however, I was of course honored to be asked.
The title of my talk was; "Being a Christianal Church." And the main theme I presented was a single word which has been the hallmark of our entire ministry at Highlands Church, and a concept which I believe has profound implications for successful youth ministry. That word is;
Christianalism = "A church where the language of the outsider becomes the language of the inside of the church." If you have never encountered this term, don't worry, you aren't behind the times, we at Highlands invented the word. However, the more the term gets employed and used, the more excited I become about it's potential.
What is Christianalism? Well, if you are a follower of the most recent trends in Christian outreach and evangelism you know that the most popular current word and totem of church health is "Missional." Missionalism is, of course, a very successful movement which was started by Alan Roxburgh ("Missional, Meeting God in the Neighborhood"), and more recently the Biblical scholar and pastoral leadership expert, Reggie McNeil, and it suggests that what churches need to do is to see themselves less as centers of worship, centers of church, centers of God for the community, but instead to leave the church walls behind and to see what God is doing "out there." In the words of Alan Roxburgh in a recent video interview on Church Next, "missionalism is riding the waves that God creates in the community, rather than always striving to attract people to the church." Missionalism flies happily in the face of 2,000 years of Christian history and doctrine which has generally seen the church as the bastion, the nucleus, the center of all things God. In other words, "they must come to us, if they want what we have...God."
Highlands Church was almost completely "missional" when it began 7 years ago. I hosted weekly Bible studies in pizza restaurants, we had NFL flag football camps instead of Vacation Bible School classes, we had movie's under the stars in public parks, our Sunday morning worship met in a movie theater. We were a living, breathing example of a missional church. Interestingly, what we experienced was that there was something ineffably missing from the church experience. What we saw was that there were two churches emerging at Highlands Church. Their was the "the missional Highlands", and "the churchy Highlands."
But then, about 4 years ago, we asked ourselves a strategic question. What if we take "missionalism" one step further? What if instead of simply meeting God in the neighborhood, in the words of Roxburgh, we instead had the neighborhood come to us? But not just the neighborhood, what if the neighborhood all came with all of who they were? What if they came with all their "stuff?" What we asked ourselves was; "What if the language of the outsider becomes the language of the insider? What if the language of the outside (when I say language I mean that term broadly, ie: what if all the ways that people relate, speak, dialogue, recreate, communicate), becomes the language of the inside. What if, (gulp...) we become a little bit like them, so that they might become a little bit like Christ. And that, my friends is;
Obviously, there are a lot of nuances and important facets of Christianalism. If you are a Christianal church, you must be very, very clear about what your essentials are (what things you won't change for outsiders). For us, that has been a focus on the centrality of Christ, the authority of scripture, an adherence to the Reformed tradition (sovereignty of God), and a regular self-checking mechanism of, "did that work, was that effective?" Also, being a "Christianal" church doesn't mean you have to get a fog machine and have a laser show in church (although, in certain settings it might). Christianalism for a traditional church might simply mean adopting some of the linguistic nuances of the outsider. For example, instead of saying, "Let us worship God" to start worship, you might say, "Let's worship God." Simple, but oh so important!
And, as I said to the Princeton Youth Forum; "Christianalism" is not for every church. However, it has been a key to our ability to be used by the Holy Spirit to change lives at Highlands Church. It has been a key to hundreds of adult baptisms, and countless little "metanoya's" (repentances, turning towards God). And we believe that Christianalism can be a transformative agent for churches everywhere, within a larger conversation about change and an epoch of transformation and reformation by the Holy Spirit.
All For Now,