Is a Non-Missional Church Still a Church?

“If they shut down the churches where would you go, If they melted all the stain glass windows

replaced every sanctuary with a condo, where would you go, where would you go . . .

if they burned every Bible what would you know, if they tore your marked up pages how would you grow

and declared your devotion to be criminal, what would you know, what would you know

Gets you thinking, doesn’t it? These are some of the lyrics from one of my new favorite thought-provoking songs by Downhere, called “Cathedral Made of People.”

2 Corinthians 5 begins this way, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”

Ephesians 2 also picks up on this idea, stating in verse 22, “In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Downhere sings the chorus:

“we are the cathedral made of people, in a kingdom that the eye can’t see

we’re a house we are the bride, where God’s spirit lives inside

and nothing ever can stand against us”

 So again I ask the question, a little bit differently: If your church experience takes place on one solitary piece of real estate 52 hours a year, what kind of spiritual follower of Jesus are you?
One more question to followup, in case the connection isn’t there yet: What will you do one day if that real estate is removed and you can’t go there to do church? Downhere continues:

“when they throw you in prison, what will you do, when they hate you for the things that you know are true,

they can tear down this temple, they can’t touch you”

I know someone is caught here, because our nationalism and our Christianity seem inseparable. Isn’t God an American, after all? Wouldn’t Jesus appear in a suit, behind a pulpit, hands clasped in front as he bobbed on the balls of his feet inside his shiny black shoes, inviting everyone to come forward while a hymn played? You mean Nate you’re actually suggesting we can have a Christian experience outside of the walls of a church building, and that we can have a Christian experience outside of the hour on Sunday mornings?

Not only am I suggesting it is possible. I am trying to convince you it is necessary. Jesus taught us to go on the mission He was on. Matthew 28:19-20 says, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus taught us to go make disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey all He commanded us, and promised He would be with us in this mission. What part of the above passage speaks of the centerpiece of our American Christian religious experience?

So, Nate, you’re telling me to stop going to church?

No, I’m telling you to consider start going to church. If Sundays is your only experience, and you “punch in” and “punch out,” you have yet to start doing church as Jesus intended it.

So are you telling me to spend more time in programs and ministries at church?

No, I’m telling you to consider spending your time differently, and emphasizing your time differently. Instead of hurrying to see fast results like a big crowd, or lots of tithes and offerings, or counting a higher percentage of hands raised than last time, try something different.

Look like Jesus. Here is a person who left what was comfortable for what was costly, whose decrescendo for the payment of sin began with hurling down into the womb of a young lady, experiencing humanity from conception to birth, to hunger, pain, thirst, who brought love and healing to those who needed it, who lived a perfect life, who obeyed His Father even when it meant ostracism, suffering, and death. Here is a person we should idolize, because He claimed to be God and then proved it by His resurrection from the dead. Here is a person who came humbly to serve, and “to give His life as a ransom for many.”

So how does this relate to being or not being missional? It takes a second to find out of you’re missional or not. It all comes down to whether or not you are willing to be uncomfortable like Jesus was and go where the lost people are (who are just like you, except you’re forgiven and they’re not).

Maybe you’re like the boy who decided he wanted to catch a big fish but didn’t want to get smelly and dirty. So he got the biggest bucket he could find and decided to stick his pole in the water. His father saw him sitting there with a fishing pole in a bucket of water and asked him, “Son, what are you doing?” He said, “I’m fishing, dad.” The father said to his son, “Son, there aren’t any fish in that bucket.” The son replied, “I know, but maybe if I keep the water in this bucket one of them will like it and jump in.”

Are you going out to where the lost people are like Jesus did, by His incarnation and making friends with “tax collectors and sinners,” to the point of being labeled as one of them by his enemies? Or are you sitting there waiting for people to come to you? Or are you coming up with ways to lure people in?

I wanted to put this out there so we could think about this. If we don’t do something different in our churches in America, and stop worrying and fearing, you can expect the words of Downhere to come true. We can kiss all that we take for granted goodbye if we hide inside our walls.

Here is an idea, in closing. What if you do whatever it takes to get into a “pool” of spiritual sojourners (we used to call them lost, or unbelievers, but try to keep up with the terminology)? What if we even were willing to quit our cushy jobs at established churches, take an enormous pay cut, and trust God to keep His Word and take care of our stuff if we take care of His stuff (read Luke 12:21 and following verses)? What if we made Sundays a day to fellowship, focus on celebrating what happened the week before, and concern ourselves with our hearts as we sang instead of the singers’ dresses or voices, or abilities or words on a screen? What if we gave up our time to focus on just discipling one person a year? Meet with them once a week? Imagine the multiplication factor (see Wikipedia on the Fibonacci principle if you’re not familiar with it)? What if our church life looked like this above?

At The Stand, we are attempting this. (No, this is not a promotional, because I’m not an attractional pastor). Let me tell you, we are seeing God work, as we share the Gospel, as relationships grow, as people ask “what’s going on at your house?” We are exercising more faith, enduring with more patience, sometimes suffering, but we are less stressed, more fulfilled, and are seeing God do more than when we tried it the attractional way. We are loving people, sharing our lives and everything with them, challenging each other to serve, going out locally and globally to fulfill Jesus’ prayer, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We are not alone.

In closing, let me challenge you to find the heart of the cathedral of people Jesus said He would build. Search deep to find the missional, going-out aspect of your local faith community. Talk to leaders. If you think it’s lacking, don’t mutiny! Start leading by being an example of what a true Jesus follower is. Be missional, on the mission of Jesus Christ, so we don’t see the words from Downhere come true in America.

– Nate

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2 thoughts on “Is a Non-Missional Church Still a Church?

  1. Wayne March 28, 2012 / 9:00 pm

    Only 52 hours a year …. well, you will catch up on that in eternity.

  2. natewhiteside March 29, 2012 / 12:43 am

    Lol! Thanks. Sounds like you’ve had the same uphill battle.

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