This week a guest teacher has been challenging my internship class to consider what elements of “church” as we know it are cultural constructions versus essential outcomes of Jesus’ good news. He has emphasized the church building itself–and its associated cost and maintenance–as a significant structure that is difficult for Americans to let go of when they try to plant churches outside their home culture.
Today he assigned my group to investigate the lifestyles and histories of Mongolian nomads and develop a model for creating a church among them. Most Mongolians no longer practice nomadic lifestyles, but 30% of the country’s population travels around the steppe seeking pasture for their herds. These tribal groups generally practice a mixture of Buddhism and Shamanism, and few members have accepted Jesus’ teaching.
Yet, the Christian Lord, who has won my trust, promises that people from all the tribes, all the families of the earth will worship him. How would “church” look among these peoples? We decided that in fact, their lifestyle may support a strong church. These peoples, with their strong clan mentality, would naturally express worship communally. As travelers, they would lack the attachments to possession that can often halt people in their discipleship. This article offers one man’s suggestions of how the Eurasian nomadic lifestyle is compatible with Christianity–which has its roots in the once-wandering Jewish nation. Jesus himself, as a Jew, said that the true temple is his body, not a building.
When considering the hope of an expression of a Jesus-following movement among nomadic Mongolians, the question we came to is, Who will go with these peoples? Who will give their vigor and commitment to patiently walking alongside these tribes and sharing the good news in word and deed? The Good Shepherd longs to herd his Mongolian sheep. Will his sheep from other herds lay down their old ideas of “church” to help birth this reality?