I have been spending some time these past few days reading Reggie McNeil’s Missional Renaissance. It is a great book and should be reading for all who are in leadership positions in the church. The book is focused on calling the church to come to grips with the fact that our long-term viability will be determined by our ability, or our lack of ability, to address the needs of the culture in which we have been planted. He draws a very clear distinction between member cultured church and a mission cultured church. The member cultured church is something that most of us who attend mainline Christian denominations in North America have all become very accustomed to. It has been bred into us in fact. Our churches are often focused on membership issues, attendance, property issues, budgets and how we can maintain the status quo. A member culture views the many aspects of our culture as silos. That is to say politics, business, school, social life, technology, etc. all exist as separate silos. In that reality church also becomes its own silo. This means, of course that we become an institution which is in competition with other silos in our culture. We try to recruit and find resources and people from other silos. McNeal asserts that we become an institution which works very hard at hiding a lamp under a bushel basket. The missional church on the other hand sees no need for separate silos, or segregation away from the many and varied areas of influence in our culture. Rather than being focused inwards and solely on its own need, the missional church is clearly directed outward to the community in which it has been placed.
In his book I read these words;
The missional church understands that God has his people – His missionaries – deployed across all domains of culture…This deployment is what God has in mind when he designated his people to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19; 1 Peter 2; Revelation 4). This commission didn’t anticipate a bunch of people tied up doing church work, insulated from the culture that needs priesting. God had a mission in mind that everyone could participate in, a far cry from a member culture that gathers on Sunday to watch a few people exercise their gifts.
Reading those words caused me to stop, …reread, …pause, …reread again,…and think about who we are and how we behave as church in this 21st-century. McNeal is pointing out, in rather stark terms, the dichotomy that exist between who God has called us to be, and who we have become. Sadly, we often spend time organizing ourselves as church at the expense of actually being a mission minded people. Our church work restricts our ability to be the focused church of disciples that God has commissioned us to be. Anyone who is ever served in any leadership capacity – either lay or ordained – can testify to the fact that often times the church can be guilty of paralysis of analysis!
In the midst of this Lenten season, I find myself praying about how we as an institution can refocus our attention in such a way as to embrace the mission that we have been given by Jesus. McNeal calls the church to refocus its attention away from mere survival, to embrace the passion of the early church. The early church had a sense of energy, and excitement, and verve for the Gospel of hope, and love. The early church sought to make disciples of all nations. It sought to do so by showing love towards others. Perhaps this Lenten season is a time for us to remember what those before us have done to build the kingdom. It did not involve a program. It did not come from large church meetings. It was not invented through a committee. It was advanced with the power of Christ-like love.
Missional Jesus followers believe that the way they demonstrate love and service will intrigue people to pursue getting to know the God who inspires such service. Using the life of Jesus and the early years of the church as their reference point, they maintain that an authentic expression of faith requires Jesus followers to adopt an intentional life of blessing people. This, they believe, demonstrates the heart of God for people. Any and every follower of Jesus, not just a select few, can demonstrate God’s love.
How can each of us better express the love of God to others who we encounter every day? McNeil has readily identified that the work of growing a community of faith is not the purvey of just a few, but is the loving and exciting work of the body of Christ. It is the work of all of God’s people. It is the work of the priesthood of all believers. Each child of God is called to be more than just a member of a single silo or congregation. Each of us is called to be intentional about blessing, loving, embracing, forgiving, and welcoming others – that intentionality becomes a great demonstration of God’s love.
When I ponder how God has been most active and most powerful in my life, I realize that it has always been in the authentic expressions of love that the people of God have shown me. Wouldn’t you say that it was the same for you? Don’t get me wrong. I am sure that many of us have seen those expressions of love played out at a meeting or a committee. But I rather suspect that we have more often found it in intimate moments between ourselves and people of faith who have shown us the face of Jesus. As we think about that, I pray that our Lenten journey may cause us to ask how we may find more authentic expressions of evangelism. I pray that we might come to understand that each of us have opportunities on a daily basis, with authentic expressions of love, to bring people closer to God.
We are well into our Lenten season, but maybe we still have time for a discipline. perhaps we can give up being a member cultured church. And perhaps we might take up being a missional cultured church.