Mission Credibility

I think I’ve done quite a bit of ministry out in the world. I’ve been overseas on mission three times, served with two inner city missions, and done a lot of fundraising for local, regional and foreign outreach. I think I’ve got mission cred. I’ve even gone door to door in my last parish, to meet the folks and show the flag.

So here’s the question: How come the rest of the church is taken up with missional or emerging church as if it were something new? We are only doing what the apostles did two thousand years ago, and what the regular old Christian in the street did – helped the neighbour, fed the poor, nursed the sick, visited the imprisoned, clothed the naked, (or somewhat naked – I’ve rarely come across someone completely naked in the street.) Is it because the rest of the church, despite the kick in the pants they got as much as forty years ago with the Jesus Movement, is still sitting in the pews, waiting for the Lord to return? That’s a long time to sit without doing anything, and it can’t be good for the circulation.

I’ve been reading John P. Bowen’s book Evangelism for “Normal” People, (Augsburg Fortress 2002). What is “normal” evangelism? Not approaching strangers with “Are you saved?” or handing out leaflets on street corners! It’s living peacefully, helping our neighbours, reaching out to those in need, and generally following Christian principles. It’s taking some risks when people question us about faith. It’s being bold in witness, but in witnessing with love. It’s more that we are farmers for Christ, not soldiers for Christ.

The soldiers of the cross model only works so far. We are to be courageous, strong in faith, and willing to die. But unlike real soldiers, we must not kill. (How often has the church and its followers forgotten that!) Farmers for the cross sounds better, since we’re going to water, fertilize and weed the crops, and help gather in at the great harvest.
Missional church is not new, obviously. I was raised to expect to do that work, part of the Calvinist, evangelical teachings. Emerging churches – those with new ways of being a church – aren’t new either. Sometimes “emerging” churches got suppressed as heresies, even if they weren’t, but others thrived and grew, hence the Protestant movement. Even mainline denominations, if they look at their immediate past, will see major changes at forty, eighty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty years ago. Liturgies get rewritten. New music comes in. The altar is redecorated, stripped, moved. We have nothing to fear from this. It’s part of the growth of the church.

Sometimes we don’t want things to change because we are afraid to wake up from our snooze in the pews. We aren’t paying attention anymore. We come to church on autopilot. We mumble the responses. We even forget responses (why aren’t congregants saying “Amen” anymore?) and the officiant lets us get away with it. As Mother Kay said to one group at a worship gathering recently: “If you don’t say ‘amen’ you aren’t agreeing to it!” “Amen” means “so be it!”

This is missional church: Getting your feet on the street, working with your neighbour, not to give him or her a handout so you can feel superior, but because Jesus told you to do it. Missional church means living out the gospel imperative (Matthew 28:18-20.) It means we are not just Sunday morning Christians, nor are we Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics or Baptists. It means we are “little Christs” here in God’s creation, doing as He instructed us to do. No one said it would be easy; there’s no handle on the cross.

Emerging church is allowing and embracing and welcoming those who feel left out of our timeworn old ways of worship. I love the Book of Common Prayer – I’m an Elizabethan at heart. But you can’t drop people into that liturgy without a little preparation. It will leave them feeling like spectators from another culture, and they are no more likely to come back than if they had visited a Hindu temple with the service in Sanskrit. Our churches aren’t very welcoming. I don’t remember the last time I visited a church – or even after attending for weeks – where anyone invited us to their home. Coffee hour, yes – but that’s a horrid experience if you don’t know anyone, and everyone is divided up into little groups, discussing committee work. And the coffee is often bad. (Note to church coffee committees: Get good fair trade coffee and stop using those old aluminum coffee urns.) Even the place where we have coffee is uninviting – a huge parish hall, cold and stale, with tatty posters on the walls from Sunday Schools gone by. I wouldn’t visit a coffee house that had such decrepit furnishings. Set up a proper coffee corner! Get some comfortable chairs, have some music playing! And talk to the new people first – you can chat with your old friends later. Don’t ever let a newcomer get away without a chat, a cup of coffee, a loaf of fresh-baked bread, and an invitation to dinner. We’re the church. That is our heritage. We welcome people, invite them in, make them one of us.

Witness by example. When newcomers to the church look at (all of) you, they should be able to say,” That’s the kind of person I want to be. That’s someone living out what Christ taught.”


8 thoughts on “Mission Credibility

  1. Love it, or should I say “amen.” There’s a lot of hype going around these days. There’s no eighteen month deadline on any of this stuff. It’s a lifetime of work, built upon generations of lifetimes in this work. We spend so much time talking about doing work that we forget to do it and forget just how easy it is to do. Common hospitality and curiosity goes a long way.

    • That’s exactly how I feel. I see people flying off to conferences, spending lots of money and coming back with two or three ideas to implement. But it takes a major change of heart to go from “bums in the pews” thinking to the open-door community of Christ-followers. My best “church” moments have been in kitchens, living rooms and hospice rooms, more often than in the chancel.

    • I would love to have your comments on this. If we, the body of Christ, are going to live out His teachings and His life indeed, we need to do it right.

  2. I’ve long had a concern about the way emerging church writing is often presented. Actually there’s not much new in the substance (which is a good thing); it’s just new compared to what they came out of and new to a lot of their audience. Some of the precedents are sometimes carried in the body, but it’s sort of overwhelmed by the new type language. For example, the title of Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity.

    Much of what’s being said by these writers I’m quite familiar with. I’ve heard it all my life. My father was preaching it when I was young. A lot of it you’ll find in traditions hundreds of years old, like Quakers where I hung out most of my life.

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