In our Flourish Collective Academy, we train congregational leaders to shift their thinking from being at home in Jerusalem, to being on mission in exile. You’ll see in the following slides that we have asked a few questions and compared the answer coming from two perspectives. The first perspective is the non-exile, we’re at home in Jerusalem all safe and sound. The second is an answer that we might expect from God’s people who were enslaved in Babylon, the city of their pagan conquerers.
As God’s people found themselves in a radically different culture and context, the comfortable answers of home no longer answer the fresh questions in exile. I would suggest that the column on the right provides some good insight for the church today.
- We no longer have the authority we used to in declaring what is right, good, and holy. The traditional approaches to using power will no longer work to create a culture that resembles us. This is a good thing, causing us to rethink the kind of power we have employed.
- The idea of shalom now shifts from something that we expect God to grant us, to something that we should seek on behalf of the “godless” city we now find ourselves in. This is a stunning counter-intuitive calling for God’s people. It is a reframing that comes with a promise. Seeking the peace and prosperity of San Diego (or insert the name of your city), will allow us to experience peace and prosperity ourselves. To shalomify our city is to seek the common good.
- The call upon God’s people remains the same. We have been blessed in order to be a blessing to the nations (Gen 12). Back in the day when we were at home in our culture, it might have been easy to believe we were seeking the shalom of all. In exile, we can now test if we actually want to be a blessing to other nations. The call of God doesn’t change. If anything, the enormity of the task is front and center because our relative lack of concern for other nations is now front and center. In exile, we are asked to bless people very different from us, even those we perceive potentially hostile to us.
- The holy and sacred tasks change in exile. In Jerusalem, the people who served God did sacred things like offer sacrifices, pray, and beseech (and such). In exile, ordinary everyday tasks were what God told to his people to do to shalomify Babylon. (To get the full impact of this point requires a robust understanding of calling, vocation, work and economics, which is the very reason for why Flourish San Diego exists.)
Finally, I’d like to leave a thought in your head. I’m inclined to believe that work of people like Lee Beach and Michael Frost are correct and very helpful. Lee Beach, in his excellent book, “The Church in Exile: Living in Hope after Christendom,” suggests that we can learn a lot not only from the exile, but also from the subsequent persistent dispersion (or diaspora) of Jews. (There is just too much to say about this great book here.) While some or even many Jews returned to Jerusalem, Walter Brueggemann writes in Beach’s Forward, that the new reality for many Jews of the Diaspora was learning how to live and practice the faith in new contexts far from home and with little expectation of returning to an “old normalcy.”
The application for the church in N. America today is clear. The days of doing church from a place of cultural power are gone and may never come back. This is probably a good thing since the task of being the church in this new world will require fresh ways of living and practicing the Way in a world far from home and where there is little expectation of returning to the old and comfortable normal.
So, let’s settle down and seek the shalom of our cities.