Currently I am in the process of reading Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell L. Guder and have discovered some profound insights into the Church in our society. The section that I have found to be intriguing addresses denominationalism of the Christian churches in America and also how our Church has changed to be more of a managed process than a spiritual center. Many reasons have caused this to happen but the premise of the issue at hand it that our society has changed so drastically that even something as an integral facet of society as the Church could not keep up.
The early Church in America was very important to the building of the frontier and a basis for much of the social life in colonial villages. This was one of the last times we can see that the “church” was “successful”. Other events in the late 19th and 20th centuries increased membership of churches like the tent revivals and the return of soldiers from war. Although membership may have increased, the connection of church and modern society was slowly falling apart. By the 1960s, the acceptance of individualism had taken root and the connection between the average American and the church was separated by a large and deep canyon. This proverbial canyon has gotten larger as the years have gone on because individualism is growing stronger and the church is still doing the same activities.
So how can the institution of the traditional church transform into a missional organization? The church must change from wanting people to come into their Sunday services to a place that teaches people to be loving Christians in their daily lives. The church must also change from a set of certain people going to the same building every Sunday to a place that shares the ideals of a Christian based community in the places that we live. This may sound like a teaching that currently takes place in many churches but is randomly applied to people’s lives.
Churches should also work together in the communities to solve social issues and to address the needs of the people in that community. When was the last time that you have heard of a group of churches, across denominational lines, come together and truly change a community? Now I may be a little young to answer this but I would venture that it hasn’t happened in quite some time. A quick look around my town, I found about 12 churches in my town. A couple of those have closed down and I wonder what the other churches are doing for the community.
We need to change; I need to change, you need to change, the system of our society must change. We have to become the “city on a hill” seeking God through everything we do. Missional Church also states that simply internalizing our faith and knowing salvation as a personal experience is only half of what the Gospel teaches. Are we going to simply ignore half the reason why Jesus came to Earth? Our church structure is not set up to do both sides of Jesus’ ministry. For many years, we have focused on the self-centralization of the Gospel and how it pertains to us but what we are missing is the participatory side of salvation. Living a life like Jesus and mirroring his ministry is a crucial part of our beliefs. We can think and believe anything that we want but if we don’t represent these ideas in our life and be Christians to our neighbors than it is for not. A friend of mine once was asked the question “Which is more important discipleship or evangelism?” His response was simple: “How can a bird fly with only one wing.” We must present an equal balance in our lives with enough power or we will never get off the ground.
So back to the question at hand, how can we change? My idea is complex and I can’t explain every detail because frankly I don’t know those problems/solutions at this time.
The only way to change people is either by a catastrophic event or a slow process. Since the world is not going to end on December 21st, 2012, I will use a model for a slow process. We have to start with what we have. The leaders in the church and denominations that have been establishing themselves for nearly centuries are actually great tools to work with. They have established programs and missions in our communities but they have not reached their full potential. These efforts have not used resources allocated to the community but only the ones given to the congregation. If the dozen or so churches and pastors in my community were to work together in a common mission, we could essentially transform our town into a Christian community. We would have the ability to feed the hungry, clothe the needy, minister to those in times of trouble, worship and praise God together, love one another, and have a large support system of people that live life just as you do.
I understand that this model does not fit with the current society and not too many people would be happy if we flipped all of our churches and resources to a different function. The process would literally mean a reversal of what has been undone over the last century. With the Holy Spirit working, this may take a generation or so. Mindsets of the daily life as a resident of a town would need some reform and we can start by teaching our children these concepts. This is not some crazy stance at making our kids Amish but merely changing the ideals we teach our children to become involved in community.
There are many organizations and councils in place that actually do some of this work but more than likely are just spinning their wheels. I asked a pastor friend of mine if his community had something like a council of local pastors and his response was yes, but they never do anything. It is a shame to see that we have a highly evolved system of communications and we can’t even get pastors in a community to work together.
I would like to challenge you as a believer, congregation member, and/or citizen of a certain area: Go ask your local pastor what they have done to work with other churches to better share Christ’s love in the community. Please, don’t settle for mediocrity and be a side-line believer. Care about your neighbors and get involved in your church’s efforts to spread the love of Christ.