Being In But Not Of: Effective Alternative Ministry

Peter Wohler - The Source

My experience and observation of the "Counter Culture" is seeing it evolve from a definable segment of society in the 60's and 70's, to establishing sub-cultures with the "Counter Culture" in the 80's and early 90's, to now in this last decade having so many different subcultures that consider themselves alternative.

Once you could define the alternative types by the appearance, music style and lifestyle. Tattoos, colored hair, piercing, and funky hair have crossed into the mainstream. After all, Nirvana was the alternative band that went platinum.

But still there remains in the population of the West a definite element that either desires or has just found that they are part of those who are not part of the mainstream. These alternative types, though they would see themselves as very different, after all what does the gutter punk, rainbow kid, hardcore, raver, hippie kid, have in common?

*Similarities of Counter Culture/Alternative Types

  • Hate corporate
  • Value organic vs. conventional
  • Don't want to be treated as a number
  • Value relationship vs. task
  • Value authenticity vs. artificial
  • Holistic vs. Compartmentalized
  • Want something fresh, vs. stagnant
  • Want to make a difference

Their culture, childhood, peers, and experience have also given them a similar view of the Church of Jesus Christ and Jesus himself (corporate, conventional, treat people like numbers, task-driven, artificial, compartmentalized, stagnant, and not doing anything to make a real difference.) It would not be hard to go to a common coffee shop in any of our cities and find a 19 year old who would respond to, "what does it mean to be a Christian," with "going to church on Sunday" or "the ten commandments." A God of love and forgiveness, redemption, atonement, A God that has a plan for each life, or a truly personal relationship with the God of the universe would be void of their vocabulary and of their worldview.

"Being in but not of" (John 17)

A true key to effective alternative ministry, given to us (John ch. 17) by Jesus when he prayed in Gethsemane in his last moments before taken to be crucified is for us to be "In but not of the world". Mark 16:15 Jesus instructed, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." Not just go into the global world, but to also go into all the world's subcultures as well. In Mathew 5:14 we understand the need for us to be light in darkness. The alternative culture is the keepers of the dark places in our society. For many of those we reach out to it is the norm that we are the only representatives of Jesus that they know and trust. And we are the only ones praying for these individuals to overcome their pasts and began a new life with Jesus.

Being effective at being a light in darkness involves being

  1. In the world (being culturally relevant and relational)
  2. Not being of the world.

Being In

Most models of outreach and evangelism within the church rarely reflect being relational or culturally relevant. "Going to" the world (by coming into proximity during an outreach night and throwing some tracts and words) should not be mistaken with being in the world. I know gutter punks with tract collections. Half the young people we reach out to have been raised in the church and they have seen hypocrisies first hand.

Going through the external motions because you are "supposed to" to appease some ancient ritual vs. having a relevant and valid reason. Why believe what a stranger says to a crowd from a stage or on the street corner? His motives, "to serve the corporation he works for, ahead of my best interest," are ultimately questioned.

They don't need someone to just tell them about Jesus, they need someone to be Jesus to them. They will not follow what logically make sense. Their lives are full of hurt, pain, and abandonment (if not directly they have seen it in their peers - which most of the time is closer than family).

They will follow what they see and experience to be real. When they see and experience real love through a relationship of someone they have grown to trust, and then they are willing to be open about Jesus.

The Joshua House, Source's transitional/discipleship housing has seen young men make radical, lasting, life changes. One young man had as many as 20 friends come up to him after he had been there a few months and ask, "What happened to you? You used to be angry, depressed; using drugs, and out of control with your life. Now we see a real change." He had the opportunity to tell them it was Jesus growing him. When those friends saw and experienced something real, they inquired about what it was and were open to investigate if it could be something for them personally.

Most people believe Christians do not relate to them. For many it is a paradigm shift to meet a Christian they can relate to who is more concerned about being real vs. putting on a facade of perfection.

When people are treated as individuals vs. a number they are more willing to let others speak into their lives. When relationships are valued more than the number attending, you begin to communicate community vs. corporation. Many times it is the difference of quality vs. quantity.

The good Shepherd leaves the 99 and searches for the one that is lost, taking time and energy for the individual. A two-hour conversation would be consistent with "organic" or relational evangelism in comparison to a five-minute presentation. And most likely the first 90 minutes was spent listening to the individual.

Organic/relational evangelism also does not subscribe to the, "one size fits all," method. It embraces seed planting, looking for ways to serve and pray for, and getting to know the individual over time to be able to personalize how God can affect an individual's life.

It is ironic that the evangelical speaks of a personal relationship with God but often displays only impersonal expressions. Relationships were core to the ministry of Jesus. He changed the world by spending three years with twelve. Not by having the biggest show in town, but by genuinely displaying love and being relational with individuals do we earn the right to speak into others' lives.

Another attribute of alternative types is they will readily identify if something is only surface deep. Being authentic is a core value of this generation and the fact that it is so hard to find makes it even more attractive.

Their hearts hunger for intimacy and know that authenticity is an ingredient. Valuing relationships, allowing each other to remove masks without being rejected and growing from weakness are all attributes of authenticity. And when anybody comes in contact with it, it forces him or her to figure out what the source is.

Being culturally relevant is the other aspect of "Being in" goes hand in hand with being relational.

  1. knowing culture,
  2. Being in culture,
  3. being in culture allows you the opportunity and right to begin to make contact to speak into individuals' lives (or being relational).

The reverse is true as well in that how can you be relational with people if you don't know and are not in their culture.

I can know culture and be in culture by being willing to be vulnerable, to go to where they are at, to hang with them, to ask questions about their world, and to demonstrate that I can relate to them (this really isn't that hard to do you just got to be willing to go). Through prayer, gathering others with similar vision, discernment, and willingness to fail I can find cultural bridges to befriend people, grow relationships, and communicate the Good News of Jesus. I can be culture.

Shouldn't we through the power of the Holy Spirit be able to be more creative, have more passion, establish more energy, and impact and lead culture more powerfully than any pagan (as in Paul's use of pagan, "without Jesus) is able to muster?

But not of

The inherent trap of alternative ministry is to be swayed from God's kingdom by the cultures values. As much as we should be in and want to be a friend and a voice... As much as we want to treat people with gentleness and respect... We cannot be of. We are different. We have a master. We have sold ourselves, our rights, our lives. We are called to morals and obedience. When a Christian enters the alternative scene, there should be no greater contrast in our society.

The alternative culture is the junior high kid of our society's family - the one that knows enough to point out the flaws in the family, but doesn't have the tools or maturity to figure out how to bring healthy change. So often, the alternative element of the family goes and seeks the dysfunctional neighbor kids for acceptance and rejects the family relationships.

It's time for us to move forward. It's time for us to grow up and bring to the table the grace that Christ has given us. We are a part of the Body of Christ. Be in every area of culture, but being of is being severed from the body.

I've ministered with those who were passionate about the Kingdom, now settle for serving mother earth or worse, rogue self.

Individuals, who began being hurt, frustrated, sometimes not accepted with the Church. Who made reaching out more important than keeping Jesus fresh in their lives? Who gave up on meeting together for prayer and encouragement? Who used legalistic pasts as excuse to give up on the spiritual disciplines and not wean themselves off the bottle?

Many churches may reject your method of reaching out, but I guarantee you there are plenty of suburban church women's circles full of people who love Jesus that would pray for you daily, no matter what you look like, if they knew you were trying to reach the unreachable for Jesus.

There lies the challenge. How do we show love and acceptance to the individual while not being of their culture? We do this by searching for the ways of their culture we can accept. By showing we are interested and will love the individual. And we best love by keeping Jesus fresh in us. By being in (relational and culturally relevant) and not being of this world.

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