Non-Christian missionaries. . .

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about this idea of “inviting a friend to church.” Okay, so I’ll admit it, I was never truly comfortable with the thought of inviting my non-Christian friends to my church. The whole thing just seemed a little weird to me. “Hey, so what are you doing on Sunday? Watching football? Would you be interested in leaving your comfort zone and taking a huge step out of that and into a world where people are nothing like you, you have to listen to a band play songs you don’t know, and a preacher gets up and tells you about all the things that are wrong with your life? How would you like to enter this new culture?”

And in reality, I myself would rather be in his shoes. Sleeping in and watching football just seems like a much better way to spend my hard-earned weekend.

What’s weird about this is that the whole thing is backwards. My pastor and I were talking about this last week, and he said that the “invite a friend to church” mentality actually forces the role of missionary onto the person you’re inviting.

Think about it, a missionary (which, if you take Christ’s words in John 20.21 seriously, would include every follower of Jesus) is someone who leaves the environment that’s comfortable to him and sets foot into a culture that is not his own. He has to learn how that culture thinks, what they like, what they believe, etc. When we invite our non-believing friends to church, we’ve given them half the tasks of missionaries.

And then we invite them into our small groups, which, contrary to popular belief, aren’t doing any true holistic discipleship. Our small groups are really nothing more than therapy and discussion groups.

And we wonder why our churches look nothing like the explosive movements of the first century.

There’s nothing wrong with having those kinds of groups. Just don’t call it something that it’s not. Small groups are not discipleship groups.

Think about it this way. We invite someone to come to our church’s Sunday service. After she’s been attending for a few weeks, she “gets saved” and joins a small group. In the small group meetings, they sit in a circle, eat some crumb cake, maybe sing a few songs, talk about how a particular passage in the Bible makes them feel (or how they feel about the passage), and then they pray together and ask God for things.

And then what? Does she go back into her former world somehow and try to invite some of her friends to attend her church? She was plucked out of her culture, nurtured in a completely different culture that didn’t really prepare her to return to her former culture, and then expected to reach that culture again?

What we’ve done to her is not discipleship, it’s assimilation.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about what I think could be a much more effective discipleship methodology. But for now, I’m going to ask this question: am I wrong here? If I’ve made a mistake, please let me know. I realize my cynicism is showing a little bit in this post, but I’m making an observation. I could be way off.

Leave a comment if you think I’m mistaken in my observation.

4 thoughts on “Non-Christian missionaries. . .

  1. Pingback: - restored to grace » Blog Archive » Non-Christian missionaries. . .

  2. All that you have said I agree with as far as the idea of moving from comfort zone to new culture. I was there in a comfort zone for 40 years.
    I would like to add that, if your small group becomes a social gathering and not a place that produces a missional spirit, a further education of Christian living, or wisdom to catapult you into the World with a new vigor, you may be the change it seeks.
    I have learned that it is not what happens around me that matters but what I do to impact that which is around me that matters. Sort of like a bowling ball impacting a group of pins.
    My point: Ask Yourself~ What am I doing to make that specific change that is needed to propel a group into a missional experience? Introduce ideas that motivate even the shy members. The groups that I am in are no longer coffee clutches. Either I select a group that is presently missional or I make suggestions to former coffee clutches. It is a rewarding experience when done from the heart.

  3. Great article. The reverse missionary point makes a lot of sense, and I’ve never thought about it that way. I do believe Christian worship can be evangelistic, and Paul does seem to assume that non-believers will be in the church gatherings, but that’s not its point, and it doesn’t seem like it should be normal practice scripturally, historically, or practically.

    Also, you’re absolutely right about small groups being more therapy groups than discipleship groups a lot of time. Discipleship can go on in them, but more than often it doesn’t. That’s something I’ve been thinking about in order to improve. I’ll look forward to reading your next post.

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