For the last few decades, there has been a great degree of information in evangelism and missions circles about Christians in the marketplace. I certainly would not negate the need for committed Christian believers to take up their space in the marketplace in order to fulfill the Great Commission. But, after mixing it up in the locations of greatest ill-repute to the staid culture of our Western Church circles, I am convinced that we are missing the greatest opportunities in our lifetime.
The last 3½ weeks have been invested in festival settings. Dennis Huxley, Dee Cunniffe, Mark Searle, and our friend Jeff have been at Burning Nest (a Burning Man related event in South Wales). Later Dennis joined Andrew Thomas and myself at HowTheLightGetsIn (HTLGI), a philosophy festival at Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh side of the English border.
In these places we have made great friends with wonderful people. Not many of these people go to church, or consider themselves Christians. They are often atheist, agnostic, pagan, or identify as “none” in the census polls. I have stayed up until 3 or 4am most evenings during the last two-week-long HTLGI Festival – often sitting around a small fire with a small crowd of festival volunteers and workers, we would talk about life and God through the night into the breaking morning. Once someone discovered that I was a pastor, there would be a moment of surprise and temporary cognitive dissonance. Pastors are not supposed to be helping supply a fire pit for people to sit around and drink and smoke dope after a day of working a festival, but here I was helping provide a place for them to relax, and they did drink and smoke dope. They often responded with surprise, “You don’t look like a pastor!” or, “Wow, really? I think I might to go to your church.”
There was small talk, there were often conversations about subjects I had no interest in engaging, but inevitably we talked about God, and living a life of integrity, or perhaps some of the hot topics surrounding Christian spirituality today. These are intelligent, often well read people of a broad age spectrum. A few of them identified as Christian, and were particularly happy to see me there.
Unlike the marketplace, where people are often too busy to spend significant time talking about God, or searching out spiritual things, the playplace of festivals are the places people are running for a combination of fun and, oftentimes, something significantly deeper than fun. These are the pilgrimage locations for a new generation, and the number of developing festivals in our world is beginning to look like medieval carnival markets. Here there is time to talk about God. Here there is time to show a generation of people that Christians are not disassociated from the needs, cares, concerns, and the deepest desires of life.
After decades of calling for Christians to show up the marketplace, we are now in need of Christians in the playplace – in the festivals of our world. I have been doing this work on and off for over 20 years now. Others are beginning to join us, and as we go, we are finding that others are already there looking for a model to express their spirituality fully in the festivals they too made a part of their early pilgrimages.
Stephen was one of those young brilliant Christians I met this last week at Hay-on-Wye. The depth of his knowledge and the solidness of character make him an example to those around him, and I hope to see him and share life and thought with again when I return to the UK. Those who understand this kind of mission appear to be few and far between for those of us who are doing this, but we are discovering that God seems to have sent many people far ahead of us.