“There has to be something more.”
This is the phrase that Ian Green hears most often from Christians around the world today. As a former youth pastor, an international speaker and founder of the Proton Foundation – a launch pad for transformational projects based in the United Kingdom – Ian travels extensively sharing a message of the transformational power of God’s kingdom. It’s a message that says, “Yes, there is much more” and following a recent visit to Canada, Ian shared how it’s time to move into a new understanding about God’s kingdom.
“There are people now around the world reasoning that there must be more [to the Great Commission] than there has been to this point,” says Ian in an interview from his home in Bedworth, UK.
He acknowledges that local churches have been trying to address the cultural and spiritual shift that’s happening around the world, but have fallen short of finding a solution.
“We’ve tried changing the music. We’ve altered our service formats. We’ve been launching small groups, adding more video, using social media. All those things are fine, but they haven’t fixed anything because none of that addresses the root problem, which is that we need to change our thinking about what is church, what is our place in the world and what we are called to do.”
It’s a strong message, but Ian is steadfast in his belief that breaking down barriers in our thinking and between each other is critical to unleashing the kingdom on earth.
“Churches are trying to survive by competing with the secular world in terms of music, production, and events. But unless they’re Hillsong, they’re not going to compete. Social media, too, is a part of making the connection with people, especially millennials, but it isn’t the full answer. You need to create places of connection, interaction and belonging, and social media can’t give that to you. It has to be real and live.”
Ian cites a number of major stumbling blocks that have kept the church from releasing God’s kingdom in greater measure.
“One thing we need to realize is that church is not a place, but something that we are. The Greek word for “church” in the Bible is ekklesia, which means assembly. Where we’ve gone wrong is that we think that assembly is the function of church, but it’s not. It’s a product of church. According to the Bible, wherever two or more are gathered that’s where church is. So church can be in the coffee shop, at work, on the bus, anywhere. It’s not that we don’t need physical churches, but we’ve got to stop thinking about church as a place with four walls.”
“We also have to understand what transformation means,” Ian continues. “I put it this way: social activism meets a need; transformation solves a problem. So, to be transformative, local churches have to go beyond meeting needs to solving problems. When I speak with people I often use the example of the single mom struggling to get out of poverty. Her family is hungry and she struggles to pay the bills, all while raising her children. The church does a great job at providing supports like soup kitchens and shelters which meet her immediate needs. But her problem isn’t solved unless she goes back to school and gets out of systemic poverty. Who’s going to watch her kids so she can go to school? What can be done to help her pay tuition? We have to become solution-oriented, where we put the kingdom of God into a deficit situation and, through hope, love, and security, we destroy [the cycle of] poverty.”
Ian offers a few insights about how to spur on what he calls ‘a movement of people infused with the DNA of transformation.’
“This change is already happening, but we can help it by telling the stories and creating places of meaningful, substantial connection. We need to change the language we’re using and redefine what church is. That will happen through stories and hearing about what God is doing around the world.”
And as the church awakens to the shift of how people meet and gather, Ian points out the signs of this movement have been all around us for years.
“There’s a reason why coffee shop culture has been so big in the past two decades. It’s because it provides the food and the relaxed, informal atmosphere needed for creating meaningful connection. As the church, we have to surrender our walls and lay them flat so they become platforms, making people the focus instead of the structures that surround them.”
Ian has been working with Transformation Canada to equip and inspire marketplace ministers, particularly in and around the Greater Toronto Area, and in May will be releasing his latest book entitled Checking Into Faith.
You can learn more about Ian at www.iangreen.org