What would it look like if… Missional v. Worship??? Missional v. Discipleship?
What if…the organizing factor of being the church is mission? What would be the implication?
What are we organized around now? Why? What has been and is the implication?
What if…I want to propose something – it’s profound if you want to understand who we are, what we do, why we do… how and why it contrasts with most of your church experiences and HOPEFULLY even clarify some misconceptions… Read on…
This past week we got to spend a few days with some of our friends, and best cheer leaders: authors, pastors & teacher/speakers Alan & Deb Hirsch and Mike Frost. They’ve led the movement in Australia to stop just getting together and playing church (the church in Australia has been in a tale spin for decades!) and get back to the business we’ve been called to as a people. They have authored many books – take a look on Amazon. It was great to have the Hirsch’s here in New Orleans again, and to introduce our complex city to Mike. After being here, we drove them to Mobile, AL, where we all played a role in Catapult, a Forge USA gathering, this one particularly targeting the United Methodist Church, a movement in real decline and desperate to not float into irrelevance and yesteryear.
During one of Mike Frost’s presentations in Mobile, he hit on something profound – simple and yet catalytic and paradigm shifting… It is the core of what we often face here, being intentional missional communities, living as an order to those beyond the reach of the church. Adam, Chad and I sat there – “IF ONLY every person who wrestles what we do, who misperceives and thinks we’re reactionay, could hear this. Today, Adam and I were just discussing this. He is blogging about it also – and probably more eloquently than I can. Yet, maybe between the two of us, the essence of what we’re saying will be caught!
Take a look at this diagram. The rest of I say is centered around this concept:
This is an image of what God calls us – His people – the church to be. Everything you find in Scripture can be categorized into one of these four practices, focuses, postures, way of living life.
Side Bar: Now, many people wrestle with what we do and how we do it, simply because it’s different… isn’t like the tradition they’ve been given by their parents, or the people who walked them towards God. Some wrestle because we don’t have the same labels for some of the functions, or because we don’t have a building (because somehow owning a building makes it a real church? Huh? Better tell over 90% of the churches in the world and through history!).
The greatest difference in how we see “the church” and our mandate here on earth is in where we place our balance, our weight. Allow me to explain: MOST of the western church through history goes back to the early Constantine expression of church, where being a people transformed to religious events in religious buildings…on religious days. This became the place where worship was to happen and that reduced to songs and prayer (though much of Scripture defines worship as one’s life as a sacrifice for others to Him and our response being song and prayer. This event became where the only people who could read and “be entrusted” with Scripture taught from a high cupola pulpit. Through time all discipleship, all mission, all evangelism, all everything became only legitimate if the professional clergy did this – in spite of everything God tells us in His Word. While the reforms of several movements (The Dessert Fathers and Mothers, St Patrick’s Celtic Monastic Movement, The Reformation, The Moravians, the Great Awakening, the Anabaptists) worked on this, there remains a central understanding by Christians and non-Christians that the church is really about the event.
In other words, our western faith understands the church as organized around Worship… the event. We understand being the church through worship… worship drives mission, drives discipleship, drives fellowship. This is because the gathered church, in a formal ceremony (adopted with the influence of the church becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire when priests were converted from other pagan religions: they brought the cultural understanding into the church’s practice, and therefore colored our understanding – because the medium IS the message).
I challenge that there is not Biblical support in the whole counsel of God for the church being understood and centered on worship. Worship is a response. A response to what? Still don’t agree that we are centered here? Okay, here are a few contextualizations:
1. If a person is out reaching the world, serving the least of these and is not there on a Sunday morning, what is the general response, especially after a week or two? Why? Because we interpret worship and shalom with God through the event, the Mass, be it Catholic or Evangelical.
2. If a person is to grow in his/her spiritual formation, they must hear it through a one-way sermon, though Jesus RARELY ever, ever taught that way.
3. If we are to have community, one of the four tenants of being the church, it must be in the form of a gathering where there is what? Worship… prayer and hopefully a Bible Study. To eat together requires that we pray… though not normal from Christ or that time. If they prayed, it was afterwards. 🙂 …just a little poke.
4. To do a study of God’s word, we must have what with it? Worship in one of the two forms accepted.
5. Discipleship is to happen through this one-way conversation (sermon) and if done beyond that is seen as centered around a formal meeting to transfer knowledge and moral behaviors, to belong, to know what they must know, not around behaviors to behave and emulate Christ. Don’t think so? Dissect almost any discipleship program available – it’s all about information, not behaviors. Jesus used the Jewish method where people behaved into understanding, not understand to behave. Also, our understanding of discipleship is that it is ONLY post-conversion and only for new believers.
5. When we do evangelize and do mission, our end goal is to “get them to come to the religious event” on Sunday. No? Stop and think about almost all evangelism done by almost every “evangelical church”.
Now, let’s consider the center of what God (Christ) commands and calls us to do and to be. It is all centered from the foundation of the Missio Dei (to help people understand, to alert them to, to call them to, to love them to) a reconciliation and relationship with the Living God. God is. God is active. He is reigning. Mike Frost used an illustration from one of his students (Mike is Dean of Mission at Morling Bible College in Sydney); people are in a room with a locked door, the walls and the one window covered in soot and dirt, unable to hear, or see the beautiful sunrise in brilliant color outside, the sound of the surf crashing, a clear morning after a cleansing rain during the late night, with a fresh clear air that awakens the soul. It is happening outside, whether they know it or not. Our role is not to make it happen, not to convince them in an argumentative sense, but merely to demonstrate and help them see… so we are called to clean that window even in the smallest ways and allow that brilliant light in, drawing them out of that darkness. What does that mean? Simply to bring the behaviors/values/reality/health/healing/hope of what it is like outside in the Kingdom where He is King. He is King, we let them know. Pretty cool huh?
You see, the church, in God’s Word (Is 58, Is 61, John 21, etc) is to the Missio Dei. Our role is to bring the Kingdom in our subversive, sacrificial, humble contexts into reality… be outposts, Ambassadors, embassies, light, salt for the world. All of this, be it evangelization with the word, or with deed (Is 58 – true worship)… is the Missio Dei (Mission of God)…
In other words, to be the church, is to center ourselves in the Mission of God. When that is the foundation, the other three occur in a healthy balanced and effective manner. Allow me to briefly and non-exhaustively demonstrate this. When you participate in a ministry team/mission trip… when you are there and you see God working, using you in His purposes and you debrief that night and share, what is your response? You burst forth in worship! When you are together, in the trenches doing ministry, mission, no matter the form, is this not the richest, closest, most meaningful community (fellowship) you ever experience? When you have a person who may not yet believe, but they begin behaving in concert with the Kingdom, participating in the Mission of God; when they hear the Word interpreting what they experience through the people of God, when they see God heal in pragmatic benevolent ways, are they not moved to follow Him?
You see, we are not reacting to the church that birthed us, that discipled us, that sends us – absolutely not! We are grateful; we love them; we appreciate them; we want to see them awaken to the mandate (Great Commission and Great Commandment) from God Himself – that we will make disciples (Christ followers – in other words – mission to reach people!). The result, it is normative and intrinsic that a saint, a believer, lives their life centered on mission as the starting point, the foundation, the center of what it is to be a Christ follower.
We pray this epistle helps – that you are encouraged and see why we live how we do, do mission how we do, have reoriented ourselves not on a building, not on an institution, but on being a people together on mission – not because we don’t like the world, but because we humbly and sincerely want to follow Jesus.
This awakening is happening – not nearly fast enough though. The UMC (mentioned above) are losing 500,000 people a year. Sure, a few are transferring to other traditions. Most, though, are leaving the faith, dying in this aging movement with such rich, alive and powerful roots. They are not atypical. Since 2008’s economic collapse, we’ve lost 1/3 of the mission agencies in the US. Many of the old ones have lost focus, lost mission. It’s not rare… YMCA, as one example. Some still hold their mission, but fail to do missiology to understand the culture today and therefore are ineffective. Missionaries are being replaced at a 1:3 to those leaving the field for all reasons. Giving to the church and mission is at an all time (never this low!) level, at 1.5% given to non-profits – this includes churches, missions, charities, schools, etc. This is a FAR cry from the so-called 10% set as a minimum normal for saints. In this malaise, we’ve not recognized that the US is at about a 15% Christian population, far from the 40% estimates from just a decade ago… US News reports 75% believe in God… any God, and that does not mean they actually follow Him at all. In this reality, we’ve not recognized the death of Christendom. Europe, the UK (once the greatest sending nation in history) Canada, New Zealand and Australia have all admitted Christendom is dead. The church is now on the margins, does not carry the influence, the admiration, the authority not just in society, but in the lives of people. I’d suggest we’re now living in a second generation pagan culture.
Hence, why we exist – we exist because Jesus is not worshiped, is not known, understood, desired. We exist because our own people, our own culture, our own civilization is devolving and the church is not advancing, but retreating. Missionaries who lived centered in mission, as a normal understanding of what it is to be a Christ follower are needed for a) the lost society around us and b) as prophetic voice and mentors for the church we love so much.