The call of Christ is to make disciples who make disciples. So I ask: “Do you have an intentional process in place to equip and lead your members to become worshipers on mission—disciples who are actively engaged every day leading others to become disciples, then taking them on mission?”
Today there is a missional movement sweeping through churches in America. While missions is what we do, missional is what we are. Missional is a way of seeing, thinking, and acting to grow disciples who join God in his mission to redeem the world. When I talk with churches about joining this missional movement to pour their giftedness into their communities, I am often met with resistance and skepticism. Interestingly, worship style does not seem to be a factor in the level of resistance to missional principles. The style of your worship will not make you more or less sensitive to God’s call to join him in his mission. Neither will the size of the church. The issue goes deeper.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Mark 10:25, NIV
We have become rich and satisfied in our church clubs. That’s how we got here to this place of decline. That’s how the “Church Train” got off on the wrong track headed for a landslide. In my experience there is one primary barrier to embracing God’s call to be worshipers on mission to your community. The greatest barrier to realizing the need and getting outside the church is a pre-occupation with “doing church right” as opposed to joining God in his mission to redeem the world. (See previous post: “We Do Church Right” – 06/23/14)
A friend of mine made a presentation to a pastor and staff of a large and growing church about the call to community missions. The pastor responded after his presentation that they would not participate in this mission effort, saying, “After all, anything anyone could need, they can find in our church. We have it all right here. All they have to do is come through our doors.” Strangely enough, his response was not too far removed from the pastor of the small dying church who was also at that meeting. This pastor pleaded immunity from participating in the mission effort, saying, “Our church is dying, and we need to focus all our efforts right now on self-preservation.” Both of these pastors, while approaching it from vastly different angles, are leading their churches deeper into institutionalism and church-ianity.
Modern consumerism, defined as preoccupation with satisfying ourselves by consuming and discarding, has taken hold of the church today. Programs that were once designed to foster the dynamic cycle of worship-discipleship-mission have become all about us. The rescue society has become a social club. (See previous post: “What Happened to the Rescue Society? They became a Social Club” – 08/17/14)
A regional church consultant was invited to help a church participating in a program designed to revitalize churches so they can start new churches in their communities. After his presentation, a lady on the steering committee spoke up, “This is all well and good,” she said, “but my question for you is how quickly can you get some other young adults into our church? I am tired of being the only person in this church in my thirties. I’ll give you three months, and then I am out of here.” Somehow, church members have become convinced they are customers who should be served.
In contrast, Jesus commissioned his followers to “Go and make disciples.” Making disciples who go make other disciples is the core reason for our existence according to Jesus. We have built wonderful church buildings, programs, and events. But we have failed to make disciples transformed by Jesus who go make more disciples being transformed by him. As we have withdrawn from influencing the world, we have left the world to define right and wrong without the salt and light of God’s Word. We are failing at the very reason for our existence as Christ’s church. But we don’t even know we’ve failed because we are so busy with church-ianity. We have tissue paper in our ears, and that tissue paper is the institutional church.
Our focus on building the institutional church as our own kingdom rather than joining God to build his kingdom can take many forms, including: being all things to all people inside the church walls, maintaining traditions we hold sacred, focusing on trying not to let our church die, and on and on. A simple, straightforward presentation entitled “Missional Church: Simple” portraying the church’s institutional dilemma can be found in the Resource List on the right side of this blog page. This white board presentation was originally produced by a local church to help its members grasp the differences between attractional and missional thinking. It shows how we have tried to attract people into church by offering the very best programs, most inspirational sermons, and exciting events. When attractional events begin to decline in participation, we undergird them with larger advertising budgets and bigger promotional campaigns. Check out the video and see how it can facilitate your understanding of missional thinking.
Institutionalism also tends to foster exclusiveness. Inside the institution everyone knows the norms for behavior, the accepted phrases and terminology, and the common organizational routine. But when an outsider comes in, they can’t decipher our institutional codes that lock them out of comfortable interaction. On a recent mission trip to a Dominican Republic church, I tripped over the same unmarked step several times a day for the first four days I was there. It never failed to draw chuckles from the locals, who knew exactly where the stumbling points were and stepped around them without thinking. In the Dominican Republic they have a saying, “Because we live on an island, we think our island is the whole world.” In the institutional church, we think our island is the whole world, too.
ARE YOU STUCK ON THE ISLAND OF CHURCH-IANITY????