May 21, 2010

Turning Another Page: London Religion 101

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page” - St. Augustine

It is a strange thing to wake up in one continent and sleep in another.  It’s even stranger to do so without delays, troubles, or stressful circumstances.  I am pleased to say that today offered me both of these luxuries!

In case you did not know, I have the opportunity to travel to London with a team of pastors and church leaders on a 10 day exposure trip to post-Christian culture in western Europe.  The organization is called The Upstream Collective, and the feature leaders of the trip are Dr. Ed Stetzer and Daniel Montgomery.  I have been fundraising, stressing, praying…and finally God has allowed me to come to Europe again without any troubles at all!

Immediately after a brief, five-minute meeting upon arriving in London, we set out for an Muslim mosque.  The missionary we connected with has developed a relationship of mutual respect and love with the local Imam for over five years, just living out the Gospel.  They have actually become very close friends, and the Imam shared with us some of what he believes as it relates to God and faith and also gave us a quick overview of the Islamic religious culture.  As our team saw the local missionary interact with the Imam, there was such a sense of love and brotherhood between them that it could not have been a better reflection of the love Christ has for the lost!  This missionary in London is a joy to be around, and his love for the Muslim community and his Imam friend in particular was worth flying 1500 miles to see.

We continued our tour to include a Hindu temple, Sikh temple, and a Church of England location.  And, if the religious exposure wasn’t enough, we finished off the evening with a full-blown Afghani dinner. 

AND, all of this was in the first four hours of our time in London!  The intensity was vibrant and the experience more than beneficial to begin understanding the religious culture of Western Europe.

The cultural diversity of London far surpasses anything found in the States, including New York City.  This gives rise to subcultures so deep and influential that people from the home countries of these religions want to live in London because it is quickly becoming the hub of religious activity for Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim religions.  And with this heavily charged atmosphere, the depth of spiritual oppression and depravity is like an insurmountable weight upon my heart.  Yet God has provided some faithful people to devote their lives to leading these colorful, beautiful, diverse, yet lost people to Jesus.

There are a few things I would like to note from our debriefing time after visiting these places:

1.  The people in Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh religions FAR surpass even the most devout Christians in terms of intensity and dedication (Muslims wake up every single morning at four am for prayer, no matter what circumstance)

2.  The worship services for these other religions are more integrated than in America.  The children kneel before their false goddess Vishnu alongside of their parents.  There is no separation of children from the joint worship service.  They observe and repeat whatever their parents do.  This leads to a high level of assimilation from children into their parents faith.

3.  In America, our faith is mostly seen as a compartmentalized hobby to entertain us, but with these religions in London they are a way of life and dictate every, single facet of their existence.

4.  These false religions do not osculate with models of ministry, they have a specific worldviews and perspectives to which they approach every dimension of their life, without compromise.  Their methods are driven by the needs of their ‘followers’, but the message and almost all basic principles are the same as they have been for thousands of years.

These four notes lead me to four interpretations and four questions to ponder this weekend:

1.  In all of these false religions, the person has to work to earn their favor with God.  Christians have a freedom because Jesus earns favor FOR us with God through His death on the cross. Unfortunately, we forget that Jesus saves us to run a race…not to descend into spiritual atrophy.
How can we translate this freedom of grace into a call to serve?

2.  American, evangelical parents most-often shoo their children away on Sunday to their own service, denying basic discipleship to them yet passing on the blame to the local church when things go wrong with their youth. 
How can pastors train parents to disciple their children in worshipping Jesus from infancy to maturity?

3.  The incredible amount of dedication and religious fervor is unspeakable.  For example, the Imam memorized the entire Koran, reciting the entire book throughout the month of Ramadan from memory.  As a Christian society, there are very few, if any points throughout all of church history where this dedication has been recorded on a consistent or community basis.
How can pastors lead their congregation back to the “joy of their salvation” so they can do ministry out of a joy within them instead of an obligation coming from outside of them.

4.  In popular Christian culture, there is a look to and dependence on models and methods to drive church ministry.  These most often have damaging effects on a church’s theology.  Yet in these false religions the theology has remained virtually untouched for hundreds if not thousands of years. 
How do churches break out of the model-seeking mode and develop a core biblical theology which will stand the test of culturally driven methodology?

And so tonight in London I turn another page in the narrative of my life and my ministry, enjoying the story God is penning in my life.


What are your reactions?  What are you distressed about when you read this account?


  1. I am most distressed about the rise of the other religions while Christianity has all but died in London. I haven't visited any other cities in England but when I was last in London, I saw huge cathedrals that were just tourist attractions. A "guide" in St. Paul's (where Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married)couldn't tell me what time church services were the next morning so I had to ask several people to get the information. When we got there the next morning, the FIVE people who had gathered to worship were sitting in a small corner at the side of the HUGE altar. I felt bad for the Pastor who must surely get discouraged.

  2. Really fascinated to read you post, Josh. I'm going to follow you on Twitter now to keep up to speed with your European adventure.

    Sandy's comment drew me in as well. The notion that Christianity having all but died in London seems to me - as someone who considers themselves to be a Londoner - WAY off base.

    There are literally hundreds of Worshipping Christian Communities in London of many different denominations, dozens of parachurch organisations & other charities, Bible Colleges & Institutes, healthy Black Majority Churches and many others serving particular ethnic groupings, Faith Schools, Bishops in the House of Lords, Global HQs for initiatives like Alpha & The Salvation Army, emerging communities like Moot, missional/alt worship dudes like Jonny Baker, Hillsong London if that floats your boat...I could go on and on


  3. Thanks for the comments. You both are right.

    @Sandy- The traditional church models are declining. Without drastic change in methodology, they will end up like most of those beautiful cathedrals are...dead. But don't forget that there are missional communities and church-plants all over the city of London (and Paris) which are designed for local ethnic groups, so a tourist would not be able to know about them. Ministry here is less of a "com and see" model, but more of a "go", where people are living out the Gospel in relationship with others.

    @Johnny- I agree with what you are saying. There are huge strides for Christianity in London, and our team has gotten to see a lot of that. Yet, in the overall context of religion in London, it is HARD work which is going slowly. Those groups (excluding Alpha), all have a pretty narrow base group, which means there are hundreds of other ethnic and cultural groups which are not being reached. And those groups are sometimes very small and hard to sustain over long periods of time.

    Either way, good thoughts!