DALLAS, Texas – There’s a good reason why a Christian might not feel completely comfortable inviting someone to church, said Jim Milley, a former missionary to Ethiopia and the founder of Bridges.
“There’s a tension within us. We want to invite our friends to church. We love our church. Yet, when we get [to the point of inviting friends] there is something that happens, and we don’t issue the invitation.”
The reason Milley told those attending his seminar at last week’s 2014 National Gathering of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians and the Fellowship of Presbyterians, is that the “culture in the church has become completely different than the culture outside the church, and it is not your fault. It is not your church’s fault.”
Milley said that 100 million people go to church in the United States. “The challenge is that there are 200 million who don’t go to church anywhere and Jesus says to us ‘Go and make disciples.’”
During his seminar, Milley showed a photo of a bridge, which used to span the river, until a hurricane changed the water’s course. Now, the bridge sits on dry land.
He asked if it was a good bridge, to which he received answers of both “yes” and “no.”
“This is a symbol of the church in America,” he said. “The church is a good church. It was built by faithful, dedicated people. It is serving dedicated Christians.”
But for those who don’t attend church, who live on the other side of the river, and look back at the bridge (or the church), it doesn’t make much sense, he said. “The bridge (or church) is not necessarily relevant … as good as the bridge is, everything around it has changed.”
The church has a new challenge, said Milley. “The culture on the other side of the river is different from this culture on this of the bridge … If I invite someone to church, I have to ask her to cross that river, and that is hard.”
Milley said that the church in Ethiopia is growing because “ordinary folks like you and me have learned how to cross the river and be Christian people where they live and work, everyday,” and that is something believers in America need to learn.
“If we view the U.S. as a mission field, and understand that we have not been taught the skills of cross-cultural ministry – and there is no way we could have been, since when the river went under the bridge we didn’t need them – it’s a whole new adventure,” he said.
Referring to the Scripture where Jesus said “Go and make disciples,” Milley pointed out that Jesus is saying “Go. Not come. Not go and invite. But go. We cross the river … If you want to live like missionaries in America, the first thing you have to do is go. You plant yourself.”
A missionary leaves the church culture, swims across the river and joins the group, whether it is a biker club or a mommy and me group, said Milley.
Pointing to the photo, Milley said that there are 200 million people across that river and most of them will not come to church, “so instead of inviting them, go and join them. … We must make a conscious choice to go and join the group instead of sitting on the bridge.”
Milley is the founder of Bridges, a ministry whose mission is to provide the very best support and capacity for leaders wanting to start new Christ-following communities, especially among people who think church is irrelevant.