Lesslie Newbigin, a prominent missional theologian, writes, ‘It is not in dispute that true theology can only be done in the context of praxis. There can be no “academic theology,” if that means theology divorced from commitment, faith, and obedience.’ When we observe the ministry of Jesus, we see God amongst His people; and whilst among His people, we see Him practically offering glimpses of the kingdom through healing, through compassion, through feeding the hungry, including the marginalised, and freeing those caught up in the powers of darkness. Jesus’ three-year ministry creates a foundation stone upon which the Church is built. The Church is given the opportunity to be a foretaste of the kingdom, a new humanity within the middle of the old one, a sign to the world of what is to come.
Commitment to Jesus entails being committed to His community. We are not called to a building or organisation; nor are we called to a programme. We are called to a person, and we hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Follow me” (John 10:27). But what does this following of Jesus entail? When we hear the word “follow”, possibly what comes to mind is the action of pursuit, of chasing after Jesus. Matthew shares, however, that it is more incarnational than that. It is obedience through praxis, an embodying of the way of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20). We see in the Gospels how Jesus lived and moved and how many were drawn to Him. In the book of Acts, we see the community of Jesus start to do the same. Later, we see Paul telling the community in Corinth, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Being a relevant church involves a change of mindset. It involves the recognition that true community is broader than four walls allow. It means knowing your neighbour and seeing Christ in them, serving them as if they are Christ Himself (Matthew 25:40). If this call of Jesus to follow is taken seriously, then what “church” looks like begins to change. For me, Church looks like a conversation in a cabin with influential Christian leaders from across many denominations on the North Coast of Devon, as we meet for a Christian Surfers leadership weekend. Church looks like standing on the shore of the sea at Chapel Porth beach with friends, as the sun goes down and the colours of the sky and the ocean meet. Church is sitting in a coffee shop where I meet with a leader in the local Baptist church or a youth leader of a local Pentecostal church to see how their ministry is going and if I can offer any help. Church is sitting in a car with a friend, as they share their worries about their grandparents; or showing up to a funeral of a person who was once connected to the church so that the family and friends know that we grieve too. Church is sitting in a night club in Newquay as the music blares, but at the table, the Bible is open and conversation is happening.
When we recognise that the kingdom is alive in the underprivileged, the disadvantaged and the meek, then we might find that church begins to look a little different to a traditional Sabbath morning. When we become intentional in living the incarnational call of Jesus only, then do we become relevant and the birth of “church” happens in weird and wonderful places (Acts