*This is the 9th, and last, in a series of entries inspired by books I’ve read on the subject of the “missional church.” Please read the ground rules before beginning. Also, try to read entries in chronological order as they tend to build on the previous entry, okay?
After looking at a few things the church/leadership should focus on in preparing the Church for the future, today I’ll wrap up by focusing on what we as individuals should focus on.
First, I believe we need to start taking Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27 and Matthew 22:37 seriously. Yeah. It’s Jesus quoting Deuteronomy…loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, strength. And Luke throws in that “loving your neighbor as yourself” caveat. See, church leaders can do all they want to make welcoming & loving environments for people to grow in Him, but unless the desire to walk with Him is inherent in the people they serve, well, they’re only spinning their wheels.
Be careful before you sign on the dotted line for that, kids.
Because my experience is that people nod very politely that is precisely what they want to do…and then other stuff crowds our activities and brains to where doing that is compartmentalized into the time we have for it. It’s that old deal where we all know that in order to lose weight we need to eat better and exercise more. We KNOW it, man. But yet, when it comes to actually doing that, well, the cheese fries at Snuffers and their 3,300 calories get the better of us. And don’t even get me started on having to arrange time to knock out a couple of miles or hit the gym. So, we settle for a few extra pounds around the middle because it critical yet.
Or is it just me?
It was best explained to me that the spiritual life is made up of mortification and vivification. Fancy seminary words for the reality that there are things we need to die to in our lives and things we need to “live to” in order to walk with Christ. In fact, you could tell all likely tell me those things we need to live to…
…and the missional books strongly suggest strong prayer lives, time in the Word, time with other believers in large/small gatherings, using gifts and talents to serve, et al, et al. And they all seem to add that little addition of “authenticity” to the mix. That whenever we’re living life, we should do it with a loss of pride and be willing to be open and honest, and that those around us should love us in that openness and honesty. I guess they’re tired of a spiritual life where you pray for our sick aunts and always talking about our great quiet times, huh? We should be able to celebrate with our brothers and sisters over great promotions and kid’s graduations and happy anniversaries, but also walk through the job losses, wayward children and difficult marriages. Because we’re choosing to live to certain realities in our lives.
…and the stuff we’re to die to, well, you could fill in those blanks as well, no? So no real need to dive into the 3,300 calorie cheese fries of fleshly stuff and worldly lures that draw us away, right?
This can look as innocuous as the mixed message of telling our kids they can go to Bible study when they finish their homework (please tell me you see that mixed message) to saying you just don’t have time for a small group (but your kids have to go to theirs) or writing a check to the inner city mission because you’d rather buy season tickets to the local baseball team or your family hasn’t been to church in 3 months because it’s soccer season…see? No pastor in the world can create in you the desire to truly love the Lord with all your heart. And, yes, you can write checks or buy season tickets and still love God. Just illustrating a point here, patrons.
Second, we need to erase the secular/sacred divide and thinking. As I’ve said before, it’s either all the “spiritual life” or none of it is. This goes back to the Romans 12: 1&2 thing where you live your moment-by-moment life as a sacrifice of worship.
In my experience, the attractional church has allowed us to become another priority in a scheduled life. So, we have our school/work life. We have our extracurriculars and hobbies. We have our family stuff. We have our church stuff. This leads us to almost subliminally put them all in a hierarchical order…this takes priority over that, or whatever. In other words, the Christology –> Missiology –> Ecclesiology order of things gets reversed in our own lives. We allow the church structure to become part of a scheduling activity rather than a pervasive activity.
If it’s all the “spiritual life,” then that means homework is walking with Christ. So is working at your job. Playing soccer. Going to the ball game. A beer with the boys (or margaritas with the girls or scotch for everybody). Seeing a great concert in a small club. Praying with friends. Singing great songs poorly but emphatically in a gathering of believers. Reading the Bible (or listening to a sermon on the iPod). Legos with grandkids on the floor for an hour. A great meal together…and the more time we’re around a table eating the better, IMHO. Pool volleyball or pick up basketball at the gym. Driving with friends. Throwing the tennis ball for the dogs. Laughing at the movies with your family. It’s all the spiritual life.
The dangers of failing to make the distinction are legion. Primarily, you “bubble” yourself with Christian friends only and encourage your own kids to only hang out with the right group of kids (often thinking the right group is in the youth group at church, but lemme tell you the truth about that. Well, okay, I’d better not spoil your illusion). You miss out on great art because it isn’t “Christian” and often settle for kitsch. You lose opportunities to minister because you don’t see that the office is often a tremendous place to live out your faith even if the HR department keeps you from using words. The homeless guy becomes a political slogan rather than a human being who might have some real needs. You reduce a team sport to a means to an end instead a chance to Carpe Diem and drink deep from a life experience. Sex becomes a physical act instead of an inexplicable mystery of the deepest connection. You get it, right?
Remember, if Christian is an adjective, the odds are overwhelming that it’s settling for less than the abundant life.
Finally, the entire theme of “missional” is living the beauty of Kingdom moment-by-moment. In a book I highly and strongly recommend, The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, they talk about how the current model of the attractional church feeds our individualistic desires (“Individualism…fights against commitment to anything that doesn’t directly serve our individual interests. Most specifically, this relates to our interaction with people. Although we may want a deeper sense of community, we’re not going to make the changes in our lives so that we can commit to it.” It also has become a huge consumer trap…of which, I think I’ve already touched on.
Anyway, their solution lies in a three-fold approach to getting outside yourself and living the abundant life moment by moment:
- Benevolent actions, sacrificial giving, and spontaneous blessing.
(As an aside, in the student ministry at the church I used to serve, we taught to this very lifestyle for an entire semester. The two-weeks of application exercises can be found on their Communitas Facebook page. I consider that semester some of the most effective teaching I did in my career and value the direction it’s headed in under new leadership…I look forward to seeing where they take it.)
What this means is that we get past ourselves through benevolent actions. Halter & Smay put it this way: “You see, transformation is limited when all we do is write checks for global missions. True transformation happens only when God’s heart becomes a habit in our normal community.” In youth ministry, I know this to be fact. Pile up in a van and serve in a soup kitchen, or camp kitchen, or build a fence, or head to Juarez and build a house, or mow a lawn together (we had a group of guys who did this for people in our church and stole the name “Lawn Wranglers” from a movie for their work crew…just took Saturdays and did yard work to help out…10 years later those guys still keep in touch). Doesn’t matter what, but seeking and actively meeting needs gets you past yourself and into community.
Giving sacrificially is something we talk about but, if we’re honest, do we really sacrifice? If we look at the early church in Scripture, they were selling their houses and giving to others who had needs. Uh-oh. But this keeps us authentically trusting God as well as helping out others in need.
And, in my mind, the most fun is spontaneous blessing. Simply being sensitive to how the Holy Spirit leads you to bless someone else in some small way. In our Communitas challenge, this is the one that our students truly enjoyed. Sometimes, it was sitting with someone who was alone at lunch and getting to know their story. Others made breakfast for their parents & cleaned up. Some purchased the fast-food for the person behind them in the drive-thru. School lunches and cups of coffee were paid for. They waxed floors. And on and on. And they did it with joy. This keeps us on our spiritual toes, 24/7, looking for Kingdom needs to meet, no?
So, in addition to the reality that the church has some re-focusing work to do to serve the community of believers…
…the believers have some re-focusing of who they are and what they’re about, too.
Which is why I still love the church and the people that make it up…because both are really on the same team when you think about it…trying to walk authentically with Christ in ways that spread the Good News of His Kingdom to people in tangible and meaningful ways. And I want to be a part of gatherings of believers like this.
My guess is that you do, too.
And I think so many of the works that are labeled “missional” aren’t really radical at all…just helping us focus on what we really need to be about rather than drifting away from the abundant life.
So, that’s that, patrons…have at it over your coffee!