The Church Can’t Afford the Muskox Model

MuskoxThe muskox, an arctic bovine living in herds of 12–24, has a unique defensive strategy. When they’re feeling threatened by a predator, they form a circle.

You’ll find them shoulder-to-shoulder, an intimidating wall of mammoth heads and horns, staring down their enemies. In the midst of this impenetrable circle you’ll find the calves and weaker members of the herd. As long as they stick together, they’re virtually invulnerable.

In many ways, this is the same strategy the church adopts toward the culture.

Life inside the Christian ghetto

I first heard the term “Christian ghetto” in the nineties, and it immediately resonated with me. After years in the church and working for a Christian bookstore, I had experienced this ghetto first hand.

The Christian ghetto was similar to the defensive strategy of the muskox. We huddled together, stared at the culture with suspicious eyes, and created a self-contained counterculture. We had our own literature, music, art, schools, and conferences. We even had Christian yellow pages so no one would ever have to hire a pagan plumber.

Christianity’s gated community

The problem with adopting the defensive strategy of the muskox is that we begin to live at odds with the message we say we believe. We talk a big game about taking care of the poor, but talk down to people who live on government subsidies. We speak endlessly about grace and forgiveness, but refuse to let people experience it until they’ve become a muskox themselves.

We debate endlessly about the best methods for building the church, but invest our time, resources, and talents into building the edifice that we expect outsiders to come to. Maybe if our music was better? Maybe if our preaching used more relatable illustrations? Maybe if we had a coffee bar?

I hate to tell you this, but the world isn’t beating down the doors to our churches—and it’s not supposed to.

Breaking ranks in the herd

This mindset is exactly what Jesus combated in the first century. The Jewish nation lived in its own isolated ghetto, pure from the dirty foreigners, unclean lepers, and anything that would raise a suspicious eye toward their holiness.

You’d better believe that they wouldn’t be baking any cakes for Samaritan weddings.

And here comes Jesus . . . creating wine for wedding revelers (Don’t get me started on the whole “wine was different in the first century” nonsense), hanging out with society’s dregs, praising gentiles, and talking to women. Even Jesus recognizes that he’s getting the reputation of a gluttonous drunk (Matt. 11:19).

The point is that Jesus came to pour his life out for the people that we’re so desperately trying to keep from contaminating us.

It’s probably time we started being introspective about our behavior toward our culture. It’s easy to stand shoulder to shoulder and glare at the world, click our disapproving tongues at their godlessness, and pretend that our isolation is for Jesus’ benefit.

It’s not.

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