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Putting Christ back in Christianity

Putting Christ back in Christianity

Church Vitality Conference News Leadership
A praise band leads attendees of Missio Ecclesia in worship on the second day of the three-day mission-focused gathering at Grace Church, Cape Coral. Photos by Susan Green.

CAPE CORAL – In some ways, it’s easy to see why Christianity doesn’t always reflect the Lord for whom it is named.

“Jesus is hard to live with,” keynote speaker Alan Hirsch told a crowd of about 225 Thursday on the second day of the Missio Ecclesia gathering at Grace Church. “Too much of Jesus kind of disturbs our lives.”

He and his wife, Debra, shared insights on returning to the mission-focused roots of Christ’s teachings, emphasizing “discipling” over evangelism. The couple, both authors and sought-after speakers who founded the Forge Mission Training Network, are considered thought leaders of the missional church movement.

Alan Hirsch speaking at Missio Ecclesia
Alan Hirsch, a recognized missional strategist for churches, talks about putting Christ back in Christianity during the keynote presentation of the Missio Ecclesia gathering.
Debra Hirsch speaking at Missio Ecclesia
Debra Hirsch, Missio Ecclesia keynote speaker with her husband, Alan, talks about the traditional model of church-wall Christianity that needs to change for successful disciple-making.

Florida Bishop Ken Carter, who asked Grace Church and the Florida Conference Congregational Vitality office to organize the event, opened the conference with a quote from Vincent Donovan’s book, “Christianity Rediscovered”:

“Do not try to call them back to where they were, and do not try to call them to where you are, beautiful as that place may seem to you. You must have the courage to go to a place that neither you nor they have been before.”

He said during a break that he was pleased with turnout for the conference, which drew attendees from Florida’s Young Adult Missional Movement, Generative Church Leadership Academy, Fresh Expressions and others. He said the message is particularly pertinent to Florida, a state of increasing cultural diversity and ever-changing population.

“I think it encourages us to have a more missional focus,” Carter said.

Alan Hirsch called Methodism “the most remarkable, apostolic missional movement in the West.”

However, he added, “You’ve been a little naughty along the way and taken some detours, but the story is alive.”

He took the audience through a visual romp of the ways Jesus has been artistically portrayed through history, from other-world saintly to “Buddy Jesus,” a down-to-earth guy who’s appealing to youth ministries, to “boyfriend Jesus,” a romanticized notion of the world’s savior.

“It might get you to the mission field, but it won’t keep you there,” he said, noting that the first “smelly person” encountered along the way is likely to turn off followers who picture Jesus in any of those forms.

“We just make Jesus look like us, whereas we must become like Him,” the speaker said, adding that disciples must do the “same kinds of things that Jesus did.”

Debra Hirsch, who recently co-pastored a California church called Tribe of Los Angeles, urged listeners to expand their view of making disciples of Christ. Historically, she said, Christians have introduced non-Christians to Jesus, nurtured them and welcomed them into the four walls of a church as long as their beliefs and behaviors fall into line with doctrine and expectations.

“Discipleship is not just limited to Christian people,” she said. “The biblical mandate is to go to disciple all people, not necessarily evangelize.”

She said today’s disciples must stop focusing on church walls to define Christianity and move to a model of making disciples that sees Jesus at the center and all people in the world at some stage of relationship with him, whether close to the center or far out and moving in.

“Our job is to get one person to orient toward Jesus,” she said, adding that spending time with atheists and Buddhists doesn’t mean a disciple has turned his or her back on Christ. It’s hard to know when someone will “cross over” from curiosity to embracing Jesus, she said.

She said disciple-making today should stop seeing people first as sinners but rather as Jesus did in the gospel story of the impending stoning of a woman who had committed adultery (John 8). He accepted her but encouraged her to repent.

“Every human being is created in the image of God,” Debra Hirsch said. “Jesus can hang out with people who are dirty and bungled and messed up and not agree with them. … Proximity doesn’t equal permission.”

The Missio Ecclesia conference also included a series of workshops focused on different types of missions. Janet Earls, Florida Conference Congregational Vitality specialist, said the gathering is the latest in a series of “teaching church” opportunities offered in collaboration with successful local churches in the Florida Conference.

– Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.


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