Not long ago I visited a church that had just completed a 50+ million dollar campus: elevators, rows and rows of cubicles, four stories, parking garages, and mega everything. But don’t judge too quickly because this church also gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to missions every year.
And maybe that says it right there, having a missions department does not make a church missional.
The Medium is the Message
Over lunch with Shane Hipps (Flickering Pixels) last week we talked about the architectural design of church buildings and worship auditoriums. He reminded me that the medium is the message.
If a church builds a Taj Mahal of a building then regardless of what you say verbally about your church’s values, the message is, this church building is what matters most. This street corner is the end… rather than a means to an end.
The local church is not the end, it’s only the beginning.
Many churches and leaders are latching on to the term missional without really understanding what the movement is all about. Some have hijacked the term and use it to describe their church, while they have no real missional impetus at all.
At the heart of the missional movement is the idea of the Missio Dei – the Mission of God. Pioneers in the missional movement, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, describe it like this, “The missional church is a sent church. It is a going church; a movement of God through his people; sent to bring healing to a broken world.”
Several ideals stand out as defining features of the missional church:
In many ways the missional church is a counter-cultural movement. For centuries the Western church has been most about getting people to come into their churches, but the missional church is more about going.
The missional church is first about sending people out, rather that bringing people in. I’m not saying to invite people in is wrong. But if church aspires to be missional, then it will focus the bulk of its energy and resources on sending people out.
The missional church does not exist to serve itself, it exists to serve the world.
As unintentional as it may be, many times the church does not feel very welcoming. The language we use, our over familiarity with one another, forms of worship from ages past -- all combine to make the newcomer feel like an outlier.
But the Christ said the church is like a wedding reception to which the entire world is invited, “Open the doors. Welcome in anyone and everyone off the street. They’re all wanted. This place is for the hurting, the dirty, the dejected, the wanderer, the messed up, the lost, the confused, the broken, the scared and the scarred.” (my paraphrase) That’s the church Christ wanted.
I went to college in the 80’s with the Yuppie, Beemer-driving, Member’s Only-wearing, mega-consumer generation. The emerging generation, however, is refreshingly simple. And when it comes to church they still want simple. They are not very interested in performance, dogmatism, personalities, judgmental attitudes, opulence, or mega-anything.
And here’s why it makes sense, following Jesus was simple. Sleep in what you wear. Eat whatever people set in front of you. Live on the go. He said it like this, "Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know.” Somewhere along the line we have made following Jesus very complicated.
Missional churches are again valuing simplicity and creating a culture of austerity.
Hyperopia is the limitation of only being able to focus on objects that are near (the opposite of myopia). The missional church’s focus is hyperoptic, it looks out. It is more farsighted than near-sighted.
A church in Simi Valley, California has been out-growing its worship auditorium. So they talked about buildings and capital campaigns and expanding their campus. Finally, after hearing the monumental amount of the final budget the pastor said, “Forget it, we’ll meet outside. We’ll take the money we were going to raise for a new building and put it into missions and give it away.” And they did, and they are.
Not every church sits in the utopian, year-round perfect climate of Simi Valley, but you get my point. If we spend less on the machine in here we can give more to others out there.
A distinct feature of being missional is that it is more a movement than an institution. Movements demand participation, and that’s what it means to be missional. You don’t fill out an application to be part of a movement, you simply dive in and participate. Movements grow by popular demand. They are dynamic and fluid. You can’t really plan a movement, but you can help start a movement.
Make Jesus Famous
The missional church is first and foremost committed to making the name of Jesus Christ famous. There’s a simple but profound return to Jesus. The message is most about Jesus. Pastors and personalities are not what matter most. Church buildings and programs are not why the church exists. Jesus Christ is the roaring center of everything missional.
Beginning with the idea of the incarnation, the missional church models its function after the life and ministry of Christ. In the New Testament Jesus’ close friend John said it like this, “He made his dwelling among us.” Jesus poured himself into the world he lived in and into the lives of those he lived among – this is the incarnation. In the same way the church today must give all it’s worth to the world out there – locally and globally.
Between bites of Nello’s pizza Shane Hipps went on to talk about speaking at Rob Bell’s Mars Hill. When he stood in the middle the large auditorium the first thing he said was, “Whether you know it or not, the chairs you sit on are part of your message at Mars Hill.” Every one literally squirmed to take a peek at the chair under them, molded grey plastic. “The chairs are inexpensive, hard, and rather uncomfortable. The chairs are quietly saying to you, ‘Don’t get too comfortable, don’t stay too long. Your place in this world is out there, not in here.’”
The medium is the message.