Do We Christians Live in a "Bubble?"

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Circles of friends with a shared vision are the birthing rooms for Kingdom collaboration. But sometimes circles of friends can become closed networks. Closed networks have an upside and a downside.

Think of a small group in your church which has been together for many years. The upside can be found in the depth of the relationships that have been nurtured and the shared commitment that has developed.

Yet closed networks can also become impermeable to outside people and outside ideas. Circles of friends can warp into ethnic bubbles or denominational bubbles or even just plain Christian bubbles — bubbles that protect those on the inside from people and ideas that seem different.

In John 20:21 Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 

It seems from the Gospel story that when the Father sent the Son he did anything but keep him in a Trinitarian bubble. In fact, the Father sent his Son to camp out with his enemies, even those that were outside the social and religious bubbles of their own society.

The incarnation is all about the proposition with. The Gospels call Jesus “Immanuel” or God with us. But sometimes we are tempted to think that we, unlike Jesus, have been sent on a mission to or for those outside our bubbles.

Ministry is done to others when we invite them into our bubbles on the condition that they first become like us. Often ministry to those on the outside is motivated by attitudes of superiority and judgment and fueled by fear.

Doing ministry for others can be the first step out of our bubbles. Ministry for others responds to their real physical and spiritual needs. But over the long run ministry for can simply make others dependent on us. Ministry for often fails to empower people to develop their own gifts or to contribute their own distinctive perspectives and opinions.

Both ministry to and ministry for are examples of closed networks. The people inside the circle are the doers and the givers. The people outside the circle are just the receivers. Ministry to and for retains power for those inside the bubble. Ministry with involves giving up power and control.

Ministry to or for can remain distant and impersonal. But one there is nothing impersonal about ministry with. Ministry with is always rooted in concrete places and involves people who we know by name. It is costly precisely because it calls for us to form flesh and blood relationships with people who may not be like us and with whom we might not otherwise have chosen to associate.

Do you and I as Christians live in a bubble? Why do we find ministry with so challenging? Why might ministry with be transformative both for ourselves and others in a way ministry to or for is not? 

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Participant

Ministry "with" involves mutual, side-by-side participation, a relationship of trust, and an affirmation of each other's contributions toward achieving a common goal.  Each of these features of doing ministry "with" are challenging because each defies the norms and patterns of our history.  However, when we step away from ministry "to" and "for" and into ministry "with," we look back and wonder how we ever got a fresh breath of air in our old, sealed bubble.

Thanks again for your insites Joel.  Ministry with is definately far more rewarding for all those involved however many people who are doing ministry to others or for others think they are doing it with others simply because others are present.  I definetely agree that the relationship of trust is essential also a high level of respect.  As in the case of physicians:  first do no harm.  We have so much to learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Participant

Thank you Joel Huyser for this post. Yes ministry to and for are 'bubble' approaches that are historic. Its roots are I think in the interpretation of the Great Commission mandate to leave Jerusalem and preach, teach and baptize to the world that did not know the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This paradigm was true for 1900 yrs.

Now in this century, much of the 'world' knows Christ and/or knows of Christ. In the last two centuries dutiful missionaries translated the Bible into many languages globally (there are still new translations), translated hymns, established seminaries and training schools to further the spreading of the Gospel.

Based on your 'with' premise, the Church needs to : 1. Acknowledge the established credibility of existing churches and their leaders. 2. Learn more about the nations, cultures and people being witnessed to in the 21st Century context. 3. Speak the language of Nehemiah 'Let US build this wall.'

This requires a spiritual, intellectual, psychological paradigm shift from our well rooted past vision of 'to' and 'for.'

With Christ as our helper, WE are equal with our Brothers and Sisters in Unity. And we can then be truly side-by-side working together to advance HIS Kingdom.

I agree, the to and for paridigm emerged from the way in which the great commission was read.  It also comes from colonialism and western and european arogance that prevented us from contextualizing the gospel.  Go to Aftrica and you will find strange transplants, or listen to the story of First Christian Reformed Church in Managua, Nicaragua.  Many missionaries simply did thing the way they were done back home without reflection and certainly without inviting the participation of new believers in shaping their response to the gospel.  

My prayer is that we are now witnessing a sysmic change that will allow all of us to grow up into him who is the head.

A very intriguing use of the bubble metaphor!

Participant

My past travels to Nigeria (1981), South Africa (1992 to 2009), Zambia (1995 to 1999) showed me one impressive dedicated effort that our Missionaries meticulously did well. In the Reformed Congregations the Scriptures and Hymnals were translated into quite a few predominant ethnic languages. This took a tremendous amount of effort and commitment to contextualize Scripture and Song and seeing this evidence of 'success' made me realize that the Gospel can be witnessed to far more people. It made me proud to be Reformed. Too often this is not recognized and that is why I'm writing this.

Annectdotaly, I did observe that the organs so diligently brought to Southern Africa from overseas had been set aside in the 1990's in Zambian and South African Nedergerereformedekerk  congregations and worshipers used voice and Bibles for music and cadence keeping. This to me was a 'symbolic' change for the African congregations before elections in 1994 and after in SA. Yet one reality is there were not local congregants to maintain and play the sometimes 100yr old organs.