The church on mission has a unique challenge: to be both a model of meeting people where they are (contextualization) and a picture of what redeemed community should be (a glimpse into the Kingdom).
On the one hand, the church must do the work of the missionary, translating message and power of the gospel into local culture. Every local church should be an indigenous expression of Christianity. In order to demonstrate the power of salvation, the redeemable aspects of culture should be retained. Unbelievers should not look at the church and see something wholly other. They should not be so frustrated by our presentation that they cannot hear our message. Instead, they should see in us a clear example of what it would be like if someone from their own culture were to know Jesus. Our model is the incarnation of Christ Himself.
On the other hand, the church is to be a picture of that which is not yet- the kingdom of God on earth. In Christ, we are equal, free, and empowered. We are to demonstrate that to unbelievers in order for them to understand the transformational power of life in Christ. Unbelievers should see the brokenness of their systems in comparison to the peace, unity, hope, and love we know as the body of Christ.
So here’s the difficulty: if your church is located in an affluent suburb, your parking lot might be full of bank-breaking luxury cars during worship. But at some point, discipleship requires an examination of values, stewardship, and spending habits. People must be discipled out of their preferences into Christ-likeness. What would Jesus drive?
This tension is rising to the forefront in evangelical circles. David Platt’s book, Radical, is making waves for its call to abandon material things for the sake of the Kingdom (apparently a novel idea these days). People think that Francis Chan has gone off the deep end because he resigned as pastor of his church and is moving to Asia. These guys started with how things were (large churches in affluent areas) and are moving toward how they should be (following Jesus with reckless abandon).
Believers are called to both: we must engage culture and demonstrate its brokenness by publicly living in the Way. How is your church doing both? When outsiders look in, do they see something that is strangely familiar yet clearly different? The tendency today is to be the opposite: to be quick to point out all of the ways we’re different while proving with our every action that we’re really just the same as everyone else.