By Gordon L. Heath
A while ago, I came across Peter Leithart’s expression “micro-Christendom” and immediately realized that it captured a helpful vision for churches in an age when Christians are feeling the effects of living in an increasingly post-Christendom West.1 The concept is simple. Rather than be nation-builders garnering power and forging laws to create a Christian nation, church leaders see themselves as responsible for the civic health of their communities and do what they can to bless their neighborhoods in practical ways. As Leithart notes: “Years ago, members of a Boulder, Colorado, ministers’ association determined that they were responsible for Boulder’s civic health. Taking a cue from the early chapters of John’s Apocalypse, they resolved to serve as the guardian angels of the city. They began to invite civil officials to address the pastoral association. Heads of city bureaus, the district attorney and police chief, and officials at the University of Colorado all visited. Each time, the pastors made the same offer: ‘Tell us,’ they would say, ‘the problems you face for which there are no human solutions. We want to pray for solutions.’” He goes on to say that few civic leaders have refused such offers of prayer followed by practical help.
A week ago I saw micro-Christendom in action in my own town of Ancaster, Hamilton. I woke up last Saturday morning to the sound of bagpipes, bands, and a cacophony of noise as the Ancaster Heritage Day parade was getting ready to start (it starts just a few minutes from our house). My wife and I walked over to enjoy the festivities, and in the midst of events saw Aaron Gerrard.
Aaron is a local pastor responsible for Ancaster’s annual Heritage Day events. He spent many hours over the course of the year planning, organizing, recruiting, budgeting, and everything else that goes with organizing a weekend of events attended by the mayor, local councilor, and thousands of citizens. No doubt Aaron had sermons to prepare, weddings and funerals to officiate, people to counsel, and myriad other church-related functions to attend to. But in the midst of those duties he took the time to also look after a parade and popcorn for his community. And his church encouraged him to do so. In fact, this was the entire church’s vision; you could find many from the church volunteering at a number of venues throughout the day.
There was nothing distinctly “Christian” about Heritage Day. Those who attended most likely did not know that a pastor had been a key figure in making the festival a huge success. But with micro-Christendom, it does not matter. The vision is a shift from seeking power to simply serving, from visibility to invisibility.
There is uncertainty among church leaders and churches today. They are told that the old ways are gone and that Christendom is dead. Because of that, they are tentative about what they should be doing. However, a vision shaped by micro-Christendom is one solution.
This does not necessarily mean forever disengaging entirely from political concerns, but it does mean that an effective way to minister to one’s community may be through parades and popcorn, rather than the high octane halls of political power.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of McMaster Divinity College or the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.*