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Fortress vs. Mission Outpost

This morning my youngest son and I had the opportunity to give a presentation on our recent trip to Indonesia. We talked about some of the cultural and church similarities/differences we experienced. Even though there are many cultural differences in customs, language, food and dress style, we also saw many similarities: friendships, family, and a yearning for purpose and meaning. Likewise, we witnessed many church differences such as worship and dress styles, structures, facilities, plans, and programs. But we also saw many similarities: hospitality, the love of Christ, the Gospel, and the same mission—to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20).

One of the most challenging lessons we learned, however, was something many of the Indonesian churches had that we should share in common, but, unfortunately, we rarely do. My conviction is that if American churches do not recapture this element found in these Indonesian churches, our churches will continue to face stagnation, decline and, eventually, death.

What my son and I saw in the Indonesian churches was the concept of MISSION OUTPOST versus FORTRESS. A fortress is a place to keep all the good people in and keep all the bad people out. A mission outpost is a place to train people in order to send them out. A fortress is a place with high walls. A mission outpost doesn’t have any walls. A fortress focuses more on what’s going on inside the walls. A mission outpost focuses more on what’s going on outside the perimeter. A fortress is a place where people complain about the food and how their needs (i.e. wants) are not being met. People in a mission outpost don’t have time to complain about the food and their preferences, because they are being sent out on mission.

The churches we visited in Indonesia are poor. Many of their preachers are uneducated farmers who have been discipled, equipped and empowered to use their gifts and lead (Acts 4:13). The churches reach into their communities, not as much by programs they offer in their small buildings, but by engaging people in the fields and marketplaces. Thus, many of the churches we visited are less concerned about what they’re doing in their buildings than what they’re doing outside their buildings. The building simply becomes a mission outpost as a worship and training hub for their people. But the “real church” exists as people love, serve, reach, disciple, and care for others in their villages.

My prayer for the Indonesian Church is not that it gets more money or better church programs or padded pews or higher quality musical instruments. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit continues to fan into flame their passion to serve as a mission outpost and not develop a fortress mentality.

Guess what my prayer is for the American Church? You got it. Not that we get more money or better church programs or nicer padded pews or higher quality musical instruments. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit fans into flame our passion to serve as a mission outpost and forsake our fortress mentality.

Brian McLaren once wrote, “We don’t recruit people to be customers of our products or consumers of our religious programs; we recruit them to be colleagues in our mission. The church doesn’t exist to satisfy the consumer demands of believers; the church exists to equip and mobilize men and women for God’s mission in the world.”

Fortresses may offer security, but that security is temporal. Fortresses may offer safety, but that safety is temporal. One day we will have an eternal fortress with streets of gold and pearly gates. But for now, we don’t have a fortress; we have a mission, and that mission is to equip and mobilize men and women to make disciples of Jesus. Then one day, we will all gather in our heavenly fortress where the “gates will never be shut by day” (Revelation 21:25) and where no one will be found complaining about the food (Luke 14:15).

The Apologetics Difference

Typically, when I run across the same idea three times in a row, I recognize the need to stop and listen. Perhaps God is trying to get my attention. That happened this past week, starting with a book I’m reading by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. called, Loving God with All Your Mind. Veith writes to Christian students in the universities to withstand the attacks on their faith and to show them “how the life of the mind, in whatever discipline they are called to, is worth pursuing for God’s sake.”

My second encounter was in a conversation with Dr. Dave Faust, President of Cincinnati Christian University, and soon to be Senior Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church. Dave was telling me about the phenomenal response CCU had regarding a recent lectureship by Ravi Zacharias, the premiere Christian apologist of our age. Dave went on to describe how a pastor, Jeff Vines, leads a weekend retreat every year with graduating seniors in their church to equip them in apologetics before they go on to college. Great idea. One I’d like to implement here.

My third encounter was with my oldest son, Will, who is going on to college this fall. He saw the movie, “God’s Not Dead,” recently, and he also had been reading through some atheist websites regarding their attacks on Christianity and the Bible. We had a good talk about how antagonists of the Faith will twist and misuse Scripture in an attempt to “prove” the Bible is false.

These three encounters happened in such close proximity of time that I realized the importance of this crucial issue: Apologetics. The Apostle Peter tells us to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). He goes on to say that we are to have a good conscience so that “when [we] are slandered, those who revile [our] good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (v. 16).

Did you notice the word, “when”? Peter doesn’t say that we might be slandered, or if we are slandered, but when we are slandered. Even if we are prepared to make a defense for the hope we possess, even if we do so with gentleness and respect, even if our consciences are clear, we WILL be slandered. But what does Peter say is the answer to that slander? Our “good behavior in Christ.”

Our critics will not always be impressed with our logical defense of the faith. But our behavior is compelling. Here’s the good news in all of this. For those of us who feel ill-prepared when it comes to defending what we believe and why we believe it, our most important apologetic is how we behave. Now, this doesn’t let us off the hook of not preparing to defend the hope we possess with gentleness and respect. But it assures us that if we get tongue-tied, or we can’t remember the Scripture reference we were going to quote, or our mind goes blank when someone asks us a critical question about Creation vs. Evolution, we can still live out the Gospel in holiness and love.

Jesus Himself said, “They will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). He also said, “For the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). What fruit are you bearing? How are you demonstrating love for one another? That may be the most important apologetic your friend, co-worker or neighbor needs to see the difference Jesus makes in our lives and in this world.

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