I have come to the conclusion that Western suburbia is the hardest place to encourage disciples to live with a risk-taking faith. Everything in our social environment discourages us from thinking about life in terms of risk:
· Health and safety are preminent concerns of society
· We can ensure against just about anything happening to us
· We are encouraged to view accidents and bad things that happen to us as someone else’s fault
· We are comparatively affluent and materially cushioned from the worst that life can throw at us
· We live in places where our social institutions such as health care encourage us to think that protection, provision and security are a basic human right
The people in our churches bring all this with them as unquestioned assumption when they belong to God’s family. How many church membership courses major on the fact that people are being invited to a life of risk, faith and an expectation that people will sell out their lives for the Matt 28 vision of going into all the world making disciples?
One major movement in church life is between the first and second generations. The first generation starts a fellowship out of a desire to God glorified in a new place. They face difficulty, perhaps hostility, to turn the vision into reality. And it costs them a great deal. They risk. It is their basic mindset. They also set up activities to fulfil the vision.
When they get to the second generation there is every danger that the new generation are attracted to the activities rather than to the vision they were established to fulfil. They get committed to those activities, or worse they consume activities that others put on for their children as they would if they were put on by any other service. With no personal commitment to the activity, let alone the original vision. But then they get attached to what that activity provides for them and campaign to keep things the same even if the activity no longer serves the original vision.
When this occurs and church starts to see itself as a collection of such activities rather than God’s community of disciples for making, training and sending disciples for reaching the world, that fellowship is no longer a place where people will risk their lives, livelihoods or comfort for the gospel. They will not connect when biblical vision for church is preached. And more and more people will join for all the wrong reasons making it progressively more and more difficult to change.
Under this circumstance church all too easily becomes yet another layer of cotton wool that allows people to cushion themselves from risk-taking for the Lord, rather than the centre that equips them to do so. It is possible for churches to actually discourage people from being biblical Christians by giving them cosy warmth within. The church that encourages risky faith will, by definition, be an uncomfortable place a lot of the time.
Changing from one to the other is difficult. Those who have signed up for the wrong reasons will bitterly resist changing a model of church that acts as their comfort blanket. If they have been around a long time, unchallenged, it may be that they have entirely wrong understandings of biblical church and will campaign vigorously to keep unbiblical patterns. They may leave a fellowship that puts risk-taking for the gospel squarely at the centre of church life. If change is to come then leaders have to press through to biblical vision with a lot of nerve-holding.