Christianity flourishes on the margins and dwindles from the center. It has always been this way. Jesus was born in a back water town in a back water region of a back water country. He was a nobody from a worldly point of view. He was crucified as a criminal. Some have even pointed out that his title Christos sounded a lot like Chrestus meaning “useful” which was a common slave name. In the Greco-Roman perspective it was odd that these Jesus followers followed a man who may have been a slave (again, when they confused Christos with Chrestus) and even worse was crucified. No dignified person could follow someone like that, unless he was who he said he was. This is why the Corinthians were struggling as they were as demonstrated by the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians.
Jesus’ ministry took place on the margins. He drew the poor and the oppressed. He had no place to lay his head (Matt 8:20). He drew the “sinners” and the discarded. When he passed his ministry on to his followers they followed suit. Those in power rejected the man and the message. Those in the center have a hard time gravitating to the margins because it feels like their power and position might be undermined. You know what? They are right. If power and influence is what you want most then Christianity isn’t for you.
There was a time Christianity was in the center. Towns were built around churches. The voice of the clergy was the voice of power in the community. The politicians and the theologians were aligned. This was good for influence and pseudo-power but bad for Gospel and horrible for mission. When the empire is Christian mission and discipleship get lost in a see of pastoral concerns and power maintenance. The church becomes political rather than missional. The church becomes a voting block rather than a stumbling block.
What we are experiencing in the West is the best thing that can happen to the church. We have been marginalized. That is where we are at our best. That is where our roots are at. A fat full tiger is a lazy tiger. A hungry tiger backed into a corner is a dangerous thing. I am afraid we aren’t very dangerous any more. We have lost our zeal. We have lots our focus. We have neglected our missional and disciple-making duties and traded it all in for comfort. What do you do when the comfort is stripped away and your voice is marginalized? Do you lament loss of power and influence? Or do you rejoice because we find revival on the margins, not in the center. If we don’t recognize what is going on we are in real trouble. But if we pay close attention to these things and embrace our new position, great things will come and they won’t look like the “great” things of the past because this time we will be focused on the right things.
Christians in the Global South and in China are flourishing while Christianity in the West is in decline. Why is that? What can we learn from that? What kind of blessing might be awaiting us when we find ourselves in the same position one day…the same position as the church in Acts 1-2? Get ready for trouble. Get ready for growth. Jesus told us it would work like this. When we trade in our suffering for comfort and our boldness for complacency we will decline? These two shifts are natural when you are in the center.
Let us recognize the world is not what it used to be and that as we lose the things we should have never embraced it isn’t lost. It is gain. Explosive kingdom growth is coming to Western society and it will come at a great cost. And it will be the most exciting things you have ever been a part of because we will have to lean into the Spirit in those difficult but fruitful days! Buckle up!