Tidal Pool or Billabong?

A few weeks ago a good friend and I met for coffee and were talking about how necessary to the life and vibrancy of a congregation new believers are. The next day I thought it was both funny and pertinent that I came across this quote in The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. It speaks directly to the conversation we had that day…

A billabong is an Australian term for a pond or lake that was once part of the ‘ bend of a river or creek but which has been cut off from the flow as the river slowly changed direction. Many second- or third-generation Christians find themselves in a church billabong. Where once their parents or grandparents were part of a church that was like a flowing stream, now they are trapped in a stagnant backwater. Growing up Christian, they have adopted a middle-class perspective and embraced a certain way of doing church. Their motivation for staying in the church is no longer to fulfill Christ’s mission in this world, but to have their own needs met. If the church doesn’t work through the process of contextualization, this generation of Christians will become the “New Colonials,” as it adds to the gospel according to its own tastes. Just as many colonial-era missionaries added Western democracy, capitalism, pews, pulpits, formal clothing on Sundays, and Western organizational systems and rules to the gospel, those second- (or more) generation Christians today can add their own spin to the essence of Christ’s gospel.

The church ought to be more like a tidal pool than a billabong. In the deep rock pools formed by the ever-swirling surf of the ocean, whole ecosystems can develop, filled with weed, rock crabs, mollusks, etc. If left untouched by the ocean, the pools would overheat in the sun and become stagnant as the sea life dies. What a tidal pool needs is the regular flushing of the ocean as the tide rises and falls sweeping the pool clean each day. Any church that doesn’t engage in the work of contextualization, motivated by a heart for local mission, overheats and becomes stagnant. It’s in the engagement with not-yet-Christians that we regularly adjust our language and its idioms, our practices, our emphases, and our worship life. We need to be regularly swept by incoming new Christians.

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