How Close To The Edge Do I Go?

Early on in the planting of CrossPoint, I met with two planters from other denominations. One from a Southern Baptist plant; the other from a Presbyterian plant. The SB plant began with a rock band, in a school. It was a hive model from a local congregation. It was loud and different and spoke to all of the folks who had loved the rock group Boston in high school. The planter encouraged me to go as far as possible to the edge of my comfort zone. Fourteen years after planting, this congregation worships over 2000 a weekend, is located on 100 acres of land, and is known as a vibrant, sending church.

The Presbyterian planter spoke with me at length because his plant, after an auspicious start of 900 the first Sunday, imploded after his subsequent moral failure. (His affair was actually more a symptom than a cause of that implosion.) Three congregations had sent significant numbers of launch team members, thus the second Sunday of worship—typically about half of the first—met that goal. Over 450 people were there to stay. The problems began immediately, however. For whenever something “edgy” was attempted in order to reach lost people, at least one of the culture-groups would object and immediate conflict began. This constant conflict led to tremendous pressure on the sr. pastor and contributed to both his and the congregation’s demise. That congregation no longer exists. I am unsure of his whereabouts but know he was defrocked for some period of time. I remember well his words to me as we drank coffee in a local Starbuck’s. They, too, included the “edgy” word. “You want your ministry to be edgy. If you’re comfortable going this far,” as he drew on a napkin, “then push it this far,” as he drew a mark on the edge. “Had I done that from the beginning, I might have jettisoned some of those who didn’t like it early on and thus saved myself a lot of headache.” I know there were lots of variables to his story. But I found the similarity of counsel to be wise…and took it to heart. It boiled down to “How far to the edge am I willing to go?” as I plant this church? It reminded me of an account in Jesus’ life. You know the beginning of the story: Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment. He answered Mark 12:29-31 (NIV) “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. [30] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ [31] The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Jesus joins the two into one. He makes them the two sides of the same coin: to love God means you will love your neighbor. “Can’t do A without B.” But then the story continues. That teacher who asked that question responds, “You are right.” And he repeats what Jesus said, affirming Jesus’ teaching. To which then Jesus responds: Mark 12:34 (NIV) … “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. In my twenty years of serving as evangelism pastor in three different congregations, I have encountered many, many people like this teacher of the law. People who are not far from the kingdom of God. They know something. They have at least heard something. And yet as we all know, the distance is still significant. And in our culture today, that distance is getting more and more significant. Our porn culture—the mainstream culture in which we live—espouses a radically different sexuality than the Bible. And the technological evolution of our society, which morphs roughly every six months, has so integrated that porn culture into our people’s lives that the challenge of reaching across that gulf is becoming more and more difficult. Even today’s trophy wives are porn wives. Culturally speaking, the sheer majority of Americans are far, far from the kingdom of God. They live on the edge of it, you might say. Yet if you are planting a congregation or site in their midst, if you are a congregation truly seeking to connect with these individuals, you will find that physically they are living right next door to the kingdom of God. They are living next door to you. Which means you and I, as God’s ambassadors, must go to their cultural edge to reach them. And for that we need to be willing to design ministries that are edgy. Incredible pressures, however, —fear of failure, fear of discipline, fear of conflict—keep most of the ministries in our denomination from ever achieving it. We want to reach people outside of God’s kingdom but we are unwilling to create ministries that truly reach that far. We do not want to change how we do things. We do not want to sacrifice any of our values. We do not want to learn a new language or new songs or new formats. We do not want to modify our Sunday dress or Sunday rituals or Sunday methods. In essence, we want those on the edge to come to the center rather than those of us in the center to go to the edge. We want them to change rather than us. Please understand that many of us have been in the system so long we do not have a good grasp on what it looks like to truly reach to the edge. So if you are going to reach people on the edge of God’s kingdom, your new ministry must truly be a new wineskin, not just a recycled old one with some new leather straps. If you think edgy is five steps out, double or triple that and then do that. Some significant “edge” areas that will communicate to those on the edge:

  • Sincerity of the pastors/leaders
  • Approachableness (often revealed in simple, frank language)
  • Church logo and name
  • Music format & instrumentation
  • Dress of key “up-front” people on Sundays and throughout the week
  • Facility architecture

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