The Cloister, The Harvest, and Where the Laborers Are (Part I)
A few days back I wrote a post called “Evangelism in an Upside Down Kingdom” that I didn’t really expect people to get or resonate with. However, over on Facebook there was some conversation that was good and I felt like the conversation deserved a follow up post. You can catch the conversation from Facebook below:
First, let’s talk about the situation we find ourselves in. In general, I find that the church in North America still believes they have an answer that the world is looking for. And while I believe that the Gospel is key to transforming every broken heart, I think the church dramatically over-estimates how likely an unbelieving, unrepentant sinner is to walk into a church full of people they don’t know looking for answers they haven’t been able to find.
Frankly, the church in America is cloistered. A cloister is a secluded, religious place*. Whenever we hear someone referred to as cloistered, what we mean is they live in a religious community that has some how cut them off from what the rest of the world thinks. And this is the state that the church finds herself in. The church has become so isolated from the world that we don’t even realize that a large part of our culture doesn’t turn to us for answers any longer, no matter how desperate.
Cloisters (architecturally) were originally designed for monasteries and convents. They were places that monks and nuns could draw away from society and focus on the devout life. And while these were started with good intentions, they did have the affect of taking believers out of the world that they were called to be salt and light in. I believe this has happened with the church as well. We have pulled back from the world in an effort to be pure and not be stained by the world. But the effect has actually taken us out of the world we were designed to make an impact in.
I once heard a fact that I’m now having trouble sourcing, so take what I’m about to say next with a grain of salt. The factoid went like this: In the West, we lead as many unbelievers to Jesus in the first two years of coming to Christ as we will for the rest of our lives after that. Essentially what this stat is saying is that when you become a believer you have about two good years where you live close enough to the world to impact it. Once beyond that, you become drawn into a church community and it becomes hard to get out of it to share the Gospel.
Think about it: When you became a believer, there were so many things to learn. So many classes to attend. You were busy Sunday morning and your unbelieving friends weren’t. You began to grow apart. You married a believing spouse, wanted to raise believing children, etc. etc, and all of these things (as good as they were) pulled you farther and farther away from the world you wanted to impact. It can become hard to move beyond the “Christian bubble.”
My point is this: We have to get over the cloister affect. It’s not okay for the church not to be salt and light in the world. In order to do that, we have to move away from our own tribalism and take the Gospel to people who look like they don’t want it. Jesus had to do the very same thing: Though He lived in Heaven with the Father, to redeem mankind He had to leave the confines of the fellowship with the Father and be willing to preach His Gospel to people who (based on outward appearances) didn’t want it. He overcame the cloister of Heaven and embraced broken humanity, and He calls us to do the same.