Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Mission Has a Church

“The church doesn’t have a mission. The mission has a church.”

It is very difficult to be a Christ-centered church in a culture that is steeped in consumerism and individualism. It is much easier to fit in and go with the flow. It is much easier to be a “bless me” club that focuses its energy and resources on serving its members. To attract the maximum number of people churches offer attractive programs designed to help members to feel good about themselves and to be successful in life. They offer services such as coffee shops, book stores, sports teams, and others that appeal to member interests. The church that is successful in the market focuses on the customer and strives to keep the customers happy.

It is very difficult to be a Christ-centered church in a consumer culture because its mission is to transform, not fit into and accommodate, the world as it is. When the church becomes a distributor of religious goods and services its focus is in the wrong place. Such churches tend to adjust the gospel of Jesus Christ to match what ever the culture deems to be important. When people come to most North American churches they expect to be served, comforted and blessed. The church, therefore, responds by focusing its energy and resources upon the work needed to serve, comfort and bless more and more people. Leaders expend all their time and energy to find more and more creative ways to attract more and more people to the church. I say the focus in such a church is in the wrong place because it is upon the people in the church itself. God becomes little more than a marketing tool that attracts people to a “bless me club.” This is described by U2 in their song “If God Will Send His Angels”

Jesus never let me down
You know Jesus used to show me the score.
Then they put Jesus in show business
Now it's hard to get in the door

The real mission of the church is doing all in its power to get more people to join and to give so that it can develop more programs to attract more people. In a culture that measures success by numbers and dollars, it is very difficult to be the church of Jesus Christ.

The Christ-centered church is not a “bless me” club. Certainly, the people who come to its worship services and participate in its programs and ministries are helped, comforted and blessed. The key, however, is that is not the focus of its programs and ministries. The church’s focus is on participating in God’s mission in the world. Christ-centered churches understand that they exist for the benefit of Christ and his mission.

“Bless me” club churches are shaped by the General Rule of Pastoral Prudence, “The absolute minimum in obligation in order to keep the maximum number of people.” Christ-centered congregations are shaped by the General Rule of Discipleship: “To witness to Jesus Christ in the world, and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” The majority of energy and resources are directed outward, toward the world that God loves and not so much on the church. This is because Christ-centered congregations know that the church is a means to God’s end and not the other way around. The church is a living, breathing flesh and blood organism, Christ body in, with, and for the world. Its members are connected to one another in order to be sent into the world as Christ’s ambassadors who use their spiritual gifts in ways that contribute to the body’s mission in the world.

Christ-centered congregations understand “The church does not have a mission. The Mission has a church.” The mission of the church is to cooperate with, be a channel for, and be a participant in God’s mission in the world. This means the Christ-centered congregation is missional, just as Jesus Christ is missional. The life of a missional church is centered in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Members are equipped to live lives that are good news to the poor, open the eyes of the blind, and proclaim liberty to prisoners and the oppressed. Christ-centered, missional congregations are sign communities of the reign of God that is among us and is coming. It doesn’t exist to point the world towards itself. Rather it lives to point the way to God and to welcome the world to life in God’s household.


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