There has been a lot written on the theme of the so-called exile that Christians are experiencing in the West as a result of the demise of Christendom. The argument goes something like this, Christians are no longer at the centre of society but instead they are on the margins. Gone are the days when Christians and the church could expect to be in a privileged position in the eyes of secular institutions and be given rights or inroads into broader society. In the same way that Israel was sent into exile by God, we have been sent into exile by our culture as it finds the church unnecessary and irrelevant to its day to day existence. Two great books on this theme are Michael Frost’s Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture  and more recently, The Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom by Lee Beach .
Many Christians like myself have used this image of exile as a tool to help us navigate the uncertain waters of our liminality in the West. Personally, instead of finding the image a negative one, as a few of my peers have, I have found it a source of comfort. It is in humble exile that God purifies us, draws near to us if we let him and speaks to us about the hope of the good things that are to come.
One thing that I am usually wrestling with as a pastor of a suburban church in Sydney, is how the church can embody the narrative of the Kingdom of God story in a culture which displays so many false narratives. In a culture of pragmatism, to what extent do we ‘market’ the church? In a society which displays such narcissism how do I make sure I am not preaching a merely therapeutic gospel? In a context where busyness and distraction dominate how do I explain the complexities of the gospel and foster a reflective community? In a city which is defined by consumerism, how do I cultivate a value of commitment to the local church? These questions and more continually swirl in my mind as I lead my church in a post Christendom context in Australia.
A few months ago I asked a well respected Australian social researcher Mark McCrindle to speak at our church on the topic ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore’. The idea was to convey through statistics and discerning emerging trends in the Australian landscape, just how different a society we live in today compared to even twenty years ago. One thing that he pointed to was just how displaced and marginalised the church had become in Australian society. When through a survey a sample of the population was asked ‘What do you think your community needs more of?’, people responded by saying that more parks, shopping centres, dog walking parks, cafes were desired but hardly any mentioned churches.