A small art studio/gallery is directly opposite our flat. Gallery owners display a new piece of art almost every week in the window exhibit. I was intrigued recently by a particular piece.
One day, I worked up enough courage to step inside and ask the artist about it. As I stepped inside, I could tell that my presence was an unexpected interruption. She wasn’t used to having visitors inquire about her work. We chatted for a few minutes before I asked a question that I think most artists hate. “What does your work mean?”
“My work is about more than meaning,” she said, only slightly irritated. “My work is also about the way reality is and the way it could be. It’s about what reality could mean. My work doesn’t simply portray reality, it reimagines it.” For the first time, I didn’t just understand a way to look at art. I understood a way to understand the young postmodern culture in which I serve as an IMB missionary.
Much of modern western missions is logic based. Many missionaries employ apologetic techniques. We anticipate and answer objections. But is this approach the most effective? Maybe in some areas of Europe. Answers, logic, rationality are all helpful, but a younger postmodern culture is looking for more. They are looking for authentic and meaningful expressions of reality.
How do we do missions in a postmodern context? How do we connect the gospel to authentic and meaningful expressions of reality? These are questions I ask myself regularly.
In his book, “Evangelism in a Skeptical World,” Sam Chan suggests several ways of reaching a postmodern person. First, through authenticity. Because truth is subjective in the postmodern worldview, one is free to simply ignore it. They don’t deny it, because someone believes this truth, but not everyone has to acknowledge or accept it. Authenticity, however, is important. If you are not living your truth, if what you believe is not seen in how you behave, then this inconsistent. Authenticity is virtuous, incoherence is not. If Christians are going to present a believable gospel message, we must live authentic lives. If we say we believe that God is loving, then they must see our love for one another. Our lives must match our message.
A second way to reach postmodern people is through hospitality. Hospitality is related to authenticity. The gospel message is one of welcoming, belonging and participating. Hospitality magnifies in reality the message of “home.” Every month we open our home and host English discussion groups. This is a great opportunity for our German friends and neighbors to practice and improve their English. We also host monthly community dinners. It is potluck style, and everyone is encountering fellowship and Christian community. We talk about topics from our daily lives. Inevitably, the topic of religion comes up and we can easily and naturally share the gospel. Through hospitality, postmodern people experience love and acceptance. The intimacy of the home provides an ideal context for personal stories and gospel conversations.
Christians can also reach postmodern people through an engagement with the creative arts. Like the artist at the gallery, many are not moved by eloquent arguments. They are far more interested in the imagination. They want to give attention to belonging to beauty, stories and emotion as a new reality. The presentation of the gospel story must be embedded and embodied in a story that represents a new reality. It must be told as story and embodied in story. We share the gospel and tell people how Jesus is the King of the world, who is renewing creation and righting all wrongs. That is the better reality that postmoderns want to experience.
However, Christians have to remember that our lives must match our message. We have to do more than tell people that Jesus is a better reality, we have to show how He actually is a better reality. In our church plant, we do that by creating a space where postmoderns feel like they belong. Looking around at society, young postmoderns are displeased with it. They want deeply meaningful lives inside of deeply intimate community. They don’t want to rationalize this present reality; they want a new reality. They want a meaningful reality. We create that new reality through the local church community. We create a space for people to encounter Jesus through community.
In our church plant, we emphasize love for one another. On any given Sunday morning in our church you can see friends connecting over coffee. One woman is praying with a young mother who has had a difficult week. Another is talking with someone who has just lost her job, offering words of comfort and encouragement. On Wednesday night, church members have a couple of the single girls over for dinner before small group starts so they have extra time of fellowship together. Small group members share prayer requests, then each member takes time to pray for them. Afterward, Christians ask how they can practically serve those in need. This isn’t flashy love, but it is deep and personal—like the love that Jesus has for us.
When we share the gospel with people, we talk a lot about Jesus. We talk about how Jesus rescues and cleanses us from our sin, defeated evil, gives us a place to belong, and is making the whole world new. Jesus is cleansing us and making all that is wrong with the world right again. This message resonates with the reality that postmoderns are looking for.
When people step through the front door of our church plant, we pray that they feel like they belong. We want them to experience our authenticity and hospitality. We want them to see our lives matching our message. We pray that they experience Jesus as a better reality. We would love for that to be your prayer too.
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