There is a book I own that if I glance at the cover, I invariably see a crow. I have seen that crow since I first saw the cover on Amazon.com, but once I bought the book, I realized it was actually a picture of a lion interposed on top of a lamb. It has taken me a very long time to “unsee” the crow and see the lion and lamb, but the optical illusion still catches me off guard every now and again.
One of the challenges about ministry in a “churched” culture is that so many Christians can’t unsee certain things. Their minds have been trained to do ministry through 20th Century tactics and to view their culture in 20th Century terms. Expensive events are expected to generate converts, Sunday School is the expected means of discipleship, and comprehensive life stage programming is the assumed status quo. Veteran churchmen and women see the crow.
Problematically, a church that seeks to be relevant to its current context, may decide that Sunday School is not for them a scalable means of mission and discipleship, large events are costly on tight budgets and only produce emotional highs, and generational programming undermines the mentoring necessary to grow young men and women in Christ while also giving the people an identity rooted in life stage rather than in Christ’s work on the cross. Maybe they see the lion and lamb.
How does a church that has unseen the picture people are used to seeing help along those who haven’t? Patiently. As new visitors ask about Sunday School, cast the vision for your incarnational, missional community groups. When they ask why you don’t have evangelistic events, point to the people being saved by interacting with your people in community, in coffee shops, in homes. When they ask why you don’t have a young marrieds group tell them stories of older couples mentoring newlyweds. But be understanding; it is difficult to unsee what has once been seen.
Some people will only want those ministries they grew up with. Be willing to let them make their way to a different church. Some will want to stick with you, but need time to figure out the implications of what you’re calling them to. Be ready to explain, but don’t waste time being defensive and divisive or arrogant (1 Timothy 5:1, 1 Peter 5:5). At the same time, be bold about the vision God has given you.
The temptation for both sides, though, will be to make methodology a thing of first importance. But as the Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian church, the Gospel must retain that slot (1 Corinthians 15:3-11).