I picked up where I left off in Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch’s The Shaping of Things to Come. They talk about “contextualizing the gospel message,” and how in a world filled with people who are seeking a spiritual reality, the attractional church has insisted on its cut-and-dried, pre-packaged answers. They call on the church in the time in which we now live to be incarnational in its approach to those who are not-yet-Christians (a term which I’m coming to appreciate more and more each day!).
Frost and Hirsch relate the great story of Monty Roberts, whose life was the loose basis for Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer. (That’s Monty in the picture.) Roberts is a man who has a natural affinity for the wild mustang horses of the Montana mountains. He comes from a long line of cowboys, guys who have been “breaking” those horses for generations. The accepted way to domesticate these magnificent animals has been to spend weeks imposing the cowboy’s will on them, even to the point of tying the horses’ legs to its neck.
Monty thought there must be a better way. Frost and Hirsch write:
Even as a young boy, Monty Roberts suspected that there had to be a better way to befriend these mustangs than to break their spirits so cruelly. Then, during his adolescence, while riding up in the Montana high country, he noticed that whenever a beast was separated from the herd and left to wander alone in the mountains it often became sick, even to the point of near-death. This got him to thinking. If these were such herd animals with such a powerful, innate instinct for connection with other creatures, then maybe that instinct could be used for taming them.
Monty Roberts demonstrates his “whispering” approach by
getting into the corral with the untamed mustang and staying as far away from the animal as possible, without leaving the enclosure. He also refuses to allow any eye contact between him and the horse. By moving slowly, but surely, away from the horse and by keeping his head averted from the animal’s gaze, Monty slowly draws the horse to himself.
Within an hour Monty usually has the horse saddled and carrying a rider. His secret?
These animals need contact with others so much, they would rather befriend their enemy than be left alone.
Sadly, even though Monty Roberts has shown the powerful effectiveness of his method of “listening” to the horses, most of the old cowboys discount his way and insist on doing things the way they’ve always done them. Frost and Hirsch compare this attitude with that of the typical church today…
we’ve been “breaking” sinners…for generations. Leave them to us. But the old method of crushing the spirits of seekers who don’t fit the conventional, stereotypical church testimony won’t be effective any longer. [They] are avoiding the church like the plague. It’s time for us to develop a spirituality of engagement with not-yet-Christians. This will involve true listening and genuine presence.