Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Master, you wash my feet?”…
…Then he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.
I came to Europe 21 years ago right when Europe was changing just before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of the Eastern European boarders. Western Europe was in the process of becoming united as the European Union and the Soviet Union in the east was falling apart. Many things where changing. Just as things where changing politically it was also changing culturally, sociologically, philosophically, and slowly religiously with the boarders opening up in the east and the west. Also with these changes was the opening up of the information highway or the world wide web. The Internet has changed the way we communicate and learn.
In the 90’s we began to hear about the paradigm shift from modernity to post-modernity. What did that mean? People became critical of the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment of the last 200+ years. Politics has failed, along with education, the family and religion. These institutions could no longer be trusted so it was easier to believe in oneself. Rational or objective truth was replaced with relative or subjective truth. All objective truth could not be trusted only that which was true to the self.
By the end of 90’s the church was starting to fill the effects of this change. In the mid 90s there was a since of renewal coming to Sweden in the evangelical, mostly the charismatic baby boomer church. But by the end of the 90’s everything turned, pastors were burning out as was the churches themselves. I began to ask the question; Why? A new generation was growing up in this new changing world and the church was not aware of it. We continued to do church as if nothing was happening and was in awe at why it was in decline.
One decade into the new millennium we are aware that we live in a postmodern, post-Christian era. For Swedes faith is a private thing if anything at all and the Church is a thing of the past.
Sweden became Christianized from pagan religions around the 11th century. From the 1530’s and the protestant reformation the country was officially Lutheran until the year 2000 when the church and state divided. For 500 years everyone born in Sweden was baptized as a baby and became a member of the Swedish (Lutheran) Church. It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that it was legal to practice or be a part of another Christian denomination and total religious freedom was not excepted until 1951 when it was legal to be outside of any religious institution.
However the secularization of Sweden began already in the beginning of the 20th century with the change in the social politics and more dependence on the government then on the church. The people no longer had to be oppressed by the church as it was in the past. This took a greater leap when the church and state divided in the year 2000 and ushered in the post-Christian era. In the year 2000 the Church of Sweden had about 82% of the Swedish population as members, by the end of 2009 this figure was 71.3% and the numbers continue to decline each year. However most people are members out of tradition and not because of faith. The free evangelical churches also sees much decline and that can be seen in the merger of denominations who share the same beliefs or values so they can share recourses and stay afloat. In the 2005 euro-barometer poll only 23% of the Swedish population said they believe in a personal God. This relatively high percentage is most likely because of the high percentage of immigrates with religious faith including Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics. The same poll states that 23% believe there is no God and 53% believe there is some sort of spirit or life force.
According to Wikipedia, “Sweden ranks a long with France, South Korea, Japan, and the Netherlands, on having a large minority or even majority of it’s citizens who have no religion. An article on Sweden’s official website asserts that just three out of ten Swedes state that they have confidence in the church” This is true with the conversations I have with Swedes, most will confess a belief or a faith in God but will NOT go to church. Their faith in God is personal and is not connected to any religion. The common respond is, “As long as we do good and respect one another all is good!”
Another issue facing contemporary Sweden is a society changing to become more multicultural with a high rate of immigration. This has created a question of identity, Sweden that once was homogeneous culturally is becoming more mixed. Secularized Sweden now has to handle situations where different religions turn out to be important for people, not only in private, but also in public life.
Many of the problems Sweden is facing today is the lack of integration of these different cultures and religions. First generation Swedes or children of immigrants are having a hard time to find their identity so they form gangs and the crime rates goes up. Also the rise of Islam in Europe has created an awakening in the cultural shifts. This has caused a rise in nationalism throughout Europe and new nationalistic political parties are taking place in the governments including one in Sweden that for the first time has been elected into the Swedish government. It seems the more the immigrants cling to their religion for their identity the more Swedes turn from religion to claim their identity.
Sweden is complex and in some ways contradictory in its secularized, postmodern, and multicultural society.
This is why many pastors, missionaries, church leaders burnout and others just stand there scratching their heads saying…How do we reach this broken nation with the good news of hope and healing, salvation and wholeness that is found in Christ? Sweden is one of …if not the most spiritually challenged places in the world.
What once worked in a religious, modern, homogeneous society doesn’t work today.
One other and maybe the biggest barrier in Sweden is a unwritten law that is in the psychological-mentality of the Scandinavian people called the Jante Law. In short this law states that all are equal, that one should not think oneself as special, you are not better then anyone else, wiser then anyone else, or have more knowledge then anyone else, don’t think you are good at anything. Envy is a big part of this law in which one should not gloat in ones success or achievements.
In Sweden everyone is on a first name basis. For example children call their teachers by their first name as well as anyone else. This can be good but also negative in the since of respect. There is respect for the other as long as each one is on the same level. With this way of thinking it is very hard to share the gospel in a modern context of witnessing or through preaching. Who are you to tell me how to live my life? Do you think you are better then me? I am no one special and neither are you! This is the root to a lot of depression, hopelessness, and psychological sickness in Sweden.
With this mentality together with the postmodern mentality there is a lot of hard ground to brake through. It takes time, commitment , patients and and a lot of prayer.
So how do we reach this new world view we live in today? How do we present the gospel to a relatively subjective society? We need to take a missiological approach to understanding this world view. When the culture doesn’t know the Bible or believe it to be true and it believes that the church is an institution of tradition or of the past, then we need to change our thinking, we need to engage the culture by living the Bible incarnationally and being the church missionally.
It is starting at the beginning by making disciples or engaging culture; building authentic relationships, sharing life with your friends and neighbors, it is finding the son of peace, eating and drinking with him and teaching him about the Kingdom of God so he can share it with his network of friends.(Luke 10, Matt 9:9-13). This is what takes a lot of time and commitment. Next it is creating community, or small groups where people can be themselves and ask questions, learn and grow or become disciples! Then we can create the congregation (church) where people are disciples by living the kingdom life in Christ and his mission.
As we look at the history and the cultural shifts in Europe or in Sweden we can see that ministry will look a lot different and take a much longer time to achieve then we might expect it to. Working in this environment one must be lead by the Holy Spirit, knowing that God is in control. That all things must be done in His timing and according to His plan.
What God is looking for are people who are committed to His apostolic mission. To bring the good news that wholeness comes through a relationship with Jesus, and through His death and resurrection there is hope, healing, and eternal life.
Gallup poll 2007–2008
During 2007–2008 a Gallup poll asked in several countries the question “Does religion occupy an important place in your life?”
Lack of Importance of Religion in Europe by Gallup poll (2007–2008)
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||
No:1 Neil Cole – Organic Leadership
No:2 Frank Viola – Reimagining Church
No:3 Rad Zedero – House Church Planter Canada
No:4 Tony and Felicity Dale – The Rabbit and the Elephant
No:5 Edward Dalcour – Defending the Tri-Unity of God
No:6 Jon Zens – A Church Building Every 1/2 Mile
No:7 Milt Rodriguez – The Butterfly in You
No:8 Jim Rutz – Mega Shift
No:9 David Flowers – The Woodlands Texas Organic Church
No:10 Brenda Taylor – Understanding Our Jewish Roots
There are some exciting things beginning to happen in Sweden and around the world in the area of pioneering new initiatives in the kingdom of God as we enter into this new decade. A new paradigm shift is creating new innovative ways of doing church … well not new but coming back to the way it was in the early church. It is new in the since that it goes against todays norm of church planting. It is thinking small instead of big, slow instead of fast, it is thinking organic community instead of organization, it is thinking relational instead of attractional, it is thinking participation instead of programs, it is thinking going instead of coming, it is thinking Jesus instead of doctrine, it is thinking kingdom instead of denomination, it is thinking paradox instead of politics, … get it? Not to many do. It challenges our traditions.
This kind of church will be felt and not seen… dynamic, not static.
Be ready it is coming soon!
Our next SMOC Network gathering will be May 20th at 18:30. Contact me for place and directions
We will discuss things we heard at the Tangible Kingdom conference in Dublin.
… although a lot of it is not new to some of us I think it could help us with our focus.
You are welcome to invite anyone who you think might be interested in our conversation.