Archive for October, 2013

Hope for the church in Europe?

Posted: October 15, 2013 by efenster in Ideas
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UnknownSome say that ten or twenty years from now the U.S. society’s openness to Christianity will be like that of present-day Europe.  In the past five years alone, one study shows that the number of Americans claiming no religious affiliation has grown from 15 to 20% of the population.   America is becoming more and more secular.

A European friend of mine, Rev. Barry Sloan, disagrees with this prediction, however.  He says that most Christians in America underestimate just how secular Europe has become and that America is unlikely to ever get to the same point.  Barry is a Methodist missionary from Northern Ireland who has been serving in the former East Germany.

He said that when he speaks in Ireland about the German’s attitude toward Christianity, he asks them to imagine a Sunday where the churches in Ireland ask their members to leave their congregations and try to convert people to Islam.  This is hard to even imagine let alone trying to actually do something that extreme.  But that’s what Berry is trying to do in the East Conference of the United Methodist Church in Germany.  He is a missionary serving as an evangelist for the conference, trying to help the church bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the unchurched population.  A primary tool he’s using is Fresh Expressions, an evangelist model that comes out of England.

Barry has found, however, that one of the results of the 40-year Communist rule of East Germany is that there are a couple of generations of Germans that tend to have a passive, fatalistic mindset, and that such a mindset is even prevalent in many of the United Methodist Churches.  As a result, many congregants accept the church’s significant decline and have no real sense of a need to pursue the church’s mission with greater vigor and intentionality.

All is not doom and gloom, however.  God is raising up new churches and movements throughout Europe, although they’re not necessarily United Methodist.  Warren Bird, from Leadership Network, writes about two such churches–Faith Church, which is reaching 50,000 people in churches all over Hungary, and the Bethel Church, which is reaching 4,000 people in Drachten, Netherlands.  You can read his recent article for more details.

Barry says that it isn’t money that is needed to renew the United Methodist Church in Germany.   It’s prayers and leadership that are desperately needed–prayers that God will change the prevailing mindset of many of the Christians and that revival will break out.  Please join me in praying for him, our fellow German United Methodists, and the church in Europe.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Junior“So we have painters at our house,” my wife said to me over the phone.  “How did you know?” I asked a bit unnerved.  “Because our neighbor sent me a text commenting on the interesting music our painters are listening to.”  “Oh,” I said, as a big red flag rose in my head. “Yea, she [our neighbor] said the words were even shocking to a south-side hip-hop girl,” referring to herself, “that she was going to have to turn up her kids’ Raffi music.”

Well, I immediately went out and told our painters that there were young kids next door, so would they please tone down their music.  They apologized profusely and immediately changed music.

This just illustrates what many times happens when we build relationships with people for the sake of the Gospel.  It can get messy.  My painters had no idea that the lyrics of their music would be offensive to my neighbors, just as we Christians have no idea how offensive some of the stuff we do is–like asking strangers about their relationship with Christ when we don’t even seem to care what their names are or what’s going on in their lives.

Being in relationship with our unchurched brothers and sisters requires both parties to step into each other’s worlds and to see things through the eyes of the other.  True there will be bumps along the way, but that’s part of what it takes.

I’m pleased to report that the house looks great–after I spent a day touching up the detail work.  And I’m looking forward to continuing to build relationships with my new-found friends.

How about you?  How are you doing as you are the church in your neighborhood, with your neighbors?  May we be salt and light.  May God use us to bring the Good News!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

(You can read more about my painters in last week’s blog article.)

Kristos-130922 BA week ago I joined a group from St. Joseph United Methodist Church that is planting a new faith community near my home in Fort Wayne.  We gathered on Sunday afternoon for a time of “positive loitering” on an empty lot.  Someone brought a grill, another a kickball, others beverages, and then we just rubbed shoulders with the nearly 70 folk from the neighborhood who passed by during the two hours we were there.

This wasn’t just a random act of kindness though.  It was part of a strategy to establish a faith community that isn’t based on an attractional worship-centered model of church planting, but rather on relational discipleship-centered model.  The objective is developing relationships in natural, normal ways–where the people are–rather than expecting them to come to us and participate in our programs.

Before our positive loitering happened, teams of people led by Steve Mekaru from St. Joseph UMC prayer-walked the neighborhoods in the target area.  This has been going on for months and months.  As a result, Steve and those walking have been meeting people–on their porches, in their yards, on their stoops–hearing their stories, learning their names, and listening to where God was moving.  What he and the teams discovered is that a particular neighborhood, just north of my home, is especially open and receptive to us.  That’s how we ended up in that neighborhood a week ago with our positive loitering.

While there I met Bob, Junior, and John.  Bob (not his real name) said he had been kicked out of his ex-girlfriend’s home and that she had stolen all of the equipment that he used to paint houses.  Hmmm, I thought.  I have the equipment and I need one side of my house painted.  So, all last week Bob, Junior and John painted my house.  The painting was just an excuse to continue building a relationship with these guys.

What I discovered is that one of them, Junior, turned out to be a very honest, dependable, and skilled painter.  Word is now out in my neighborhood and he’s getting other job offers.  We’ve even talked about what it would take to start his own business.    No telling what may happen.  So, this weekend I’m having Junior over for dinner to celebrate the great job he did.  We’re continuing to build a relationship.  Although he is active in a church, there’s no telling where this may go.  More on this next week…

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development