In 2012, I sensed God calling me to leave the tenure and security of my life as a pastor in a growing American mega church and move to Brussels, Belgium to experience the cultural and secular landscape known as Post Christianity. The more I explored the new beliefs and emerging paradigms of Western Europe, the more convinced I became that I was living in America’s cultural future. Europe has rejected the truth of the biblical meta-narrative, the assumption that the institutional church is a cultural force for the common good, and the notion of divinely revealed ethic that is normative for all humanity. The innate Christian worldview that dominated Europe for nearly two millennia has been replaced with a secular humanist philosophy that offers personal significance in life without the need for transcendent spirituality or a higher spiritual being.
Years later I returned to America determined to help the local church transform to be able to thrive in the culture that was headed our way. Yet, when I accepted a calling as Lead Pastor at Ecclesia Hollywood, a church filled with artists and creatives embedded in the local entertainment industry, I discovered that future was already here in America’s urban coastal and cosmopolitan cities. While some church planters can design and create new expressions of church ex nihilo to fit this new environment, I face the challenge of trying to re-imagine and renew an existing local church on the fly, much like the ship of Theseus, or face eventual extinction as an organization.
The biggest challenge I face is that the dominant assumptions and paradigms upon which we have built the American churches for years are producing followers of Jesus who are not currently equipped to thrive in this new environment.
Most Christians have grown up in a culture where the primary strategy for disciple-making revolved around the Sunday service or the church’s staff led programs. In those expressions of church the primary role of a member is to invite others into the programs and activities of the church and trust that the professional teaching, inspiring music, and excellent stage of life programs would attract the “newcomer” into the Jesus life. Very little was asked of a disciple beyond generously supporting the church’s ministries with volunteer hours and financial resources and continuing to identify new leads that might join the club.
However in this new cultural milieu, the “invitation to church” is no longer a tool at our disposal. For a millennial with no childhood experience with Christianity, attending a friend’s local church gathering is as much of a cross-cultural experience as a Christian joining a Muslim neighbor at his or her local Mosque. The barrier for entry is simply to high to make it worth the risk. The only way forward is for the church to reclaim our original DNA as a sent people and for each disciple of bear our responsibility to make disciples in this new mission field in which we find ourselves living.
Forge allows me to equip my church for this calling to be missionaries living out the Jesus life in the places they life work, and play; the exact places that Jesus has already sent them to join Him in his mission. I lead an annual Forge Residency as a way of planting a church within a church, comprised of missional-minded disciples who are modeling this new life and helping me illustrate for the broader faith family the value of this ancient lifestyle. We are redefining disciple-making as the responsibility of every disciple and not as the job of pastors or church programs. Sundays are no longer the place you bring non Christians, rather they are for equipping us all as missionaries and celebrating our stories of how God is leading us and working through us in our missional spaces.
-Jon Ritner, Forge Hollywood