Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Rarity of the "Missional" Church

Even though I am formally part of my denomination's Northwest region, I still get the newsletter from my old region in Kansas City emailed to me.  The regional minister there had an interesting column about how several college students he knew went "church shopping" (I mega-loathe that term and everything it implies but have yet to come up with something better) and called up the pastors at a number of local churches to say, "I'm thinking about visiting your church.  What's in it for me?"  As my former regional minister writes, these were some of the answers they received.  Italicized parentheticals represent my own snarky, tongue-in-cheek reactions when I first read this list.

We have one of the largest congregations in the city. You will meet lots of new people here.  (Twenty bucks says this church has a thriving "singles" ministry.)

Our facility and equipment are state of the art. You will be impressed.  (Because it just ain't the Gospel without the newest gizmos and tech toys.)

We have great music and relevant messages to improve your life. (I actually really like this one.  Music matters to a lot of people, and I think one of the biggest challenges the church faces today is remaining relevant.)

We are one of the friendliest churches you will find anywhere.  (Also a response I like.)

We are a Bible-believing church.  (As opposed to...what, exactly?  Does this mean y'all are pro-slavery because the Bible affirms slavery?)

We will help you avoid hell and get to heaven.  (Cool. I dig it.)

We have programs and opportunities for young people that are second to none.  (Like what?  Please explain these, otherwise I'm going to assume you've got some oceanfront property in Arizona too.)

You will find yourself welcomed into a caring community of believers.  (Thumbs-up.)

We will introduce you to Jesus the Christ and his Good News.  (Another great response, though it makes it sound like I'm being fixed up with Jesus at a cocktail party or something.)

We offer lots of opportunities for mission both in the community and throughout the world.   (I think this is the most interesting response of them all...I'll return to it in a bit.)

We will save your soul.  (Humblebrag alert.)

We have strong Biblical preaching.  (WTF is "Biblical" preaching?  Does the Bible itself actually preach?  Is it like the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter?)

In Christ’s Spirit we will help you get your bearings, offer encouragement, and give you what you need for the journey.  ("In Christ's Spirit" would make a fantastic name for a Christian bar.  Note to self: if the parish ministry gig doesn't work out...)

We will show you how to lead happy and successful lives.  (I thought this was church, not a cabal of life coaches.  Paging Joel Osteen...)

We have one of the most beautiful sanctuaries around.  (I love our sanctuary at FCC, but I'd rather someone visit because of what was happening INSIDE the sanctuary rather than because of what it looked like.)

So yeah.  A diversity of answers, which just goes to show how diverse the body of Christ in the world truly is.  In that way, it's actually pretty awesome.  But it's also a little worrying.

Like I note along the way, there are several responses I did like among the ones I made fun of.  But one response stood out--the response about opportunities for mission.


Because look at how the question got framed--"I'm thinking about visiting your church.  What's in it for me?"

Only one church turned the question on its head and actually talked about giving rather than receiving.

Which is funny, in a sad clown sort of way, because it completely buys into the "church shopping" mentality that we pastors decry behind closed doors (and believe me, we do.  At great length).

Describing your church as "missional" (that is, in grossly oversimplified terms, outwardly-focused rather than inwardly-focused) is currently all the rage for a lot of churches.  But, as this (admittedly small) sample size would indicate...we aren't living that identity, at least not yet.

To my colleagues: when we treat the folks who come to us this way--as people needing to receive rather than also being more than capable of giving back--we are discounting the great scope and scale of their capacities for doing truly kingdom-sized work.

And to my brothers and sisters still searching for a church: lend an ear to their respective sales' pitches.  My personal, heartfelt advice to you would be to look for a church that sees itself not as a bubble, but as a river, flowing into the community that surrounds it, offering the life-giving properties it carries to anyone who asks for it.

Church can be an amazing thing after all.

But only if we let it.

Because, in the end, missional or not, the church is us.

Yours in Christ,

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