I expected something different next to the ocean. Traveling back to the U.S. from South Africa a few years ago we landed somewhere on the tip of western Africa. It may have been one of the islands. I do not recall the airline. We were given the privilege of deplaning, finding both restroom and refreshment before making the trek across the ocean to JFK Airport in New York. I thought it an odd place to stop and pick up meals for the long trip. From the air the stretch of land looked desolate. Areas along the beach were rocky not sandy. The facilities while clean were not what most Westerners were accustomed. The images still linger and I could say the desolate features conjured the phrase, "God-forsaken places."
Reading Roxburgh and Romanuk’s, The Missional Leader, I came across the phrase "God-forsaken places." Generally we think of places uninhabitable by nature or made so by war, famine or disease. These are places we would not chart destinations to but generally avoid. Would anyone consider the "institutional church" a "God-forsaken place?" Many have and do. Some days pastors wonder if Ichabod, "the glory has departed," fits the church better than forestate, sign and outpost of the Kingdom of God – an community embodying the character of God; a place not to go and even avoid.
My friend Todd Hiestand recently presented a paper at an ETS meeting. Todd is pastor of The Well, PA. He is also a student at Biblical Seminary and enrolled in our current ETREK course. His paper is titled, "The Gospel and the God Forsaken: The Challenge of the Missional Church in Suburbia." Todd quotes Alan Roxburgh, "God shows up in the most God-forsaken places." He does a good job of identifying the context of suburbia, He notes the markers chosen offer an opportunity to live out the Gospel in a way God just may show up in "God-forsaken places." I really think Todd put a good, concise finger on some of the issues facing suburbia as well as ex-rural towns – some may refer to as ex-urbia.
I wonder if we should pitch the institutional church or consider the contextual possibilities for God to show up in what many consider a "God-forsaken place." Much of what Todd offers could well give us a picture of just how the church, not just suburbs, capitulated to culture. He rightly notes ways in which this innocuously crept into the church trading a broad view of the Gospel for a quick simple reduction to "forgiveness of sins." Jesus announced the coming Kingdom. He sent the disciples out with the very message he himself used. He then told them to do what he did. Connecting the message and the mission indicates the doing of Jesus ushers in the realities of the Kingdom. Sure it could be argued the Kingdom is not yet fulfilled. But, to do so seems to obfuscate the mission of which we are now a part. Rather than consider the mission as part of what we do, we really should follow on Todd’s reading of Bosch. The mission of God is part of, if simply expressive of, the very nature and character of God. Reading in Revelation 21 a few weeks ago I was reminded of this very implication. We are given a picture of fulfillment. The declaration is something akin to "It is finished." In the ESV it is translated, "It is done." The mission that was accomplished – having a people. When we embody the character and actions of Jesus in the world we participate in the mission of God redeeming the world, all of the world.
I am hopeful Roxburgh is right …