Leadership & Life
An interview with Mal Fletcher by Paul Gallagher, Evangel NOW!, October 1999.
Q. Mal, what are the lessons of the 20th century that the Christian church needs to heed, approaching the dawn of a new millennium?
A. Perhaps the word to describe the 20th century better than any other is 'change'. Never has the world been bombarded by so much rapid change. Perhaps the biggest lesson for the church is the most basic: that while times change people do not basically change, and that faith calls us not to escape the real world in fear of it, but to boldly engage it. Rapid change should not drive us underground. God is not surprised or panicked by changes in our world - one day is as a millenium to the Lord, and a millenium as a day.
Q. What can we expect from the coming millennium?
A. The new millenium will begin with a time of mixed feelings in the western world. On the one hand, people will feel a sense of hope and optimism, of being offered a new beginning. On the other, there will be a sense of anticlimax once the celebrations are over and a growing scepticism about the power of science and technology over ethical and spiritual considerations.
Q. What should be a Christian's primary focus for the next millennium? Why?
A. Christians should focus on what the call the Lord gave to us: to boldly evangelize the world and build the Kingdom of God. We have become too marginalized, too sub-cultured - another service industry meeting a need in a limited number of people. The only leaders we've raised up have been within and for the church. We must begin to plan seriously for long-term influence in society. Like Wilberforce, Whitefield and others, we must recognize that real influence is not achieved overnight. Sometimes it takes years - even a generation - to prepare people to take up roles of leadership in the world.
Q. What must the church do in the next decade - and beyond - to make an impact for God throughout the world?
A. We must begin to believe God for larger sums of money and invest in much larger and bolder vision. Mission around the world is changing dramatically. We can't get by on yesterday's spending, or on strategies we used in previous generations. We must recognize and release apostolic and prophetic ministries across the world. We must reach the masses at the same time as we're planting local churches. Our society has become so ungodly in its world view that we need voices to speak to whole nations at once. We must also send out to the world business and education 'missionaries'.
Q. What's more important at the Sydney Olympics--a person holding a poster that says 'JOHN 3:16' or believers in the stands relating to people on a one-to-one basis? Why?
A. Strange as it may seem, both can be effective if the follow-up is right! Holding up signs like this has never been my favorite means of outreach, but sometimes people do need to be confronted with the gospel in an unexpected way. On the average day, we see something like 3,000 images - but we're hardly ever confronted with anything which makes us reflect on the gospel. Often the biggest enemies to evangelism are predictability and respectability. On the other hand, one-to-one is the way to build disciples and really ensure that people's needs are met.
Q. How important is relational evangelism for the individual Christian of the next millennium? Why?
A. I'm not totally comfortable with the term 'relational evangelism', because it divides evangelism into a series of parts. Evangelism cannot be separated from disciple-making, as it involves a process of laboring until 'Christ is formed' in someone's life. In the New testament, the word translated 'witnesses' is not even a verb but an adjective ('martus' - we are people who are willing even to lay down our lives for Christ). Real evangelism happens as we continually make Jesus master of the details of our lives, so that everything we do naturally reflects his favor and his call.
Q. How does a Christian hold fast to his/her beliefs in a sea of information--likely to be enhanced at an ever-increasing rate over the coming decade?
A. Holding fast to our beliefs is not a problem, provided we lead disciplined lives. Jesus was remarkably busy, with thousands of voices clamoring for his attention every day. Yet he maintained an inner ability to tune in to God's voice during the most stressful times. We need to be more vigilant in protecting our 'tune-up times', those private prayer and study times and times of corporate teaching and worship when we tune the dial to get us on God's frequency.
Q. Where do we - on a personal level - avoid reductionist responses to our efforts at being 'relevant' with our non-Christian family and friends? In other words, how do we juggle compromise and relevance?
A. I believe in and have always promoted relevance. However, there is something more important than being relevant, and that is being prophetic. We are called not just to be in touch with the times - though that is important - but to be ahead of the times, and able to read the writing on the wall for our generation as Daniel did for his. If we work at being people who hear from God, at the same time being 'naturally supernatural' with our feet planted firmly on the ground, we will never have to waste time on debates over compromise or relevance. We will always have something to say which people need to hear.
Q. What role does personal integrity and authenticity play in the average believer's presentation of a Christian life--especially over coming years?
A. This generation is hungry for a noble kind of leadership, for leaders who will act out of altruistic motives rather than for personal gain. Some opinion polls have suggested that people don't care about morality in their leaders, but I think what is mistaken for apathy is very often resignation. People say, 'I can do anything to change this, so why get excited? (But I do wish it was different!)' Christians have a wonderful opportunity to take a leadership role wherever they are called, by simply being people whose lives match their beliefs - people who live as Jesus did, going about 'doing good', backed up by the supernatural favor of God.
Q. Have we moved from presenting the Gospel in words to a more visual medium? What's the right balance here?
A. Presenting the gospel was always a visual thing - much more than we have acknowledged. God's favorite means of communication has always been incarnation. Jesus' parables were easy to remember because of the vivid mind-pictures they painted. Throughout the book of Acts, it was the miracles of the disciples which first grabbed peoples' attention - teaching came on the back of that. Our generation is becoming increasingly non-linear and experiential. It's a generation which looks for incarnation and first-hand experience first, and then looks for explanations. This is how God has always spoken, so I can't help feeling he's behind all this visualization of our culture.
Q. Are we meant to transform ourselves into 'post-modern Christians' or just - somehow - transform the post moderns we live with into believing Christians?
A. I think the term 'post-modernism' is largely misunderstood and over-used by many in the church. Put simply, western culture seems to have reacted to the materialistic and rationalistic way of thinking of the modernist age. People want to know that there is, in the words of the X-files, a truth that is 'out there', beyond the reach of science or technology - a truth which will define them as more than the sum of their biological parts. As in centuries gone by, people want to know where they came from, why they're here, and where they're going.
Q. Are you confident about the church's effectiveness over coming years?
A. I am confident that the church is going to become increasingly involved in shaping the life of communities and cities. But I am sometimes concerned that we have not faced the fact that we must become more generational and long-term in our planning, and less results-now in our sowing! We will need to stay pragmatic, but keep our eyes on goals which are not necessarily reached in a year or two.
Q. What will mark or define a healthy church in the new millennium? What will it look like? What will it do?
A. That's a question with a long and a short answer. Obviously you want the short one! Perhaps more than anything else, the healthy church will be a promoter of reconciliation. In families, in the business world, between racial and economic groups and so on. Paul taught that the church has the ministry of reconciliation - and Jesus always called us to live in harmony, to be peacemakers wherever we could. Of course, there's much more to reconciliation than making political statements because it begins in the heart, with forgiveness, repentance and most of all submission to God. But the world is looking for more Martin Luther King's who dream and work to bring people together - and King's Jesus empowers every Christian.