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Notice how many buddha statues or wall hangings are for sale in local garden centres, or in home improvement centres, or cosmetic shops.
One of the ripest mission fields in Europe today is right under our noses. But too few churches and ministries are adapting their priorities and plans to reap the harvest.
Recently my wife and I drove through a new residential neighbourhood of Den Bosch, a traditionally Catholic city in the Netherlands, and were staggered to see so many buddha statues in the gardens. In our own otherwise typically Dutch neighbouring town, a larger-than-life buddha stands in the front garden of a house on the main road. Notice how many buddha statues or wall hangings are for sale in local garden centres, or in home improvement centres, or cosmetic shops offering ‘Rituals’ decorated by buddhas. We are witnessing a subtle but major shift in spiritual values.
This should not surprise us. It is the result of the rejection of organised religion in western Europe. Secularism is not filling the spiritual vacuum, so many turn to eastern-flavoured spirituality, following the example of Hollywood stars like George Clooney and Richard Gere.
The Dutch weekly, Elsevier, ran a cover story on this phenomenon some time ago, claiming that about one in four Dutch people consider themselves to be ‘spiritual but not religious’; meaning, they do not go to church or the mosque but engage in some spiritual ritual of their own choosing. One in four! That, according to the magazine, was more than all who claimed a ‘religious’ affiliation.
This surely should demand a major shift in missions strategy of our local churches and denominations. But are we recognising this challenge and opportunity?
Jari Koivu, originally from Finland, is one who realised the potential of this mission field over ten years ago when he attended a Consultation on Evangelism in a New Age we had organised in Basel, Switzerland. Practioners already involved in ministry to spiritual seekers mixed with others who came to learn and get fresh direction.
Jari tells on his website how he and his wife Tanya, then based in Cyprus, decided as a result of this consultation to explore this new type of missional outreach. They recognised that alternative spirituality was no longer a fringe phenomenon. New spiritual movements were spreading and offering healing & wellness, as well as esoteric experiences.
The following year they moved to Canada where their ‘missional shift’ has since grown into an international network aiming to bring the love and power of Jesus into the spiritual marketplaces of Europe and North America. Their teams have ministered at many holistic health and alternative spirituality expos, with hundreds becoming followers of Jesus and many reporting healings.
Jari wrote me some time ago with a problem. Many people were coming to a fresh faith in Jesus but could not relate to the sub-cultures of existing churches. Jari wanted to start a fresh wineskin for these new believers, but was himself too often on the road to be able to provide the necessary pastoral care. What should he do? A great problem to have!
Another problem Jari regularly experiences is that the Open Sky Cafes he sets up in New Age fairs attract so many people that the organisers threaten to close his stand down; not because it is Christian, but because other stands complain about the aisles being blocked. Jari warns his volunteers that people will stand in line for a whole hour wanting to be prayed for, the spiritual hunger he repeatedly encounters is so great.
As with any unreached people group, mission strategy requires learning effective communication approaches. Rather than using Christian jargon, Jari and his team have sought to use the language seekers understand while not losing biblical content.
As the pastor of the Catch the Fire Fellowship in Toronto, Steve Long, says on Jari’s website, the challenge today is that most people don’t come from a Christian perspective. Those who are ‘spiritual’ don’t think the Christian faith has anything to offer, so they are looking to the mystics and new age genres. Jari’s gift, he adds, is to be able to equip people to talk the language of the spiritual seekers.
Professor G.W. Brodland of Waterloo, Ontario, writes how Jari ‘gives his listeners the understanding, tools and language they need to break out of traditional mindsets’.
Greg Riddle, a missionary pastor, describes how Jari equipped his church to engage in Mind, Body and Soul fairs both in the south of Cyprus and the Turkish north of Cyprus. “God moves the same, regardless of culture,” he concludes.
Are we ready for a ‘missional shift’?
PS: Next Sunday, May 21, Jari and Tanya will be in Heerde, the Netherlands, to hold a ‘Carry the Light’ seminar designed to equip people for this sort of work. This will be held in Centrum ’s Heerenhof, Zwarteweg 10, Heerde, from 15.00-21.00. All are welcome. For further information: firstname.lastname@example.org