Like I said in my last post, I’ve been working this idea out recently and it has helped me explain a lot of stuff so I thought I would share it.
Over the last three years I’ve had to defend my missional thinking a lot. What’s been strange is that when I explain it people are usually cool with the theology. It is the practice they fight with.
Believers love talking about how…
- …God is on a mission and we need to join Him in it.
- …we need to be imitating Jesus and living out the incarnation by seeking to be “little Jesuses” in our communities.
- …we should not seek to reach the lost by trying to attract them to a worship service but rather by loving and serving them where they are.
- …every believer she see him/herself as a missionary to the community.
- …leaders should see themselves as servants commissioned by the people to encourage and equip the people for their lives as missionaries.
All of this believers will overwhelmingly agree with. Many have even rightly argued to me that this is how Baptists (the denomination I grew up in) have thought for a long time, that these statements are actually a return to Baptist theology.
Then when I begin to explain that these ideas caused Wendy and I to question and change the things that we do often believers’ attitudes will change.
When I encourage individuals to find a group of people in their community that they are going to love (a group he/she has been sent to) rather than build large group, top down organized ministries because the organized group ministries tend to turn believers into servants of a centralized vision, gears in a machine, the individuals become frustrated with me. Even though they agree that the organized ministries don’t value their individuality as sent missionaries on mission with God, they will fight to keep them.
When I explain that the way we’ve been gathering together for worship (singing, announcements, more singing, some kind of offering, sermon, more singing) isn’t the most effective way to encourage and equip people to live as missionaries; that it tends to turn believers into spectators dependent upon the professionals to lead a show they minimally participate in at best; that we need to include dialog and debriefing from their time on the field, the believers get mad at me. Even those that find no spiritual vitality in their Sunday morning ritual will fight to keep it exactly like it is.
When I talk with believers about our systems, the whole picture of activities we do together, and explain how we need to keep them simple, minimal, and based on empowering others to be “little Jesus’s” rather than piling on more activities that pull us further into isolation, believers become angry with me. Even those who agree that we do to much, that the last thing we need is another Bible study, that we need more time with people in the community to build intimacy through which the Gospel can flow…even those believers will fight to hold on to their current system and work to build upon it.
These conversations over the last three years have left me to ask “why?” How is it that as followers of Christ we can believe one thing and then practice something completely different? How is it that brilliant men and women, captains in their professional fields, followers who are passionate about Jesus struggle to line their practice up with their belief? Our practice does not enforce or build up what we believe, but we struggle to let go of the practice. Why?
The problem is that our definition of what it means to be the church is activities centric. We define “church” by the things we do. Being part of the “church” means participating in this stuff. We have this lifestyle, this way of being, that we find in Jesus. Then we have these activities that we have done since before any of us were born. At some point the activities were based on the lifestyle. At some point the activities were tools that encouraged the lifestyle; but for most that has ceased to be true. Now to be a member of our church means to participate in certain activities.
What is funny to me is that the previous paragraph should be offensive. People should come to me with piles of evidence proving that our current practices do encourage us to be missionaries in our communities; evidence that shows that the way we are doing things is bringing justice and righteousness to our cities, that it is helping us to join God on mission, rather what I’ve experience is that very few people that will defend their activities in that vain. Instead they argue that while their activities don’t encourage a missionary lifestyle, other good things come from the activities. People find a feeling of family in the activities. People have been drawn into a relationship with God through the activities. Or that the community built through the activities has sustained them through difficult times in their lives. Therefore they love the activities and find a sense of belonging inside the activities so they want to keep them.
I get that.
And I’m not saying that the activities are bad. I’m not saying that good stuff doesn’t come out of them. I’m not saying that Jesus doesn’t use them.
What I am saying is that if we can all agree that we should be living a missional lifestyle (what I described above), if we can all agree with the thinking that every believer should be on mission with God, and if we can agree that for the vast majority of us our current activities do not effectively encourage and equip us to live that lifestyle
shouldn’t we then be willing to change and morph our activities until they do?
What I’m saying is that the activities we do (the Bible studies, the worship services, the ministries, the meetings, etc…) are supposed to be a means to an end…not the end themselves. They are supposed to accomplish something. They are supposed to be tools we use to build disciples. When they have stopped effectively
accomplishing that end then they need to be reformed or let go of. When the tool stops doing the job, we either need to put it down are start using it differently.
The end is discipleship. The end is this lifestyle that Jesus called us to: a lifestyle of love, of healing, of justice, of calling people to return to right relationship with their loving God.
We must return to a lifestyle centric understanding of what it means to be the church and start holding the activities we do together loosely.
A lifestyle centric definition of church. Not an activities centric one.