Notes from Todd Hunter's talk on church

Todd Hunter gave a talk on, "The Church I Would Build", at the 1999 AVC pastor's conference: (these are notes of notes, edited for brevity).

On a personal note, I was privileged to walk beside Todd on our Journey's, 20 years ago; when we went on a ministry trip to New Zealand and Australia, with Todd leading our team.

Karl Barth: "Being the church for the sake of the world". (Todd) And my way of describing this phrase is, "God's missional communities".

From Miroslav Volf, "After Our Likeness":
No church without the reign of God.
No reign of God without the church.

(Todd) I would want a church that doesn't "dumb down" our faith, and that repeatedly tells our distinctive Christian story. We must remember that the church is a peculiar people that defines itself by an entirely different set of assumptions than those of the world. We need to realize that we are not helping seekers when we try to explain the Way of Christ in language that is primarily therapeutic or managerial.

One of the reasons we are increasingly without a voice in our culture is because we have "dumbed down" Christianity to a ludicrous level.

Is man seeking God or God seeking man? Perhaps man is hiding, pretending to seek God, but is really looking for a safe and predictable "god". And maybe as we dumb Christianity down, we play right into this scheme by becoming vendors of religious goods and services in order to meet peoples pretend needs.

A Godward church will not be intimidated by increasingly being pushed to the margins of society. In the NT and in history, the church has thrived when it was on the margins of society, not eating from the tables of societal power.

Take your place at the margins, get filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and do what John Wesley said- set yourself on fire, go into society and let them watch you burn.

Now would be a good time to educate yourself on how Israel acted in exile... Figure out what the church did when it was rejected in Jerusalem and was told they had no part in their society. What you'll find is that when the church received no preferential treatment or privileged position, God was most sovereign. I think that we are all just spoiled by the assumptions of Christendom. Well, those days are over.

WE have a tendency as evangelicals to understand what we are saved from, and less and understanding of what we're saved for..

In God's design, the church exists for God's mission in the world.

The church I would build would take seriously "equipping the saints" for meaningful ministry. John Wesley is a great example of leading a godly, missional people. He also perfectly blended community and mission. He had very laid-out methods for classes and societies where people learned to be disciples... They are a beautiful example of what it's like being "living stones" (1 Peter 1:4-5).

I sometimes find in pastors that, psychologically, we don't really like leading living stones, because they can be trouble... but the problem is that the alternative is dead stones. You can control them. But there's no life of the Spirit there. Wesley found a way to loose these living stones, making them increasingly mature Christians, so that they became a "sent" community living winsomely and powerfully in the public arena.

So, the church I would build would aim to be a "sent" community, a body of people sent on a mission. And that means that we need to be deeply in the world. Tragically, I'm finding that some of our pastors have it in reverse: they are of the world but are never really in it. We need to ensure that we are neither about marginalization nor worldly and captured by the world's distractions.

Rather, God has called us to be a display- a foretaste- of the reign of God in the midst of the real world. That means that not only do we have a message to announce, but we are actually to embody that message in our daily lives. Thus, we would never conceive of ourselves as local churches “with” a mission program; we need to understand that we are in fact missionary congregations. Emil Brunner said, “Mission is to the church as burning is to fire.”

We must recognize that we are perhaps now in a more difficult cross-cultural situation than some congregations reaching out halfway around the world. The Christian-pagan distinction is every bit as powerful here as anything the church faces in India or Asia. It’s time for us to learn to be missionaries. Mission can never be merely what the church “does.” Mission is who we are. The community of God is, at its most fundamental level, a missionary encounter with every city, suburb, and village in this universe.

The church that I would build would be a community of Christians who believe the Gospel so much that they actually order their lives around it.

Unfortunately, the statistics (from Barna, etc.) I’ve seen suggest there is little difference between the world and Christians when it comes to behaviors such as renting pornographic movies, giving to the poor, or getting divorced. If you’ve seen those stats, they are enormously depressing.

Our hope is to become an alternative community—one in which the world can see that we actually believe in Jesus so much, that we’ve attributed so much intelligence to him, so much worthiness, that we matter-of-factly order our lives around becoming like him. Actually being a peculiar people, a community intentionally living under the reign of God, would be a compelling argument for the Story of God in the world.

The church community I would build would not be denominationally-oriented. I do not think that differing expressions of Christianity are necessarily a bad thing, but four hundred years of denominationalism have been a major driving force in creating the consumer Christians who you now pull your hair out trying to pastor. Choice has been exploited for hundreds of years. In 1800 there were thirty-six denominations in America. Today there are over four hundred. The problem I have with a denominational orientation is that it’s an inward focus derived from a negative reaction to others. As Lesslie Newbigen says, denominationalism ends up being a type of secularism—a group form of privatized religion.

It’s time we re-discover our fundamental unity with the rest of the Body of Christ. I get up every morning not thinking, “Well, I’m not Toronto, I’m not Kansas City, I’m not Hank Hanegraaff or John MacArthur or Bill Hybels or Rick Warren.” That is not my orientation. My orientation is, “Those are my brothers, and they are all doing the very best they know how to do to serve God. We see their errors, they see ours. But they are our brothers.” I say to them, “My orientation is for God and for serving you, and we recognize our fundamental unity long before we recognize our minor differences."

Gordon Fee says, “The Christian community is called to manifest an alternative social order of Spirit-empowered Christlikeness.” The Christian community should, by definition, be counter-cultural without being escapist. Lives of sacrifice, humility, modesty, self-discipline, and preferring others are not always going to be considered normal in popular society. But the church of Jesus needs to challenge the worldly norms around it, not with signs held up that say, “God hates gays!” but with lives of such love and goodness that it defies understanding, doesn’t make sense to the world around, and that causes outsiders to ask, “What is it that causes you to live this way?”

Why did Christianity spread so rapidly in the early years of the church? Over and over again we can see that the first Christians didn’t out-argue pagans—they outlived them. Their relation to the world was proactive instead of reactionary. They simply made Jesus their master, and routinely gave to those who stole from them, loved those who were persecuting them, blessed those who cursed them, lived humbly, and laid down their lives for others. And it was in observing these communities of people that outsiders saw and understood the Gospel. So the communities we want to make in our churches should neither be fear-based, afraid of the dark, immoral world we live in—nor should our churches be merely a “safe harbor.” No, the church belongs out in the very middle of the terrible waves of life. That’s where God is, you know. We should follow him there.