Len Hjalmarson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Thunder Bay, has written a thought-provoking series on the challenge of discipleship in contemporary churches. Below is an abbreviated version of his introduction to this series, which explores some of the cultural shifts we face in this generation, as well as the particular gifts Baptists bring to this changing landscape.
Every generation of believers faces the temptation to withdraw from the world. Yet in John 17:13-19, Jesus tells us that we are to do TWO things well, and to hold them in tension. He calls us to be IN the world, and he calls us to not be OF the world.
What are the particular challenges our generation faces?
- Our context has shifted from one where people knew the Christian stories, to one where they do not. We suddenly find ourselves as missionaries in our own culture.
- Our culture is strongly oriented toward the individual, the personal and the private. Personal ‘believism’ has replaced shared discipleship.
- Believers often have a polarized view of life: seeing matter or the material world as bad; and the intangible spiritual world as good.
- In the church, we have elevated certain gifts in leadership, such as pastor-teachers, while discounting other gifts listed in Ephesians 4, such as prophets and apostles, which offer a vital form of ministry in uncertain times.
- Growing out of the second and third points listed above, we have abbreviated the Gospel into an individual and spiritual message, reducing its communal and physical significance. We have forgotten that God promises to redeem all creation, resurrect our physical bodies and renew the earth.
We must remember that the Gospel is neither personal nor private, though it impacts individual persons in this world. Nor is the Gospel only spiritual, and not physical. God promises to redeem all creation, resurrect our physical bodies and even renew the earth. The word “shalom” is the Hebrew word for salvation, and it includes all dimensions of created reality: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. The Lordship of Jesus knows no limits, and God’s purpose is to heal all of creation. He is already at work in this grand mission and has called his community of disciples outward to join his redemptive work here and now.
What are the particular resources we Baptists bring to our generation?
As Baptists, we bring a unique cultural heritage that includes a particular way of seeing the world as well as a particular way of approaching the Scripture. Our heritage provides special gifts that can become resources we draw on in this strange new world.
First, we tend to be a praying people. Some of our oldest members are our best teachers when it comes to practices of prayer and reliance on God.
Second, we bring a covenantal view of discipleship. While popular culture tells us to “do what feels right” and “to each his own,” we read something different in Scripture: “We are members of one another,” and “a Holy temple” together in the Spirit.
Third, we bring an understanding of the Body as a discerning community. Though our churches exist with a variety of leadership models, we still believe that the Spirit indwells the Body, and that the wisdom of Christ is present when we gather together to bind and to loose.
Fourth, we have many young leaders going out with confidence that Jesus goes before them and in the understanding that they are “sent as Jesus is sent.” They are learning to cross cultural boundaries, and have much to teach us as they follow Jesus on mission.
Fifth, we have many missionaries among us who understand the challenge of living as witnesses across cultural boundaries. Our own missionaries can help us learn how to speak the Gospel into the culturally-diverse landscape of Canada.
With many of our churches in decline, and with the de-churched segment of Canadian society expanding rapidly, we face significant challenges in this generation. Religious and cultural pluralism, and a rapid shift to a post-Christendom culture mean that we no longer hold a privileged place in society. But this also presents unique opportunities.
Our fragmented and distracted world needs the good news of God’s kingdom, a gospel that is made visible in communities of people who live it out in their towns and cities. Many of our neighbours walk in loneliness and quiet desperation, longing to connect with something beyond themselves. May Jesus’ reign be known among us as we invite others to know the God who settles and fills our restlessness.
Read more in Len’s book, Missional Spirituality