A cautionary tale about ‘missional’ churches

Charles Arm related his sentiments to the ever growing and ongoing conversation about being  a missional congregation. I have to say that his comments struck a chord with me, because I resonate with the importance of being connected with one’s community. Indeed, I have discovered that some persons substitute involvement in the community for participation in the local church for worship and fellowship. Arn rightly reminds us that the church is the body of Christ (emphasis his) as opposed to being merely one aspect of the body of Christ. There is a difference.

Yes, I know the church is not the building. I like using the term missional because it relates to being in the community and outside the walls of the church house. We need to be involved in the felt needs of others, helping those who are hurting, feeding those who are hungry, and genuinely sharing the love of Christ through our actions and our words.

What I have found on occasion, is a criticism aimed at the church when it seeks to attract more persons into its fellowship. It boils down to the fact that getting more people to come to church is not what the gospel is about, and when churches do this, they become distracted and not follow through on Kingdom work. This of course is a danger, but also an incomplete assessment of what the church should be about.

Our church is involved in many community based ministries, more than any other church I’ve been associated with as a pastor. Most recently we have begun a partnership with Rare Breed, an outreach to homeless teenagers who are in need of housing, stability, and an opportunity to improve their lives. It has been an eye-opener to learn about how many teens fall into this category in need of support. Another area of involvement has related to the Homeless Count, which is important for Springfield in order to secure government assistance in providing supplies and resources for adults and families. School will be starting soon, which means we will be gather supplies for needy students and offering the International Student Household Item Giveaway.

These ministries are important and our church is glad to be a part of them and other community ministries. However, I can relate to the criticism aimed at Andy Stanley in Arn’s article about building a bridge into the church parking lot to alleviate traffic (I hope you take time to read the article).  One blogger criticized Stanley for being “un-missional.” I can’t comment on the price tag and need, but do know that this kind of criticism is hard to avoid, especially if a church is trying to find ways to bring more people into the fellowship. This seems to happen when money is being spent on the local church, whether it is the building or a ministry start up.

The local church definitely has had it problems, but it remains “the bride of Christ.” There have been times through the years I”ve thought about “chunking it” in terms of church involvement, and appreciate how others would feel the say way. Even so, these sentiments do not negate the reality that the church is the bride of Christ, not merely “a bride of Christ.”

Last Sunday I told a story about a busload of tourists on their way to the Grand Canyon, and along the way they passed through the Rocky Mountains and the majestic scenery of the great plains. However, they were so focused on their final destination that they pulled their blinds down and didn’t bother looking outside along the way. Instead of looking outside, they had to look inside the bus and as a result found things to criticize and complain about. The point of this familiar story is that the church can often be compared to that bus, and we are so consumed with our final destination as believers that we do not see the opportunities to share Christ and grow along the way.

The journey is important, and if that is what being missional is about, then I hope and pray that our church is like that. Let us do all we can to love people, reach people, and while we are at it be the people that God would desire us to be.


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