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The Spiritual Hunger of a Secularised European Youth Culture

December 12, 2019

Read Vista 34 here

A study released in 2018 entitled “Europe’s Young Adults and Religion,” by British professor of theology and sociology of religion Stephen Bullivant, demonstrates one of the most crucial issues for mission in Europe today.    

In the Czech Republic, 91 percent of young adults categorised themselves as religiously unaffiliated, while in the UK, France, Belgium, Spain, and the Netherlands between 56 percent and 60 percent said they never go to church and between 63 percent and 66 percent said they never pray. According to Bullivant, many young Europeans “will have been baptised and then never darken the door of a church again. Cultural religious identities just aren’t being passed on from parents to children. It just washes straight off them”.

Youth For Christ released another eye opening study, focused on Gen Z (12-18 year-olds), showing that only 32% of British teenagers believe there is a God, and of these, only 18% would be interested in finding out more. This is a staggering reality facing the future of the church and it’s mission.

The current urban generation, connected by consumerism, social media, and the entertainment industry forms the largest global culture to ever exist. It spans from Europe to South America, from Asia to the Middle East, holding the same values, listening to the same music, watching the same movies, and sharing the same posts.

This global culture is largely influenced by one predominant worldview: secular humanism. God is dead and we are at the centre. In this relativistic culture we are god, and consumerism is our religion. This is a generation that does not look to the church for answers, as it believes it to be a dead and empty tradition of the past. Either there is no God, or if He is there, He doesn’t really interfere with our lives.   

And yet the God of the Bible is on a mission and His heart is broken for this lost generation. The message of His love—the gospel—is for everyone, and it is not right that young people today don’t get to hear it because we’re not making it accessible to them. They don’t come to us, so we need to go to them. As Jesus’ church, we need to realise the necessary changes in mind-set and lifestyle, and the need for a paradigm shift in missions.   

The hope and opportunities come as we see clear signs of God in action, reaching out to the hearts and minds of this generation. There is a deep awareness among young people today that something is missing. This generation is spiritually hungry. This is evident when we listen to the cry resounding throughout the pop-culture and social media around us.

British indie rock artist, Florence Welch, talked about this in a TV interview about her 2018 album High as Hope. She described her awareness of a needy love she had been trying to fill. “Something outside of me needs to fix this. . . . It’s like, I can date the solution, I can drink or take the solution. . . . this record is a recognition of ‘Oh, you can’t’!” When asked about her hit song “Hunger” Florence explained, “I was thinking about something bigger than romantic love. . . . The song kinda came from that idea -what was I looking for that is outside myself?”

This is the key question we should all be asking. The current predominant mindset tells us there is nothing beyond what we see around us. We’ve been brought up to believe that all we need can be found within ourselves. But if we’re honest, we know Florence is right. We need something bigger.

Most of this global generation are interested in spirituality but not formal institutional religion. The shift in culture towards individualism and personal choice has changed how society views God and religion. We define our own belief system and mix beliefs and ideas to fit our preferences. Religion falls among the many options and categories in our consumer habits. And at the end of the day, we are left with the unsettling sense that no one really knows what to believe in anymore.   

There is a cultural gap between this globalised youth culture and the church. But bridging cultural gaps has always been at the core of the missions movement. It was modelled by Jesus’ incarnation, Paul’s mission to the Greeks, Hudson Taylor’s mission to China, and many others throughout the history of missions.

Missions has traditionally meant going to a distant land to learn a new language, eat strange food, and adapt to foreign cultures, but arguably the largest mission field today are the very cities in which we live. We need to practice the same flexibility and cultural adaptability to share Jesus in our own neighbourhood in this time when our faith has been pushed to the margins and is now seen as strange and alien to the culture around us.   

Jesus’ teaching on salt and light gives us clear guidance on how to be in the world yet not of it. Jesus calls us to be distinct (salt that has not lost it’s taste) and influential (that your light may shine!). The problem is that sometimes we, the church, are too salty. We’re so salty that no one can eat the food. We’re so different that no one can understand us; we seem alien to the world around us. In fear of the world, we shut ourselves up in the ghetto and lose our relevance; we have no influence.   

In other cases, we fall to the other extreme. We become the pop church, the hip church, with an influential voice. Our light shines bright, but we have lost our saltiness. We become the same as the world around us, losing our values and identity, losing our distinctness, our focus on the good news of Jesus. This commercial Christianity is filled with quick solutions and easy answers but has no power. Some reject it as just another product on offer, while others consume it but experience no real change. We need to stop offering a cheap Christianity to a generation that is tired of consumerism. We need to leave the ghetto and preach again the genuine and radical message of Jesus.

The mission opportunity here is huge, if we are willing to engage with and speak truth into the cultural scene of this urban generation. Jesus has called us outside the church, to the streets, clubs, festivals, and places where people need to hear the truth. This generation might be steeped in relativism, but there is a deep spiritual hunger. We can look at the mindset around us and the apathy towards Christianity and be fearful to speak, afraid to offend. But if we show people who Jesus really is, and his victory on the cross, then the power of God moves and people want to know Him.  The loneliness and heart-felt need for belonging and true community in this generation is another opportunity for missions today. We all know how hard it can be, especially for a young person, to just walk into a church. So in the same way we boldly speak truth we must also be willing to make disciples in this  scene. Learning to follow Jesus needs to start in the context people come from. This is becoming all things to all men. Not only did Paul go to the Greeks to preach Jesus, but he spent time with them, often years. He lived among them and showed them what it meant to be a Greek who followed Jesus.   

We need to build bridges of discipleship, welcoming people into community and relationship without the formality of a program. A young believer learning to follow Jesus in the scene he comes from, learning to be salt and light to that world, becomes a missionary from day one as he continues to be engaged in his own environment and relationships, leading others to faith.

Luke Greenwood Director, Steiger Europe

Re-imagining Europe

December 3, 2019

Read Vista 34 here

Long after the UK had joined the European Union (on New Year’s Day, 1973) it was not uncommon to hear Brits tell me they were ‘going to Europe for their holiday’. To be fair, when I started visiting the Scandinavian countries, I heard people using similar language. I was completely thrown, however, when friends from Italy, Spain, and Greece, also told me they were ‘going to visit Europe’. This was confusing! Where did they think Europe was?

Other contributors to this edition of Vista have noted similar confusions about the nature of mission in Europe. Some see it as something done by Europeans in other places, not within Europe. African Christians, on the other hand, challenge their European sisters and brothers to think of Europe as precisely a mission field. They are shocked at Europe‘s descent into secularity and are not afraid to describe Europe as a post-Christian continent. Others might consider Europe a ‘dark’ continent.

But, if this is so, is Europe uniformly dark? What happens at its edges? Does the light that (apparently) shines more brightly in Asia or Africa, spill over into the parts of Europe that border these continents? More particularly, which Europe is darkened? The metaphor of ‘people walking in darkness’ is certainly biblical, but its use needs a little more care than is often shown in some of the examples found on mission agency websites and in their literature.

While some of our European contributors agree with the diaspora perspective, several of them express hopeful views. They acknowledge the challenge of secular humanism to the Gospel but point to signs of God at work, challenge Christians to bridge the cultural gap between church and European society, issue a call to make disciples of younger generations, and, as Alex Vlasin suggests, urgently find new ways to ‘voice the gospel’

Evangelical authors, writing about Europe, have used a wider variety of biblical imagery over the last decade or so. David Smith (Mission After Christendom, 2003) suggests that Europeans are like the disciples on the Emmaus road, who have forgotten the Christian story. Jeff Fountain has described Europe as a ‘prodigal’ continent. Others, including Duncan Maclaren (Mission Implausible, 2004), suggest that belief in contemporary Europe is implausible. The mission of the church in Europe is to make faith credible through vital communities of Christians who live and demonstrate the plausibility of the beliefs they profess. The loss of Notre Dame cathedral, in Paris, was described by Mark Thiessen, in the Washington Post (24th April, 2019), as a reminder of the need to rebuild the European church using ‘living stones’ (1 Pet 2:4-5).

Broadening the imagery helps, but so too will expanding our vision of what constitutes Europe. If deciding which countries count as ’Europe’, and which don’t, is a tricky business, then it might be more helpful to talk about Europe in the plural, to accept that there are probably several different versions of Europe. This might then explain why there are some versions of Europe that we like and others that we don’t.

The sheer diversity reflected across the forty-seven member states of the European Council can be confusing, and is often seen in the wide differences of political history, language, religious heritage, cultural identity, climate, proximity, regional variation, political vision, economy, geography, industry, and so on. Lumping all 47 into the same ‘dark continent’ category seems either clumsy or lazy, and possibly both.

Of course, there are barely indisputable facts that European mission agencies and churches must face and, to be honest, many of them are painfully all too aware of the facts. The 2017 Pew Research report (Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe, 2017, p.5-6) noted that ‘Central and Eastern Europeans display relatively low levels of religious observance’ although it also reports that ‘religion has reasserted itself as an important part of individual and national identity’, and ‘solid majorities of adults across much of the region say they believe in God’. Maybe it’s better to say that Central and Eastern Europeans are not god-less, rather that they are not too concerned with what God might expect of them. This is the background for comments in this edition from Alex Vlasin, for example, that the churches of these regions often see themselves as insignificant, under-resourced, and subsequently determined to work in East-West partnerships.

In Western Europe, the Pew Research report Being Christian in Western Europe (2018, p.7) describes European Christians as mostly non-practising rather than non-believing; ‘most adults surveyed still do consider themselves Christians, even if they seldom go to church. …non-practicing Christians […] make up the biggest share of the population across the region. In every country except Italy, they are more numerous than church-attending Christians.’

Across Europe, the greater majority of people who identify as ‘Christian’ are simply de-churched. Many of them were baptised as infants. Many of them are geographically close to a church where Sunday worship still happens. But, sadly, they’ve forgotten the Christian story; they’ve strayed from churches that have disillusioned, ignored, or betrayed them; they no longer find Christian faith plausible; they find Sunday worship boring, irrelevant, or unengaging.

Do these facts alone make Europe a ‘dark continent’ without distinction or difference? The biblical passages that refer to people ‘walking in darkness’ also refer to the light shining upon them. Wherever we imagine Europe begins and ends, even though it may be darkened, the light of Christ still shines there. De-churched Europeans may stumble in the darkness but the light of Christ has not been extinguished.

It’s  possible  that  missionary  efforts that  are  only  directed  towards  rekindling  the  light  of  Christ  through planting  more  new  churches, misunderstand  the  nature  of  the missionary  challenge  in  Europe.  We may  not  like  some  of  the  ways  that Europeans  have  chosen  to  work together  (the  EU,  for  instance?),  and we  may  think  these  should  be  located on  a  scale  somewhere  between strange  to  oppressive,  but  when God’s  people  found  themselves  in similar  situations,  we  read  that  they learned  to  ‘sing  the  Lord’s  song’  in strange  lands  and  though  this  was painful,  they  persisted.  The  early church  also  learned  to  live  as  pilgrims in  a  foreign  land,  a  world  that  was  not their  home.  This  required  a  major reimagining  of  the  world  in  which they  had  previously  lived  as  fully engaged  heathens  and  loyal  subjects.

Maybe  a  deeper  understanding  of Europe  will  help  missionaries  avoid making  a  common  mistake.  That  is, the  mistake  of  assuming  that  they understand  Europe  without  really studying  and  finding  out  more  about it.  Every  one  of  the  contributors  to this  edition  of  Vista  shows  the  hard word  of  thinking  carefully  about Europe.  They  collectively  underscore the  need  for  new  visions  of  Europe, for  a  reimagining  of  the  Europe  that we  thought  we  knew.  It  might  be dark  in  places  but  to  consider  it  dark verywhere  is  unimaginative  and shows  a  lack  of  vision  and understanding.

Christian  missionaries  in  and  to Europe  are  called  to  engage  the Gospel  with  a  more  appropriately imagined  Europe;  a  Europe  that  is wonderfully  yet  frustratingly  diverse. Europeans  might  believe  they  are Christians,  but  the  central  missionary challenge  is  to  be  the  body  of  Christ in  such  a  way  that  Christian  faith  is seen  to  be  plausible,  memorable,  and transformative!  To  believe  that  is possible  requires  us  to  reimagine Europe!

Darrell  Jackson

Visions of Europe

October 31, 2019

Reimagining EuropeEach of us has a perspective on Europe which is unique and valuable, but it is not the whole picture. To see what is really happening with mission in Europe we need to see Europe from different points of view.

The last issue of Vista sought to identify the voices that were often missing from the conversation on mission in Europe: young people, women, Central and Eastern European voices and migrant perspectives. So we invited authors from each of these groups to provide their own unique perspective on mission in Europe.

The lead article by Darrell Jackson introduces the theme and encourages us to embrace the tremendous diversity of Europe as we reimagine how to do mission in contemporary Europe.

Luke Greenwood provides a young people’s perspective and reminds us that beneath the secular veneer of global youth culture lies a deep spiritual hunger. Evi Rodemann highlights some of the challenges and injustices that Christian women endure across Europe whilst pointing to exciting initiatives that women are championing.

Alex Vlasin calls for Eastern and Western churches and agencies to listen to each other and work together, an appeal that is picked up by Harvey Kwiyani whose African view echoes many of the same points.

As editors of Vista our prayer is that this latest issue might help to balance the one-sided perspectives on mission in Europe today.

Jim Memory, Darrell Jackson, Evert Van de Poll,  Jo Appleton

Read Vista 34 here

DIASPORA, EMPIRE AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD

September 19, 2019
Mission to, through, with and from the diaspora church in Europe

As you will be aware, this year’s EEMA conference will be investigating the phenomen of diaspora churches in Europe – whether they are planted by ethnic Europeans migrating within the continent or by people originating in other continents – and asking how these churches navigate between becoming assimilated by the host culture, remaining isolated outposts of their culture of origin or endeavour to develop a ‘kingdom’ culture that transcends both.

This conference will build on the success of two previous initiatives in England, and will bring the learning from those events to a wider European context.  Ben Aldous, a participant in one of those conferences (blogging as The Jazzgoat), commented on it:
“I came away thanking God for the being able to meet Peruvian missiologists, Ethiopian and Lithuanian church planters, Brazilian and Nigerian strategic leaders who are shaping the ecclesial landscape of England in dynamic ways. We have much to learn in pilgrimage together.”

You can read the rest of Ben’s thought-provoking blog here.  If you are involved in mission, church leadership or cross-cultural engagement, can you afford not to join us in Budapest to build on this shared experience and learn together?

Our speakers will include Tayo Arikawe (London City Mission),  John Baxter Brown(Global Connections), Jim Memory, (European Christian Mission), Usha Reifsnider(Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World) and Alex Vlasin (University of Bucharest).

Venue: Hotel Benczur, Budapest
Dates: 25.11.19 (start at 1600) – 27.11.19 (finish at 1400)
Cost: €260 (single room); €215 (twin)

Do please ensure that your networks and agencies know about this event and publicise it for us to ensure the most diverse range of participants possible!

BOOKINGS ARE NOW OPEN!!  JUST CLICK HERE.

Theme 5: Optimism or Despair?

September 7, 2019

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the health of Christianity in Europe? And speaking on behalf of your network, agency or church, what makes you optimistic about the church and mission in Europe?
All the leaders who responded to our questionnaire were optimistic about some aspect of the state of Christianity in Europe, and in some cases markedly so. In short, they all see signs of God working across Europe. A number of common themes emerged from their responses.

Church Planting
Four of the leaders coincided in highlighting church planting initiatives in many countries. Raphael Anzenberger noted that when they started NC2P ten years ago, only three countries were in a national church planting process, whereas today 16 are formally part of their network and in their 2018 gathering 28 nations were represented. Others observed a general “growth of evangelicalism” and “people open to hear about the gospel”. Two specifically mentioned movements of God in Central and Eastern Europe.

Intercession and Mobilisation for Mission
Daniel Constanza of the Pentecostal European Fellowship observes a “renewed fervour for intercession and evangelism in all kinds of forms” and this was echoed by Mike Betts of Relational Mission: “we are mobilising many in prayer right now which will fuel mission”. From a mission agency perspective, John Gilberts of GEM observes “interest of new, younger missionaries to come and serve” and the diaspora church leader, Usha Reifsneider, also sees that “more young people and people who are ready for a second career are joining the work of mission”. Harvey Kwiyani of Liverpool Hope University is more cautious because “most Europeans still do not understand that Europe is a mission field and those who do are still unable to figure out how to engage this new mission field of Europe”.

Younger Leaders
More broadly, the emergence of a new generation of younger leaders was celebrated by many. “God is raising up some amazing younger leaders whose desire is to be part of a movement of God’s Spirit in our content”, said Tony Peck, General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation. Jeff Carter echoes this: “all the agencies and churches that I work with and for would celebrate the emergence of younger leaders who are standing now on the shoulders of those who waded through the tough times”.

Diaspora Churches
Another common positive theme was the impact of diaspora churches in Europe with six of the leaders making some reference to this. Kent Anderson, Director of ECM Britain, sums this up: “The ethnic church has breathed new fervour and vision into the church in many countries. Faith has returned to Europe!” However, different aspects were evident. Some highlighted the challenge and opportunity of reaching out to refugees and asylum seekers. Others observed that churches are emerging as a result of both internal and inward migration (ie. both between European countries and migration into Europe from outside). Harvey Kwiyani, of Liverpool Hope University, noted that “diaspora churches are growing, and as they grow, they are learning what it takes to reach Europeans with the gospel”, whilst Reifsnider observed that diaspora Christians are now being better understood by Europeans.

Partnership
Several leaders also noted the growing number of partnerships across geographic, cultural, linguistic and denominational borders. “There is a growing willingness to cooperate and join forces among evangelical groups”, said Frank Hinkelmann of the EEA. John Carter takes this even further: “There is a platform for open dialogue and a chance to work together…to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to all generations and cultures for those who call Europe home”. Cueva calls this new spirit of misión: “reciprocal collaboration”.

The Church
If there was one theme which elicited both optimistic and pessimistic comments, it was in regard to the church. Several of the leaders pointed to the emergence of more missional forms of church and that many churches have “become places of welcome and grace for people who have been displaced”. But others highlighted persistent institutionalism and the need to develop new wineskins for the new wine that God is fermenting in Europe. Frank Hinkelmann, the President of the European Evangelical Alliance, in particular noted “the erosion of Biblical authority in a number of churches and denominations”. This is undoubtedly a result of the secular public domain which is a reason for pessimism for many, though Tony Peck sees “more Christians “getting out there” in the world of politics and society to witness to Gospel values in a secular pluralist society”.

Hope for Europe
Yet the ultimate reason for hope is not to be found in the signs of optimism listed above but in the promise of God, and that came through loud and clear in the responses from this group of leaders: “Christ has made promises over his church that cannot fail”; “God is sovereign and He is in control of everything….God’s kingdom will be established sooner or later; “The Church belongs to God and God will not forget Europe”; “Jesus promised that he WILL build his church”.

The missiologist Lesslie Newbigin was once interviewed on the radio. The journalist asked, “Bishop Newbigin, are you an optimist or a pessimist about the future of the church?” His response was categorical: “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead”.

The leaders interviewed for this edition of Vista see many signs of hope in Europe today, but they all agree that the ultimate reason for hope is the gospel itself: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ is on the throne and will come again in glory.

Read more in Vista 33: Who speaks for Europe?