Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Warning: Missional Is Messy

            The solution to the “great omission” lies in moving from in-reach to outreach.[1]  It means shifting into ‘go-mission,’ breaking out of the ecclesial ghetto and taking the initiative to go to “the neighbor.” This go-mission requires overcoming initial inertia.  And going is messy.

            The church must go to others for they will not automatically come to the church, meeting on the church's turf, on the church's terms.[2]  It is the church's responsibility to penetrate people in the spheres of the market- place, neighborhoods, universities, arts, and government.  God calls the church not merely to gather but to scatter, exiting the building and taking the initiative to go and meet sojourners (not-yet Christians) where they are and engage them in meaningful conversations.  Like a football team that breaks from its huddle, the church must break from its "holy huddle" to carry out its mission.   Charles Colson states:

We must take the church to the people.  Too often we sit in church as spectators, waiting for the needy multitudes to come watch the show with us.  But for those in need—spiritually and physically—a fat, lethargic church preoccupied with its own entertainment holds no appeal.  Jesus didn't set up counseling hours in the Temple; He went into the homes of the most notorious sinners, to the places where the lame, the beggars, the needy could be found.[3]

         This "go-mission" calls us to leave our comfort zones and enter various spheres of influence.  Taking the initiative demands that we move from “the calm of the pew” into “the messiness” of people’s lives.  And so we say with C. T. Studd: “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.”  And going is messy.

            The great commission will not be accomplished by timid action, or by waiting passively for it to happen.  The church must be on the offensive but this does not mean that the church is to be offensive.  Rather, we reach out intentionally and tactfully to those who do not know God.  Boldness and gentleness are not mutually exclusive. As John Stott said, "We carry out mission in Christ’s way."[4]

            For us, the most receptive groups to engage are found within our spheres of influence.  These comprise our everyday spaces— neighborhood, workplace, and third places. For a local church, the most receptive population to engage is its collective sphere of relationships.  In order to do this, however, the church must provide encouragement and opportunities for believers to build relationships with those in their sphere of influence.  It becomes counter-productive to over-program, expecting believers to attend several services and meetings each week to the neglect of reaching out to others.

            Rather, believers should be encouraged to attend a worship service, a small group or missional community, and service opportunity, with the balance of time given to activities such as entertaining neighbors, exercising at a health club, volunteering at a hospital, coaching a soccer team, helping with a reading program, or participating in a local civic group.  As we respond to the "go-mission," depart our comfort zones, and serve "the neighbor," a warning is in order: missional is messy!


     [1]George Barna, User Friendly Churches (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1991), 46.
     [2]Delos Miles, Master Principles of Evangelism (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1982), 15,
     [3]Charles Colson, Who Speaks for God?  Confronting the World with Real Christianity (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1985), 96.
     [4] John R. Stott, “A Note about the Stuttgart Statement on Evangelism” in Proclaiming Christ in Christ's Way: Studies in Integral Mission, Vinay Samuel, Albrecht Hauser, eds. (Oxford : Regnum Books, 1989), 208.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Great Omission of the Ingrown, Apathetic, Stagnate, and Cynical Church

            The temptation of the church is mission drift, namely, to drift away from the mission to make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20).  The result is the great o-mission.[1]  The church “fulfills the great o-mission” as it turns inward, loses sight of its purpose, becomes accustomed to the status quo, and lives in disobedience to Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations. [2]

This omission comes as a result of inward self-concern rather than a concern for "the other," those who live outside of faith in Christ.  The church focuses primarily on itself, its needs, and agendas.  It exhibits an exclusive attitude, being spiritually smug, distancing itself from contact with people who are far from God.  It consequently becomes ingrown, apathetic, stagnate, and cynical.  It suffers from the ecclesial illness known as "koinonitus" (from the Greek word koinonia, meaning fellowship), an imbalance of too much Christian fellowship to the neglect of mission to others.[3]  This tendency toward exclusive friendships, activities, and church programs which are inward-focused is dangerous to the health of the church and a denial of its mission to the world.

          The church's omission may not be an oversight but a lack of insight as to what God wants to do in the world.  The church does not see the world as God sees it, from his divine perspective.  Hence, there is no burden for sojourners who live outside the family of God.  A local church may be cordial to those who darken its doors and join for worship but it does not actively reach out to others within its sphere of relationships, its extended oikos (household).  With such a lack of insight, such Christians becomes "keepers of the aquarium" meeting solely for the sake of the redeemed rather than engaging equally in redemptive relationships, participating with Jesus in fishing for men, (Matt. 4:19).[4]

          The goal of the church in this case quickly shifts to maintenance of the status quo.  Services are conducted, programs are maintained, and ministries are continued entirely for the benefit of believers-- “servicing the saints.”  In the course of events, the church develops a fortress mentality, focused mainly upon those within its walls, rather than on those outside.  Its purpose becomes preservation of the organization, its history, traditions, structure and facility.  Any mission that occurs is done to perpetuate and maintain the institution, not to redeem individuals, the community, or the world.

          The church's omission may be directly related to disobedience to the commands of Jesus.  The church understands the need to make disciples but does not act upon it, thereby proving itself irresponsible and disobedient to the great commission, resulting in what John Howard Yoder calls apostasy.[5]  Rather than reaping as workers in the harvest, Christians are more like "field residents," solely living among the crops (and perhaps squandering resources on themselves) but not laboring in the harvest.[6]  It is the church's preoccupation with itself that leads to the lack of obedience and measly results, if there are any results at all.

          This sad state of affairs is all too common in the post-Christendom church today.  Pastors and church leaders remain comfortable shepherding the flock, and justify this omission by all the "good things" that make up a busy schedule.[7]  When this is the case among leadership, little evangelism can be expected among the people.  Such a state of affairs results in "fulfilling the great o-mission."

          Unless Christ-followers take the initiative to reach out to people, and engage in redemptive relationships, the church will continue to diminish in number and influence within our post-Christian context.  To remain in a "holy huddle," sitting back, wishing and praying, but never moving out as “sent ones” to make disciples is disobedience to the mandates to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19) and to “love neighbor as self,” (Matt. 22:39).

[1] Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship (New York: Harper One, 2014).
[2] Robertson McQuilkin, The Great Omission (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984), 83.
[3]C. Peter Wagner, Your Church Can Be Healthy (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1979), 78.
[4]Donald McGavran and George G. Hunter III, Church Growth Strategies That Work (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980), 27.
[5] John Howard Yoder, Theology of Mission: A Believers Church Perspective (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014), 185-192.
[6]Bill Hull, The Disciple-Making Church (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1990), 46.
[7]C. John Miller, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 34-35.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Deo praeveniri (God's Initiative)

     Initiative is discovered in the character of God.  He is the almighty and merciful initiator revealed in the Scriptures.[1]  He took the initiative to create the world.  He took the initiative to create man in order to have fellowship with him.  He took the initiative to search for rebellious man, calling to him in the garden, "Where are you," (Gen. 3:9)?  He took the initiative to reconcile the human race to himself, so that those who receive his provision for sin will "reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ," (Rom. 5:17).  Indeed, every major act of God is an initial move--searching for, reaching out and saving humankind all for the love of his creation.

            This divine initiative (Deo praeveniri) is necessary in order for "created-good-but-sin-infected" humanity to return to a right standing before a holy God.  The hope of the human race is not in itself, nor in its tainted goodness, but in God who according to his great mercy rescues human beings from a desperate and despairing state.  It is his initiative, not humanity's that brings salvation to men, women, and children on earth.[2]

            The initiative of God is seen in his identification with the human race.  This is observed chiefly in the incarnation, "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us," (John 1:14).  The incarnation was the invasion into human life by God himself, entering into time, space and history, identifying with his creation through his Son Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures state:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross, (Phil. 2:6-8)!

            The initiative of God is also seen in his calling and sending activity.  In biblical history, he sent chosen men and women to carry out his will to proclaim his truth.  He sent his Son Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit into the world.  Jesus likewise sent his disciples to carry on the initiating activity of reaching out to people with the message of his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and restoration of all things. 

            The Great Commission with Jesus Christ is a mission of initiative (Matt. 28:18-20).  It originates in the will of the Father, is revealed and affirmed in the life of his Son, and is carried out through the church in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Since God has initiated a relationship with human beings, his people are called in like manner to initiate relationships with others, based upon his initiative and love for humankind.[3]  His people are sent to the ends of the earth, to the end of time, always on the move to fulfill the Great Commission ... a mission with Christ.

            The church participates in this search and rescue mission, like "the Son of Man" who "came to seek and to save what was lost," (Luke 19:10).  This is a ministry of reconciliation given to all who have been initiated into God's family through faith in his Son.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us, (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

Since God has chosen to use his people to make disciples, the Great Commission is truly a co-mission.  He forms a partnership with all believers, "God's fellow workers," (1 Cor. 3:9).  These partners in the Great Commission are instrumental in God accomplishing his purposes on earth, building his kingdom here as in heaven.  He employs his people as his agents, engaging in redemptive relationships, under the direction of his Spirit.

            Thus, each Christian has a responsibility to reach out within his or her sphere of influence.  Every disciple is to take the initiative to be a witness for Jesus Christ, participating in the Great Commission in his or her niche in the world.  This includes reaching out to family, friends, neighbors, associates and acquaintances.  It also includes reaching out to people beyond the borders of existing relationships.  Christ-followers are to be his "witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth," (Acts 1:8).

            Every local church also assumes a particular responsibility to reach out to its sphere of influence.  This sphere is the sum total of each of its members' spheres of influence, plus all those who are influenced by the church's corporate witness in the community and region.  The desired effect is synergism, namely, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  A church's corporate sphere of influence represents a population of people several times larger than the church itself.  Every local church has the responsibility to take the initiative to be a witness for Christ to its Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to ends of the earth.

     [1]George W. Peters, A Theology of Church Growth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 97.

     [2]Roger E. Hedlund, The Mission of the Church in the World: A Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 25.

     [3]Charles Van Engen, God's Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 80.