This chapter centers around one big idea: Jesus broke down the divide between secular and sacred, and we should do the same thing in our lives.
Vanderstelt unpacks this idea through a story from his own life (the poker game), the trajectory of Israel towards a divide and Jesus’ intervention, and a diagram that I found a little difficult to decipher. The secular/sacred divide seems to be at the heart of most missional community movements, so this is an important chapter to understand from a Biblical theological perspective. But make no mistake, this goes against the grain of much of the Western church’s history, as Greg, at Jeff’s poker game made clear.
Greg was at a poker game, which was probably not strange in his life, but it was strange that a pastor was the one hosting it. It was strange because poker is not a very “churchy” thing to do. And that is what makes missional communities different than traditional churches: missional communities actively seek to break down the divide between “church things” and “other things.” On pages 40 and 41 Jeff says,
[People] see life in terms of the sacred and the secular; they think of things as Christian or non-Christian. . . They see a church gathering on Sunday as sacred or Christian, but not the rest of life. That’s why they dress differently, talk differently, and often act altogether differently at “church” on Sunday than they do during the rest of the week. . . However, the Scriptures don’t define church or Christians this way. Neither do they define life this way. It’s not activities and events that are primarily Christian. It’s people.
So, in the story, Greg saw poker as a secular thing, but he was surrounded by people who saw it differently. But it wasn’t poker that was seen differently, it was all of life that these Christians saw differently than Greg. They saw every moment as a place and time that Jesus wants to make better.
“The heartbeat of Biblical theology is to think about the whole story of the Bible,” is the opening sentence of Dr. Jim Hamilton’s book, What is Biblical Theology? Jeff Vanderstelt’s defense of destroying the sacred/secular divide is a perfect example of biblical theology. The argument goes like this:
God picked his people, the Israelites, and promised to bless them so that he could, through them, bless all of the world. This blessing was meant to turn the people’s hearts to God. He even asked them to throw a series of parties each year to celebrate his blessings and goodness towards them. Unfortunately, people started to love their love for God, but they kept the festivals. Eventually, the people of God would gather for the festivals, which were no longer love filled and life giving, but they were only gathering because it was a special sacred day, different than all the others.
Then comes Jesus.
Jesus breaks down the divide people had built up between what was sacred – he picked grain and healed people on the sacred Sabath day instead of resting. He took water for religious ceremonies and turned it into the best wine the people at the party drank.
This is what Jesus does. Jesus makes life better. Jesus brings the better wine. He takes what many deem holy (like the water in the ceremonial cleansing jars) and brings it to the party. He breaks down the barrier between what people might call sacred and secular. Jesus makes all things sacred – including wine at a party. (36)
So Jesus, breaking the sacred/secular divide, brought wine to parties, helped people any time they needed it, and lived a “holy life wholly unto God”. (35) Our job is to be like Christ in that regard; eschew labeling things, places, and events as secular, and, by submitting all things to God, make everything sacred.
I found a video from Jeff where he explains as he draws, and I found it much more helpful than the section in the book.[vimeo https://vimeo.com/123355253]
In the end, stop acting like somethings in your life are churchy and some are not. Submit all things to God, and make them sacred.
What Does It Look Like
I love how simply Jeff demonstrates this with a passage he wrote on page 42.
Our core group started seeing everyday life as the place where God wants to through his church. We threw parties, ate together, and joined with the activities of our city. We taught Christians to see themselves as the church in our city, instead of seeing church as only an event they attend on Sunday. They learned how to see all of life as sacred and every action as part of God’s missionary work in the world. They began to see that he was in them, working through them in the normal stuff of life. They began to go to work as people on Jesus’s mission, hung out in parks on mission, and celebrated in homes, pubs, and coffee shops together on mission. We served our neighbors, schools, and various social-service organizations. We cleaned city parks and walked the city streets while praying. We ate together often and celebrated God’s grace in our lives.
In all this we sought to experience and show what God is like in the everyday stuff of life. As a result, more people were drawn to Jesus and his community, and more people engaged in everyday life for God’s glory. (42)
This chapter does an excellent job of laying the groundwork for how this is different then the way we’ve always known church to be and why it has to be this way. The video is great at explaining the difference between bringing people to church and going out into the community and being the church. It really highlights how much more practical a missional community is then the church model we’re used to. You hear people in church talk about being the hands and feet of Jesus and the missional community model is so much more efficient at doing that. It seems to me that this type of idea on church may be more effective in a de-churched area like Phoenix where they don’t have as many preconceived ideas of how a church is supposed to be.
I also liked how he highlights the fact that this method of being the church doesn’t require you to be a “professional Christian.” Getting rid of the idea that ministry is only for a select few super Christians is a huge barrier to get past.
I think the “professional christian” misconception is one of the most important points in my heart because of the journey we have been on here in Phoenix. I am doing more personal ministry than I ever have in the past, and it has nothing to do with being a pastor. We are just connecting personally with other people, and building real relationships. It is awesome, and anyone can do it!
It is great that anyone can do this type of ministry and I think it’s a strength of this type of community approach. It also feels like that strength could be a weakness since it doesn’t require a ton of training. I am curious how the book will address things like organization and training people how to lead and serve biblically. How does the missional community model address people who have a vision that they’re excited about but doesn’t correspond to the bible? Our country is transitioning from bible based Christians to people who are “spiritual” with people making up their own ideas about what God wants and who He is. I could see many situations where people have a sincere desire to serve, but have very incorrect ideas of God.
I love how he explains we should be a community of people on mission, not individuals on mission responsible for bringing people into the community. That seems way more exciting and a lot less intimidating to me!
Also, I admit I would be the one feeling a little uncomfortable at a poker game surrounded by lost people. I’m sure my initial feeling would be something like, “Can’t you just come to church with me? I’d be way more comfortable on my own turf.” But that’s not how Jesus did things! My prayer is that God would give me His heart for the people around me, because if I can see them like He does, their sin won’t make me blush.
Now that we are “on the field” as church planters, we have the opportunity for the majority of our ministry to be directed toward the lost people around us rather than those already within the church. This book could not have come at a better time! I’m pumped!!!
Totally agree about ministering as a community instead of an individual. That does sound quite biblical when you think of people breaking bread in houses, sharing and caretaking with others, and God adding more people all the time!