Today we're jumping back into our series on the missional movement and its critique of both "traditional" and "contemporary" churches. Much ink has been spilled on this subject, and there is far too much for me to cover in this blog, so I'm going to limit this to what I believe are the five most potent and pressing criticisms.
1. Christendom is over!
For hundreds of years the key to "church planting" in the western world was simply to build new churches. After all, Christianity was the privileged belief system and the church was the source for spiritual guidance and succor. Obviously, this is no longer true, and most people understand this point. However, many churches still operate under the illusion that if they get their worship and programs and aesthetics right (good youth group, good parking, good preaching, a great band, etc.) then people will come to the church and they can participate in God's mission without strategically reorienting their focus, resources and people into the community. They are wrong! The statistics demonstrate that most of these techniques simply draw Christians away from their previous churches, and do not reach many non-Christians. The truth is, non-Christians aren't looking for a church! If they are going to be reached, it will be through disciples who know them and have put forth the effort to love them. Mission today requires sending disciples out; it cannot consist of simply trying to attract people to worship services!
2. Mission- not institutional health- should be the driving and organizing principle for the church.
Everything that a church does should be an expression of, and driven by, God's mission. One of the biggest issues in the institutional church is making decisions about "what's best for the organization" based on: protecting the institution, culturally determined metrics for success, and keeping members happy. As soon as our priority is on survival, success, and institutional serenity our goose is cooked. By making God's mission the organizing principle we don't allow (or at least put up a better line of defense!) our institutional ties and loyalties and comforts to distract us from participating in the mission. And if we organize around mission we are less likely to spend ourselves attempting to please consumers of religious services. Instead we free up the necessary space and resources to equip and empower disciples to lead out in mission. (As opposed to offering our missional people the organizational left-overs.)
Also, by making mission the organizing principle we pave the way for authentic worship and community to happen. Worship is about obediently offering our lives to God. Therefore, our corporate worship is false if it's not flowing out of mission and into mission, since we are called and sent by God into mission. And worship grows in fervor as a response to witnessing God move as we're on mission. Christian community without mission is just a Christian club; enjoyable but often superficial. But if we allow mission to create community we'll discover a deeper fellowship made through mutual sacrifice and shared effort.
3. Discipleship and mission are inseparable.
Disciples are made in the mission field and are made for the mission field, as the goal of the disciple is to carry on the Master's work. Any cursory reading of the gospels will show that Jesus trained his disciples while on mission, and a reading of Acts shows that Paul followed suit. Without a balance of learning, going and reflecting (with the aid of spiritual practices) we don't get disciples. Rather, we get educated Christians, which isn't a bad thing in itself, but is not our goal. Furthermore, when we make mission the end of the classroom-style discipleship track we ensure that people will have lost all momentum and initiative by the time they are released, and many will not even make it to the end. I understand the fear of releasing untrained disciples, but the reality is that mission more often than not serves as a catalyst for learning. We learn about our ignorance and incompetence when we engage in mission, and that directs us to where we need to learn and grow in non-missional settings. And, local mission badly done is usually a product of lack of love and character, and not lack of knowledge.
4. Mission is for everyone, not just a select few!
As everyone is called to be a disciple, so everyone is called into mission. Mission is not to be left to a committee, or to the "super-spiritual," or to the paid professionals. And it's not a program for people who have time left over in their busy lives. It's simply a commitment to revealing the Kingdom of God to the people God has sent us to (i.e. the people in our lives). Of course that requires some specific practices, but it doesn't require a program or formal ministry.
5. Our metrics and methods should be determined by God's mission, and not by our culture.
I've written about this on previous posts, so I won't belabor this point. As mentioned above, if we're determining our success by our culture's standards then we're already toast. Plus, what we win people with, we win them to, so if we're not winning them with Christlike mission then we'll lose them when we call them to discipleship anyway.
Recommended Reading: Untamed, by Debra and Alan Hirsch