Church Isn’t for the Lost: Thoughts on Creating Missional Community
Something we have lost sight of somewhere along the way in our journey as Christians, is that church is not for the lost. So, before I lose you completely, allow me to explain why. Everything about church is designed for the communion of believers, edification of fellow disciples, and corporate worship of God. Put simply, the congregational model of Sunday meetings are not a mission and not evangelistic. I’m sure we have all been in a church service where a pastor has challenged us to start bringing all of our lost friends to church. The only problem is that the way most of America does church is an extremely ineffective model for evangelism. Most churches have outreach programs, missions opportunities, etc. to fulfill the external mission of the body. Recently it has become really hip and popular to use the word “missional” to describe our church or life. The question becomes, does saying it just make us feel more “missional” or does the way we interact as a community of believers and the immediate world around us truly reflect this? I want to share some thoughts on how we weave loving others and seeking the lost into the fabric of our mission as a church with the intent of focusing in on loving the community immediately around it.
Before I continue, I want to mention a couple things about the word “missions”. I love what John Piper says about the subject in his book Let the Nations Be Glad: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions.” Missions is a form of worship and way of bringing glory to our Creator. We use this word so much, I feel we tend to forget the most important aspects of what missions is and why we do it. In an executive sense, I see missions as expanding the kingdom of God through obedience to the “second greatest commandment” and the Great Commission. The external modes of worship that spread God’s glory outside of the Church through loving how He loved and bringing new disciples into the kingdom. We have to grasp the goal of missions before we can pursue, “doing” missions. It isn’t just an activity, it is an integral part of how we live every moment of our lives in order to display and further God’s glory.
Breaking down the wall of “us” and “them”
One of the things that bothers me the most on the topic of missions is when churches talk about outreach programs and events. Put bluntly, life isn’t a program or an event. I have written about this problem before. Am I saying there is no place for events? No, but just stick with me here. Without realizing it, we have stuck the great commission into a box that you can check by doing an outreach event once a month or quarter. The problem with programs and projects is that it reinforces the “us” and “them” divide that exists in our lives, rather than breaking it down. “They” are poor, or we are helping “them” with problem x or y. The way we go about loving the community that surrounds our church should see only “us.” The act of loving our neighbor and saving the lost should be part of our daily life. It is built upon relationships and sacrifice, not a carved out time slot or a program. Life change happens when we go beyond the surface and become involved in someone’s life. It requires us to be honest, vulnerable, and share in other’s brokenness. Until we do that, I am convinced that there is no way that we can lead them to wholeness and redemption. A church’s mission should be to the people within its community. We need to be available in people’s lives when they need us.
If the way we pursue being missional creates any possibility for us to keep a comfortable distance or easily avoid personal relationships with the people we are seeking to love, we need to stop and re-think what we are doing. Our goal should be to looks at the problems and burdens of our community, share equally in the suffering, and work to ease and eliminate the burden as we pursue freedom together. Just as Christ took on the brokenness of the world in order to save it, we as the church do the same in order to lead others to life.
Stewardship and Strategy
Each church possesses its own unique set of capital and resources. Among the body there exists a diversity of spiritual gifts, a variety of skills, and a range of personal material wealth. There is human and financial capital that combines to create a distinctive potential for that church. What is the culture within that body and what is the culture of the city around it? I view stewardship for a church as how well it utilizes its resources to reach the community surrounding it. Currently, most churches are failing in this area. It isn’t that they aren’t doing good things and reaching people, but churches in America are far from reaching the full potential they possess as transformational communities. That is, a place that is transforming the lives of those within in it, and the lives it touches and interacts with.
Let’s talk numbers for a minute to illustrate this point. When it comes to financial stewardship, research shows that 85% of church income is spent on salaries and facilities. If you add additional offerings into the mix, we could probably put the national average closer to 75%-80%. If a church has a one-year income of $1,000,000 we can assume that it has $250,000 free for missions and other external expenses while the $750,000 largely goes towards internal focuses of the church.
Stewardship of members’ skills and gifts is also extremely important as well. Spiritual employment is important to effectively loving others and spreading the gospel, but it is also an important part of an individual believer’s growth and transformation as well. A Natural Church Development study found that “70% of all Christians are spiritually unemployed with no way of getting involved in their church systems.” People are a church’s most important asset. When people discover and use their spiritual gifts, they grow closer in fellowship with God and other believers. Likewise, they become more passionate and effective propagators of the gospel.
Personally, I believe we can do better. I would be lying if I told you I thought this was good stewardship. You probably share this sentiment too. The purpose and role of the church in God’s kingdom is to fulfill what Frank Viola refers to as four functions: communion, corporate display, community life, and commission. He puts an emphasis on how the internal and external functions of the church work together and essential to one another. All four functions carry equal weight and importance. I am focusing on the commission function, but I want to touch on how the four relate and are intertwined as well.
It can be easy to become unbalanced in the direction of inward focus. The external interaction as a body not only brings glory and witness to God, but furthers the journey of spiritual transformation for the believers involved. The internal and external health support one another. When we embrace a missional lifestyle as a church, we exercise faith and reliance on God, we experience the manifestation of God’s glory and power through seeing Him at work, and we bring new disciples into the Kingdom. The kingdom of God is here and Christ is using His bride, the Church, as an instrument to bring His Kingdom alive and transform communities. Before He can use us, we have to be willing and ready to do whatever it takes. Most importantly we have to constantly ask the question “Is the way we do church and missions bringing the most glory to God possible through our community?” If it is not, are we ready to sacrifice anything and everything in order to take the limits off of our potential for worship?
In the following posts I want to explore what this looks like for congregational and organic churches. I will use examples of some missional communities I believe are doing a lot of things right. I also want to be honest about the strengths and weaknesses of certain models and how it affects our ability to create truly missional churches.