In an earlier post I briefly shared the importance of spiritual formation in laying a foundation for a church to transition in a missional direction. A second topic that is absolutely vital when attempting to create an environment for such a transition involves the recognition that we no longer live in a Christian setting, or what many call Christendom.
Since the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine in AD 313 until approximately the midpoint of the twentieth century, the church occupied a central location in the fabric of society. The church was the dominant culture. However, today the church has lost its privileged position and increasingly occupies a place on the margins of society.
Without recognizing this shift—from Christendom to Post-Christendom in America—I believe the church is incapable of making the necessary changes in order to connect with surrounding neighborhoods and communities. But all is not lost. In some ways the shift in the cultural landscape can be a good thing for the life of the church.
In an excellent book titled Confident Witness—Changing World, Craig Van Gelder shares a hopeful assessment:
If the church takes seriously the fact that North America is now a mission field, this has tremendous implications for congregations. One of the most important implications is that many of the assumptions that have guided the development of the church over the past several centuries are now in need of critique and redefinition (e.g., denominations, individualism, and success).
Another implication is that the church will increasingly need to recognize that its own location in the present culture is no longer at the center, but at the margins. Being on the margins, however, can provide fresh opportunities for thinking about offering confident witness as the church.