By Y Bonesteele
We wrapped up our study of James in the café bar not far from our kids’ school. I went to ask for the bill, but another mom already paid for our pan con tomate breakfasts (toasted bread with grated tomatoes, a splash of olive oil, and a pinch of salt).
We continued talking about the latest AMPA issues (the Spanish version of the PTA) and said our goodbyes. I walked home to my flat praying for these ladies. Over half of them weren’t believers.
Ministry in post-Christian Europe taught me a lot. In Europe, you’re definitely playing the long game, but somehow it seems richer and fuller. As the U.S. seems to be growing more secular like Europe, six truths about ministry stand out.
1. True “life on life” is needed.
“Life on life” means intentionally living in close relationship with people with the purpose of seeing them grow spiritually.
According to a Lifeway Research study, “Fewer than half of churchgoers (48%) agree with the statement, ‘I intentionally spend time with other believers to help them grow in their faith.’” That’s disheartening.
Fellowship is important but if it doesn’t sharpen us, it’s for naught.
In Spain, we invited people into our lives and tried to be around them as much as possible. As we got involved with anti-human-trafficking organizations, we invited friends to participate with us, allowing them to copy us as we copy Jesus–a discipleship apprenticeship.
During breakfast or dinners, we would sometimes pay for everyone’s bill, and in doing so, our Spanish friends would want to do the same. Generosity and other godly characteristics become contagious in these settings.
Discipleship requires imitation that can’t happen if we don’t consistently experience life together.
2. Contextualize when appropriate.
In Madrid, the church is irrelevant for many. In a post-Christian environment where many find worship services awkward, we need to go into their environments, not expect them to come into ours.
At Easter, we would have a storytelling time at the park with the kids’ classmates. Random families already in the park would join us.
For many, it was their first time hearing the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We need to go wherever the opportunity takes us to be with people, to hear their needs, to care for their concerns.
Jesus didn’t stay in the synagogues and temple courts. He was out talking to prostitutes and tax collectors, teaching to the crowds.
Having my women’s Bible study in a café bar was a safe place for women who were interested in the Bible but uninterested in church.
The church buildings and programs all have their purposes, but in a post-Christian environment, we need to think outside of the box to help people find Jesus.
3. The Kingdom of God is for sinners.
The church seems to have forgotten this point. A recent Ligonier & Lifeway Research survey shows that 60% of those who attend church once or more a week believe “everyone sins a little but most people are good by nature.”
We believe we are essentially good which results in us believing that “those out there” are essentially bad. This can’t be!
The church, then, doesn’t know what to do with the “overt sinner” in our midst—the pregnant teen, the opioid addict, or the LGBTQ+ individual. We don’t know how to love “sinners” without accepting their beliefs or behaviors.
We’re more concerned about their influence on us so we’re fearful, when instead we should be welcoming them into our day-to-day lives.
Jesus always knew how to talk to “sinners” in real ways, caring for them in their moment of need, spiritually or otherwise.
He never compromised holiness, but He saw their hearts, their hurts, and their personhood. We should learn to do the same.
4. We need to learn how to filter.
Europe is very open about extreme public displays of affection and it is perfectly acceptable to sunbathe topless at the local park or public pool.
Regardless of where we live, unless we sequester ourselves in our home, we will continue to see a lifestyle that is contrary to Christ in the world around us.
In Europe, it’s impossible to escape secular society. But the entire world has been secular since Eve ate of the fruit. There’s no society or neighborhood “Christian” enough to protect us from evil. Evil exists in us.
“We are neither to seek to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world nor to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world,” says John Stott.
What we need to do then is to learn how to filter information so we can speak God’s truth into a broken world.
The Roman world was filled with debauchery—temple prostitutes, slavery, and fornication. The early church had to navigate a righteous path through temptations on a daily basis.
With pop-up ads, social media, and hackers, we’re naïve to think our kids have not already seen something inappropriate.
As parents and leaders, we need to teach into these moments. We need to give answers on why God’s ways are better.
In Madrid, we taught our kids to “filter” what they see and hear, from movies to songs to transgender teaching at school.
Let bad lyrics or words go in one ear but out the other. Understand why same-sex behavior is sinful. Avert your eyes when necessary.
We’ve taught the kids that God created the body and God has certain rules for it. The world has other rules. God’s rules are always better.
5. Everyone likes stories about Jesus.
Most people say they like Jesus; it’s the church or Christians that they don’t like.
In post-Christian evangelism, we don’t have to invite people to church or go through systematic theology.
We can start with great stories about Jesus seen in the Bible or seen in our own relationship with Him. Jesus is so counter-cultural He’s magnetic. He draws people in.
Point people to Jesus and He does the rest.
6. God is in control–we need not fear.
When we live in a society that doesn’t honor or even regard God in its daily living, it can seem like a dark place. For some, our current state in the U.S. seems scary.
We’re reminded, however, that God is in control—all the time. He’s not surprised by the conditions of our world. He’s not shuddering at the fact that our country is becoming “post-Christian.”
We stand, then, without fear as well. We keep our eyes on Jesus and live like Him—no matter the culture around us.
Perhaps living in a post-Christian world isn’t only not bad for us, but actually a good thing. There would be no cultural “Christians.” We’d understand that the road is narrow and discipleship costs something.
We’d be reminded about the essentials: the importance of evangelism and discipleship. Our faith would be challenged and pressed to mold us more into the image of Christ. We would understand more a theology of suffering.
Living in a post-Christian world would help us to not be content with this world, but make us earnestly long for Jesus’ return, giving us an urgency to draw more people to Christ before that day arrives.
Y is an editorial coordinator at Lifeway and has her M.Div from Talbot School of Theology.