We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

One of the classic movies in American culture has been the Wizard of Oz. Many of you know the story. When a tornado blows through the Kansas farmland, Dorothy gets hit in the head by a window, knocking her unconscious. She has this dream that the tornado has picked up the house and plopped it down somewhere over the rainbow. She wakes up and doesn’t recognize where she is. She’s in some strange foreign land and there are these little people called Munchkins. It’s all a big shock to her system. She has never been away from home before. She’s trying to figure out this strange, new world, when she exclaims to her dog, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!”

That’s a phrase that describes a lot of this unsettled feeling that many in the church have today. We look around at the world around us and we don’t recognize it. It doesn’t resemble the world we grew up in. On some days, it feels like a foreign country. There are now more people who recognize that the Starbucks logo means Starbucks, and that the Golden Arches mean McDonalds, than there are people who recognize that the cross indicates a church. Almost ¼ of Americans now claim no religious affiliation. And an increasing number of Christians in their mid-40s and younger are consciously choosing not to go to any organized church on Sunday morning. We’re not in Kansas anymore.

What do we do? How do we begin to address a world of rapid, discontinuous change that is so very different from the one we grew up in? Where do we start? How do we begin? One place we begin is by looking at the scriptures for how God’s people have done this before. One such time was in 586 BC, when the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah fell to King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. Their country was demolished, their temple was destroyed, and the people were demoralized. They were carried away into exile in a foreign country that they didn’t like, didn’t understand, and didn’t want to live in. They had to go through a paradigm shift. In other words, they had to shift their mental models of what the world was supposed to look like, what the world was actually like, and what they were called to do. They had to learn to live in exile.

In Jeremiah 29, God shows the Israelites how to adapt to this strange, new, cultural situation that was foreign to them. These instructions were summarized in verse 7 – “Seek the welfare of the community where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.” God was telling them that they needed to move out of their homes and their buildings and engage their local community. They needed to get out and meet people. They needed to interact with the people who lived there and work for the betterment of the community. This is what missionaries do. When missionaries move into a new community, they get to know people, spend time with them, build relationships with them, find community groups to join, and seek to disciple the unchurched. They seek to build bridges with people who are not following Jesus. They work for the common welfare of the community and earn people’s trust, because they know their welfare is tied up in their community’s welfare.

I believe this is what God is calling us to do today. Rather than expecting or hoping that people will magically discover us and come to us, we need to go to them. We need to adopt this missional mindset that we are a sent people, sent out into our community by God to function as missionaries, to bless, to serve, and to heal. We love people, serve people, and make friends with people unconditionally, whether they ever believe in our message or not. This kind of approach requires that we “think outside the box.” It means that we have to be willing to experiment with new forms of worship and ministry. It means that we have to be creative and innovative and develop a new missional imagination. When the world around you shifts, and the old ways are no longer effective, it requires a lot of experimentation to figure out how to connect the unchanging gospel to a rapidly changing world, in ways that make sense to people, and connect with their stories.

We’re not in Kansas anymore. It’s easy to get disoriented. And yet God still invites us to join His world changing mission. God continues to go ahead of us. He sends us out into our community to make a difference in our world. We are called to engage our neighbors, the people who live around us, and the community we live in. We must learn to live like exiles. We must learn to live like missionaries. God is sending us out every day. Don’t be afraid to go.

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