Being the faithful Church
Today Cory alerted me to a post by Dan Kimball on the Out of Ur blog about his concerns with the missional church conversation/movement/form. It’s not the first of it’s kind I’ve seen recently. I can’t find a link, but I saw something similar from Mark Driscoll as well. I’d encourage you to click the link and read Dan’s post, including the comments that follow it, many of which are well written and on point. But in case you don’t have time for that, he (and Driscoll) are basically contending that missional manifestations of the church are not working because there is not much conversion and reproduction. He handles his point in more depth, but that’s the basic premise. This is an important critique and one that needs to be answered.
First, I think it is good that Dan, Mark, and others are levying critiques at the missional movement within the church. If our loyalty ever develops around a movement or theory within Christianity rather than Christ himself it is idolatry. Therefore all doctrinal systems, church forms, worship styles, and anything else in any form of church should always be open for critique. Some say that critique and criticism is disunifying, but I think that has far more to do with the tone of the criticism and the pride of those who don’t want to hear it than whether or not criticism is given.
So what about the criticism itself? Offered in the right spirit it is something to be handled by people like me, who resonate with what missional stands for, and to make necessary adjustments. (By the way, missional can mean many different things to different people, sort of like the word church. My short definition is that being missional means the form or outworking of church is determined by the mission we’ve been given, which comes from and is based in Christ.) Here are some thoughts given in handy bullet points to make for easier ocular digestion.
- The issue is not about missional vs. attractional vs. seeker sensitive vs. church growth vs. home church and on and on. Kind of sounds like the same thing Paul so sternly reprimands the Corinthians for when some claim to follow him, others Apollos, and so on. Is Christ divided? So the issue should not be about defending one methodology or philosophy over another, but about pursuing faithfulness to Christ. What I’ve loved about the missional conversation is that it has been so focused on the necessity of faith being lived out, not just believed.
- This is an issue of discipleship. One of the things that has been most destructive the the Church of Christ in the United States has been the propensity to view conversion and discipleship as seperable and not co-dependent. In other words, someone can make a “decision” for Christ and hopefully their life will change, but the most important thing is that they repent and are saved from hell. That’s flat unbiblical. 1 John 1 says that if someone says they’re in the light but their life is still dark then they’re lying. James says faith without works is dead. No transformation, no faith. And most importantly, Jesus says that if we are in him we will bear fruit (our lives will be transformed). No fruit, no faith. So I don’t care if a church adds to it’s numbers. If there is not a clear message of life transformation being a necessity, then it may be like medicating a dying patient so they don’t feel the pain of their illness. Telling them they’re okay when they’re not. And this is in no way a problem limited to attractional churches. All of us can fall into wanting people to be “Christians” so we make it seem easy. I know I have.
- The criticism levied by Dan runs the risk of placing numbers over faithfulness. I’m not saying he means that, but it kind of sounds like the test of what’s best is what brings in the most numbers. And numbers, even conversions, don’t necessarily mean much (see the previous bullet). I am more concerned with being faithful to the teaching and way of Jesus and helping others do the same than with getting a lot of people for Infuse.
To be honest I’m getting kind of sick of the whole conversation around labels. When I was in Denver, a guy named Jason who I met was talking about impacting those who are not Christians and really being transformed for those who are and he said, “whether you want to call that missional or just being a Christian.” I’m with him. Even setting up all these labels makes it seem like there are different ways to be a Christian and you can pick what works for you. Back to consumerism, like we need more of that. What’s really important is following the way and teaching of Jesus and being a part of the redemption of people and this world. That starts with our salvation from our sin and from death. And that salvation leads to transformation if it’s real. The Church needs to start being faithful–whether it’s missional, attractional, Lutheran, Baptist, mega, mini, urban, suburban, coffee bar or not. And being faithful to Christ is hard. That whole taking up our cross, dying to self, loving our enemies, becoming perfect as God is perfect. Not exactly a walk in the park. But as we are able to approach it through the power of Christ, that’s when our witness will start to make sense and Christ’s mission will be advanced.