Somewhere, everywhere, people are connecting socially. From the beginning of time and throughout Scripture, God’s people have patterned their lives around celebration, feasts, social gatherings, levity, story-telling, eating, drinking, laughter, and listening.
For God’s ancient fans, a good ol’ fashioned party helped create a social connection that made spiritual connection possible. It used to be that it was always five o’clock somewhere, but sadly, over the last century, the church has become the last one to the party.
Growing up as a Nazerene boy, I heard that “good Christians” don’t smoke, drink, chew, or have friends that do. As such, I didn’t venture out to the movies, look at art, or play cards, and I had to listen to all my secular music undercover. My friends were Christians—all of them.
As I entered training for ministry, though, and really studied Jesus’ life, I realized that my perception of what it meant to be a good Christian didn’t allow me to really live like Jesus had lived. My new reading of Jesus’ life, however, didn’t square with my seminary professor’s interpretation. He suggested that all wine in the New Testament was simply grape juice, and he made it clear that leading and planting churches required that we abstain from having a beer with neighbor.
Now, of course, I don’t believe that someone must drink alcohol to follow Jesus, nor do I think a great party requires any alcohol at all, but for some reason the church has communicated that the world—and alcohol specifically—must be avoided at all costs. We’ve lost our ability to enjoy human celebration, and the church has suffered because of it. We have a systemic problem of legalism and fear, and we’ve failed to build a level of friendship with people that’s needed.
A Call Back to Mission
As the attractional church experience continues to lose influence, we will find that old methods and measurements won’t unlock a better day for the church. We now live in a pure mission field and what a mission field needs more than anything is missionaries—people who seek to live as Jesus lived. Jesus can’t just be the center of our theology. He must also be our model for missiology, how God entered the human story and influenced thousands. There’s no escaping the fact that Jesus was a friend of sinners.
I am the US Director for a missions training network called Forge, which exists to train men and woman to live as missionaries where they already do life. That is, we believe every neighborhood is now a pure missionary context like Spain, Italy, Iceland, or Nova Scotia. And in a pure missionary context, the church can no longer ask people to come to us and our church services anymore. We must be the “sent ones” again. We must be missionaries, and missionaries in all contexts always start in the same place: They start where the culture is and find ways to create neutral, enjoyable, space where humans can connect, identify, and learn the context of one another’s story.
In Acts 10 we have a story of two parties that changed the church and, in turn, changed the world. The first happened when Peter invited some Roman men into the home where he was staying, and the second happened when the Roman men reciprocated and invited Peter into their home. Both open tables tore down long held barriers between people groups, between faith and doubt. The table was the place people were accepted and served. It’s where personal stories tore down assumptions, judgments, stereotypes, and fears that kept the gospel from doing its work. It’s been Happy Hour everywhere but in the church, and that must change.