God is on the move in Paris, France. In the is week’s video podcast, I sit down with my good friend and missionary Joe Schlie.
Joe is an American who has been living in Paris and doing full-time ministry for ten years with his wife and three children. He’s the City Leader for Agape France Ministries. For more information about the ministry, check out www.agapeparis.org.
First off, Joe offers a little “insiders tip” for American tourists visiting France. There’s a gorgeous park just south of Paris, similar to Versailles with beautiful gardens, but without the crowds. It’s called Parc de Sceaux. It’s a definite “must see”.
One thing Joe has recently noticed is a growth in the amount of evangelical churches meeting in unconventional spaces (office spaces, parks, etc.). This may be a conscious move to distinguish themselves from the traditional Roman Catholic congregations and their cathedrals, such as Notre Dame.
Joe is also amazed by the dynamics of the Christian Church here in America. He sees so much creativity, openness to new opportunities and worship models, and ever-adapting congregation styles reaching the unchurched of the 21st century. He can’t help but be wowed by it and wish this phenomenon were taking place in France.
Yet, at the same time, he sees some congregations perhaps going too far into the zone of “commercialism” with big, flashy presentations, which may end up being more of a distraction than an enhancer of the Gospel message.
Another difference Joe sees between the typical churches in America compared to France is the wealth of the different churches. Protestant French churches tend to be quite poor, comparatively speaking. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces Christians to go back to what is essential. Ambience, sound quality, staging and visual presentations are not expected in the French churches, where they largely are in many American Protestant churches.
Yet another aspect of the American Church’s trajectory that Joe notices is the similarity it has to the ancient French Church. Once upon a time, the very thing that the Church believed would draw Frenchmen into it’s walls (and therefore closer to God) were their cathedrals and presentations. Over time, however, these very things instead represented power, authority, audacity and abuse. Joe fears that the American Church may be headed in a similar direction.
He also sees Paris having an undeniable secular culture, meaning that the Church has very little if any influence on the culture that surrounds it. This has nothing to do with an oppressive government, in fact Freedom of Religion is of very high value in France. However, as Secularism is stifling the influence that the Church has on the culture, and the Church isn’t fighting back to regain its ground.
Oddly enough, the French Revolution largely took place in order to get the Church out of the authoritative position on the citizenry; whereas the American Revolution was largely fought to allow the Church to freely have a prominent place in the American culture. Nevertheless, thanks to the Secularist movement, we’re seeing both nations head in the same direction, with France leading the way.
All this to say, we Christians, do not need to be afraid. Even in the eyes of a secular, oppressive culture, God still has a mightier hand than even power, money or oppression. What we need to do is hold even tighter to the core message of the Gospel.
A key question that Joe feels that American and French Christians need to ask themselves is this: When I leave a church service or Bible study – or if a visitor leaves a service at our church or church event – what leaves a greater impression: the excitement of the production (music, visuals, ambience, etc.) or the Fruit of the Spirit displayed by the people who were there?