Wednesday, June 22, 2011

PANORAMA - living toward a wider vista

For those of us who are ministers and leaders in the local church, there is a long list of things that we do. Included are activities such as preaching and teaching, praying for the distressed and sick, visiting people in the hospital, providing activities for children and students, planning worship, dealing with personnel matters, creating opportunities for fellowship, managing finances, and the list goes on and on. While good, worthy, and necessary, these 'must do's' can at times become ends in themselves, unless broader and ultimate purposes are kept clearly in view.

All good and worthy activity can lapse into training people in how to exist for the sake of the church. We can subtly communicate that one's highest calling is to support the organizational objectives of the church, to show up at every church event, and to speak and behave in a churchly manner. The objectives can become getting people into the church building and then teaching them our language, disconnecting them from old friends, reconnecting them to us, re-arranging their schedule around church events, and instructing them to give time, money and service to support the church. In so doing, we risk reorienting their lives solely toward church, and thus, making them into churchly Christians. In the end, they become ghettoized.

To ensure that means remains means and not become ends, we must continually ask - Does our activity lead toward the formation of character and the development of competencies that will move people toward faithful presence and clear witness in the world? If we only teach people how to be morally good and to behave in church, then we have failed. They must be formed in such a way that they can live - fully, faithfully live - in the world - at work, school, home, on the road, at the sporting event, on vacation, at the family reunion, at the funeral, in the hospital, during elections, in job loss, at news of cancer, in an earthquake, or in a national disaster.

In Letters and Papers from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer conceives the Christian life as one not lived toward religion but toward the world. "The 'religious act' is always something partial; 'faith' is something whole, involving the whole of one's life. Jesus calls men, not to a new religion, but to life" (362). Christianity for the sake of Christianity, holiness for the sake of holiness, and church for the sake of church are insufficient aims. As Christ came for others, loved others, and suffered and died for others, we are called to do the same. Christians, according to Bonhoeffer, "must live a 'secular' life and thereby share in God's suffering. ... It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life" (361). To be alive in Christ is to be alive to the world; to give our lives to Christ is to give ourselves to the world.

Among actions that ghettoize Christians, two are probably most common. First, we demonize culture, and thereby, encourage Christians to withdraw from the world. When culture is named as the enemy, we explicitly communicate that people should oppose or fear 'the culture'. The truth is that the gospel cannot be separated from 'the culture', as it is always clothed in culture of some sort - language, technology, structures, music, processes, forms, etc. Thus, the gospel happens in the stream of life, and must continually intersect with culture, speak into it, and become party to it (contextualization). This is not the weakness of the gospel but its power. The gospel must dress itself in 'the culture', or it is not present and at work. And by being present and at work in the culture, gospel mends and restores culture to its higher purposes. But by naming 'the culture' as the enemy, we merely urge people to join a ghettoized religious culture and rob the wider culture of the salt and light of the gospel.

Second, we segregate mission from evangelism. We have made mission what groups of specialized, highly trained professionals do in Japan, Cambodia, or Peru (the world). On the other hand, evangelism is what the rest of us do occasionally as part of our church obligation. Thus, missionaries go to the world and become like the world to which they are called. Church members go to church and go out from the church now and then to evangelize people into the church.

Divides between church and world, mission and evangelism are artificial and unfortunate. There should not be two opposing cultures - church and world, two activities - mission and evangelism, or two kinds of people - missionaries and church members. The church exists in and for the world. Every Christ follower is meant to participate in God's mission in and to the world. Whenever the church exists for its own growth, its programs, and its success, the church looses sight of its essential purpose of forming and equipping Christ followers to be a faithful presence in and a clear witness to the world.

The aim of forming people toward the world has caused a group of pastors, missionaries, and educators to create a unique, church-based, world-focused learning experience called Panorama. Panorama is forty plus web-based lessons designed to be facilitated in a local church setting. The lessons address issues related to faithful presence and clear witness, such as approaching people of other faiths, cross-cultural living, contextualization of the gospel, language learning, teamwork, etc. We believe these approaches and skills, once thought to be only necessary for missionaries in international settings, are essential for the formation of believers who live in such places as Waco, Tulsa, and Little Rock.

Panorama has been developed with three premises in mind: life transformation is the goal, facilitated group learning is the means, and reflective practice is the dynamic. Therefore, those who facilitate Panorama in their local church must understand these aims and processes. Thus far, approximately seventy people from twenty churches have participated in seven Facilitators Workshops. I invite you to join us for the next workshop on August 5-6, 2011 or September 9-10, 2011. To learn more about Panorama and to register for one of the upcoming workshops, go to, or contact Remey Terrell at

The presence of the church in the world must be more than its facilities or programs, and the witness of the church must be more than what is spoken from the pulpit or in a Sunday School class. The church is those of us who have been captured by Jesus Christ and are continually being formed to live and speak in such a way that those with whom we work, play, eat, weep, celebrate, listen to music, view movies, drink coffee, and live life may see truth and experience love. In this manner, we - the church - live toward a wider vista, join a greater mission.