As a church, we do our best to promote the message of Jesus in a contemporary, up-to-date, relevant way. We're called the modern Jesus army for that reason. Even that sounds a bit late eighties. But what else? 'The post-modern Jesus army' sounds like an email inbox. The '21st century Jesus army' sounds like sci-fi or a latter-day crusade. And resorting to the passing phraseology of youth culture has its own dangers - I suspect 'the sick Jesus army' may give the wrong impression to anyone over 30.
So, the mJa it is.
It's always a challenge – how to take a timeless message and press home its extraordinarily timely relevance to every man, woman and child – now. To find a language and a lifestyle that will truly engage our ‘today’ world, a world so used to ‘spin’. (I noted that Barack Obama’s inauguration speech this Tuesday was criticised by the media as ‘failing to soar’ just because the new US president – commendably, in my view – refused to tub-thump, but spoke of hard things like responsibility and challenge.)
How do we steer a course between empty sloganeering and dour moralising? We want to bring both the life-changing wonder and the razor-edged challenge of Jesus and His message.
Sometimes aspects of our outreach (think fluro plastic crosses) can come in for some jibing. I recently had a brief – in the end, thankfully, friendly – exchange with another Christian blogger about this very thing in fact.
We urgently want to be able to communicate with UK youth in a culture that is adrift from its Christian heritage. It comes down to demonstrating reality. Living love. Speaking truth in ‘yoof’. But it has to be beyond cliché. It has to be obviously lived.
The residential community lifestyle that some of us practice is, I hope and pray, a demonstration of this. An alternative slap bang in the middle of UK towns and cities. Because if its not, it will just become a ‘weird religious set-up’. God deliver us.
We’re by no means the only church engaging with this challenge, to say and to be the gospel in today’s UK. Along with other Christian churches and movements, the Jesus Army recently featured in a Times Online article (see p.2 for the JA) about using graffiti to communicate the gospel. Check out the pictures (image 4,5, & 6 are the JA).
There’s red crosses, Christian graffiti, colourful buses and all that jazz. There’s Christian community – people living together and flinging the doors open to all to ‘come and see’. There’s our three Jesus Centres with their work particularly focused on the disadvantaged.
But behind it all, if we’re going to reach this generation, there has to be God. The ultimate communicator. The One whose Word became flesh, lived, breathed, stopped breathing on a Roman cross, started breathing again in a borrowed tomb, and is breathing His Spirit into His church today.
Jesus, Word of God, give us the words to make you known.