“Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.”
~ Charles Spurgeon
In my previous post I mentioned every Christian’s responsibility to follow the mission of Jesus. Sadly, we’ve shifted our focus to the wrong things. We’ve lost the urgency of our calling quite a bit since the Edict of Milan passed in AD 313.
Since people had to be in church, Christians no longer felt the necessity to go out into the world and make disciples because, well, everyone’s here already. When this happened, the Christian life was no longer about restoring the world and reconciling it back to God (2 Corinthians 5.18-21); rather, it became about sin management and individual spiritual fulfillment. Discipleship was no longer about training to attack the “gates of hell”, but about becoming a person of high moral standards.
But if you look around, you’ll see that we no longer live in Christendom. Christianity is quickly becoming a fringe practice. I realize that to many, this comes as sad news. But I’m actually very optimistic about this. Why? Because it means that the Church is again given the opportunity to follow Jesus’ mission. We are reentering the pluralistic world with which Paul was so familiar. And in this world, our traditional methodology for leading people into the kingdom of God will rarely, if ever, produce any real fruit. Instead we’ve assimilated people into a church subculture, rather than unleashing them into the world’s culture with the mission of plowing a counterculture.
These are some examples of the practices of the Christian faith. Internally we devote ourselves to the teaching and study of the Bible. We gather in community to lift each other up, sharpen each other, and keep each other accountable before God. We also share meals together, comfort one another, share communion together, and practice hospitality. Externally we’re supposed to engage in the community, become a blessing to our cities (Jeremiah 29.4-7), and serve those in need (Matthew 25.31-40; Matthew 10.40-42; James 2.14-17).
In a modern church-centered life, the primary focus of the believer is on his internal life, resulting in questions such as, “How is your personal walk with God?” or, “How’s your church life?” Like I’d mentioned in my previous post, without a mission, the life of a Christian becomes about sin management and the self-actualization of one’s spiritual potential.
Here’s what happens in our traditional church discipleship model. When the believer follows this course, his effectiveness in the culture is diminished greatly. Why? Because he’s no longer a friend to the people he once associated with. He was pulled from the community and brought into the church culture, where he was nurtured and cared for and raised to look like the people who are inside this Christian bubble.
This model, when put into practice looks something like this: Bob has been in church for many years. He decides one day, after hearing a sermon on sharing the Gospel, to invite one of his coworkers to a Bible study at his house. After some time, Joe (Bob’s coworker) gives up his Wednesday night poker game and decides to attend the Bible study. Joe eventually gets saved and becomes heavily involved in the church life. He’s at every Bible study class, he hands out bulletins during Sunday services, and he even serves on the outreach committee that’s working on a big free carwash event that will be used to invite people in the community to start attending their church services.
A year later, the pastor preaches another sermon on sharing the Gospel, and Joe recalls his poker buddies. He hasn’t seen them in almost a year, but he decides to call one of them to invite him to church.
Basically, what has happened here is this: Bob has extracted Joe from his context by finding something attractive inside his church world and highlighting it for Joe (green arrow underneath the diagram). There’s been an attempt at pushing Joe into the culture, but because Joe hasn’t been properly discipled, it becomes extremely difficult to reenter his previous context. He soon finds that all his friends are Christians, and outside of family responsibilities, work, and church-related activities, he has almost nothing else to do.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad methodology, but is it really that effective? Is it the best method we can come up with?
Matt and Steve are believers. On Mondays they hang out at a little pub a few blocks from their neighborhood. They meet there every Monday after work, hanging out with the regulars at the bar, being an encouragement to the men who are trying to numb whatever pain they’re experiencing. They’re comforters and companions to the patrons of the place.
On Thursdays both of their families have dinner at Steve’s house. After dinner, Matt leads the little group in taking communion.
On Fridays they go on a group date with their wives and one or two other couples. And on Sundays after the church service Matt, Steve, and their friend Todd get together to pray with each other, talk about what God is teaching each of them, and hold each other accountable to the mission of Jesus.
Now, at any point in their schedule, Matt and Steve could engage in mission. As they develop friendships at the pub, opportunities to talk about their faith with someone become more readily available. They could invite someone from that area of their life into their Thursday evenings. Or they could invite someone from their church to join them on Monday afternoons and teach him how to build friendships with people outside of church. But no matter where you look in their lives, you can draw a sense of restoration from their rhythms.
You see, the Christian life is about so much more than just staying morally pure or sitting still in a church pew or serving on a church committee. It’s about restoring and reconciling to God every aspect of life.
My girlfriend often talks about a holistic, restorative approach to interacting with creation. Discipleship should be no different. Life shouldn’t be dichotomous for a Christian—church life and “regular” life, or even spiritual life and physical life. No, everything is connected, and wherever you go, you’re a missionary.
Again, I’d like to know what you think. Am I completely off base? Do we really need to rework our thoughts about church/discipleship (as I’ve posited), or can our current/traditional methodology be tweaked slightly and updated?
Original diagram taken from The Austin Stone Community Church missional community paradigm.