Asking the hard questions Are we living in the day when the US church no longer...
Matthew tells us in 16:16 that God has built his Church on the rock of Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Paul said, in Ephesians 2:20 that it is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the Chief Cornerstone.” And he goes on to explain in chapter 4:11-12: “It was he (Jesus) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service (Italics mine), so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
From these Scriptures we know that our lives together are built upon Jesus himself; the Cornerstone, who holds all things together, and it functions by those with the above mentioned gifts, discipling the whole church to participate in God’s mission to the world. No one is left out and told to just sit back and do their own thing because they only have to show up every once in a while to get their spiritual tank filled.
The Four Pillars
Along with the foundations already mentioned, we have adopted some basic biblical practices, or pillars, which are built upon the foundation that holds up and supports the life of the church:
The whole life of the church revolves around these four indispensable and non-negotiable pillars, or practices, in how we relate to one another and to the world.
Over the past few months, I have come to realize that the church, as a whole, may have rearranged these pillars in such a way as to support our comfort, over God’s mission. For the early church, and for all of the spiritual revivals throughout history that we know about, mission was always the first functional pillar, upon which our worship, fellowship, and discipleship were aligned and lived out.
God had sent His Son into the world to accomplish the Mission of God – the redemption of the world. Jesus enlisted the 12, the 70, and the 120, to continue this mission. And his parting words to his disciples were for all of his followers to “Go and make disciples of all nations…” This is the foundational Mission of God, upon which all of the other pillars line up.
Unfortunately, the order has gotten rearranged, beginning when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and the ranks of the earthly church began to swell with forced conversions and ritualistic adherence, without people necessarily having a true repentance and change of heart. We call this Christendom – a force that has ruled the western world for almost 2000 years.
In Christendom, since everyone was expected to accept and practice a form of Christianity, the pillar of mission was no longer the guide by which all other pillars were aligned. It was replaced by the pillar of worship.
And everything began to revolve around worship…
Mission, fellowship, and discipleship came out of worship instead of worship, fellowship, and discipleship coming out of mission – the Mission of God to the world.
A lot of teachings and books have been calling the church back to being missional. Basically this means replacing the original pillar of mission in its rightful place as the one upon which all of the other pillars align, in order to faithfully fulfill our place in God’s Mission to the world.
While worship is important and one of the greatest things we can do as the church; when it is the aligning pillar, the church building becomes the center of operations and the focus of our attention. This is the way it has been for nearly two of millennia of Christendom. We have depended on bringing people into the church to be like us – to worship like us, to hear our preaching, and to eventually become like us – Christians who are inwardly focused on our life together in God.
The reality we face in this post-Christian world that has sprung up around us, is that fewer people are coming to church. They have their lives wrapped up in other things. Therefore, having the local church building as the center of our attention and ministry keeps us from reaching those who would never even consider coming to a church worship service.
We need to become more missional – to recognize that our God is a missional God and that he is calling us to be a missional church. To be missional simply means that we place the pillar of mission back in its rightful place to be that pillar upon which all other of the foundational pillars are aligned.
The Four Pillars Restructured:
When we organize our structure around mission, worship, discipleship, and fellowship remain a vital part of who we are and what we do, but they begin to focus us outwardly to the needs of the world, rather than inwardly to our personal comfort. With mission in the lead position, we can no longer compartmentalize our lives to have a church part and a secular part. Worship, discipleship, and fellowship are then experienced in the totality of our lives as we discover a vision that is located in the context of the world that God has sent us to serve, rather than in a building or in an institution. We are a vital part of God’s mission to the world. The question is: Will we fulfill the mission to which God has sent us or will we continue to focus inwardly on ourselves, our comfort, and what makes us feel cared for, instead of fulfilling God’s purpose for putting us here?
Our God is, and has always been missional in his purposes; from his creation of the world for the human race to inhabit, to the different covenants he has made with his people to be his hand extended to all, to the myriad prophets he has sent to exhort us to turn from our selfish ways and get back to the business of missional ministry, to the sending of his only begotten Son into the world to open the way of salvation to all who will respond to his call.
If God’s first and foremost work is mission, shouldn’t we also make it ours?
When our worship becomes missional, we begin to take it to the community that surrounds us – to make a joyful noise in the world and to show and tell the love of Christ to all. When our discipleship becomes missional, we stop making disciples that simply fill pews on Sunday mornings and positions on committees. Instead we begin to disciple men, women, and children to obey Christ’s commission to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all people, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded – planting new churches and making even more disciples for even more service in the world.
When our fellowship becomes missional, we begin to celebrate our relationships in a way that includes the outsiders and creates venues for us to engage our mutual faith friendships with every part of our lives, rather than just on Sunday morning.
I believe that God is challenging us to align our whole ministry on the pillar of mission, that we may be thoroughly equipped to reach a world in great need. Will we take the challenge?