07.07.17 | Stories, Missional | by Hugh Halter
"Somewhere, everywhere, people are connecting socially. From the beginning of time and throughout the scriptures, God’s people patterned their lives around celebration, feasts, social gatherings, levity, story-telling, eating, drinking, laughter, and listening.
For God’s ancient fans, levity, sobriety, and a good ol’ fashion party helped create a social connection that makes spiritual connection possible. It used to be Five O’Clock somewhere, but sadly, over the last century, the church is the last one to the party. I remember growing up as a Nazerene boy hearing that ‘good Christians’ don’t smoke, chew or have friends that do.
As such, I didn’t venture out to the movies, look at art, play cards, and I had to listen to all my secular music undercover. My friends were Christians…all of them. As I entered training for ministry my reading of Jesus’ life didn’t square with a seminary prof who suggested that all wine in the New Testament was simply grape juice or the denominational leaders who wanted us to plant churches for them, but only if we abstain from having a beer with neighbor. It just seemed that at every turn, my old perception of being committed to Jesus didn’t allow me to follow Him or live like He lived.
Now that I’m a big boy, not much has changed. Except for one small adjustment. I now pattern my holiness after the human life of Jesus instead of the traditions of any certain church, outdated ministerial code of ethics or leadership definitions born of prohibition, or the subjective and selective literalism so many of us grew up under. I simply want to be holy as Jesus was holy.
And for Him, leadership, influence, witness, the gospel as good news, the new covenant, life according the heart & spirit instead of the law and his main message of the kingdom of God was no longer a matter of eating and drinking, which now meant you can do exactly that. Enjoy life, faith, friends, great food and drink and yes all while being holy.
A Call Back to Mission
I am the US Director for a missions training network called FORGE. Forge exists to train men and woman to live as missions where they already do life. That is, we believe every neighborhood is now a pure missionary context like Spain, Italy, Iceland or Nova Scotia. And in a pure missionary context the church can no longer ask the secular culture to act the part of the missionary and come to us and our church services anymore. We must be the ‘sent’ ones again. We must be the missionaries.
So where does a good missionary start in any and all contexts? They must start where the culture is and find ways to create neutral, enjoyable, space where humans can connect, identify, and learn the context of one anothers story. That’s how we contextualize the gospel. And this is exactly why, as Alan Hirsch has said, “PARTY IS SACRAMENT.”
In my personal story of starting two churches in very secular contexts, many friends found faith in our home and not one story started without the party. From Small Group to Missional Community. Now, I spend my life traveling around the globe encouraging and training the missionary spirit. Some are with church planters but most are with existing congregations with huge hearts for the lost but who still live according to a non-party ethic and the rhythms of abstract holiness.
Many people have asked, “Hugh, what is the one key to turning a typical small group into a true missionary community?” Another asks, “Hugh, how did all those people find faith..really how did it actually happen?” Another asks, “how do you disciple people to live more human lives like Jesus?” My answer is always the same. “You have to teach and disciple people in how to throw a good party. It’s where everything starts.” Its where we learn to listen instead of judge.
Where we become advocates instead of adversaries and where people cease to be targets or projects because they are our friends. Remember, when teaching about the gospel of the kingdom, our living metaphors are that of a wedding feast, a banquet, and a supper. It’s time to include this in our own spiritual formation."