When talking about church over the last decade, it has been popular to use the phrase “missional church”, and with that, there are probably thousands of meanings. Many people see a hipster church, with indie rock worship, a funny, cool looking, gospel-centered preacher, and then give that church the title, “missional”. This is misleading, as if looking cool and fitting in with pop culture is what it means to be missional. It may come with it in some ways, but this is not “missional” in and of itself.
At best, the word “missional” describes not a “specific activity” of the church but “the very essence and identity” of the church as it participates in God’s mission.
“Mission” (John 20:21) reminds us that the church was created to be oriented to the world, existing for the sake of others. Cross-cultural missionaries of the past few centuries were sent with a task that was primarily not for themselves but for the sake of those to whom they were sent. Thus, to describe the church as “missional” is to define the entire Christian community as a “BODY”, sent into the world, existing not for itself but to bring good news to the world. This is our identity.
The Church According to our Generation
We do not historically see the church in this light. In fact, the church that we see and speak of is very disconnected from this kind of talk when we get right down to the reality of how we’ve treated it. The forms of church we see today, in many ways, is not like what the church was meant to be, and the purpose of our existence as God’s people has been radically lost since Genesis 12 (a blessed family, so that it can be a blessing to all families, forming one family under Christ).
Church as a Building
Many people in our generation sees the church as a building. If the church is a building, then we are consumers. If we are consumers, then church becomes a vendor of religious goods and services, and we go and we pick out what works best for us. We treat the church much like a grocery store. We go to pick out the kind of fruit we like, we search through the bananas to find the bundle that fits our liking. We pick through all the cereals (and this is a chore these days!) to find the one that will best satisfy our ever so picky taste buds.
And the whole time we are shopping at the grocery store as consumers, we are trying to find the biggest bargain for ourselves. We want the biggest bang for our buck, with as little loss or sacrifice as possible. So we come to church, or shop for churches, and think, “What style is gonna work best for me.” “What products does this church have that will make me happy and feel like it’s worthy of my time and money.” “If this church won’t give me what I want, then I won’t give my money to it.” “I’m not gonna stay because the deal’s weren’t paying off for me anymore.”; and our motives behind all that we do at church, or what we look for in a church, is backwards.
We are out for our best interest and we have lost sight of the fact that we are part of the body (family) of Christ that exists for the world, not for our comforts. If the church is a building, then we are consumers.
Church as a Business
Another way that many people in our culture view church is through the lens of being a profitable business that can be self-sustainable. The problem with this view, much like the “building” view, is that if the church is a business, then we are competitors.
Many church leaders tend to operate the church as a business, and most leadership conversations and meetings end up being very “business-like”, discussing business matters, financial matters, building issues, legal issues, etc… Staff meetings end up looking the same as business meetings except for a short devotion or prayer before the machine is tended to. We are meeting to make our church better than other churches, to be more marketable, more attractive, to grow more, and to make more money to do more things, to be more effective for the kingdom (or maybe we should say, “for our little kingdoms”).
When we give our money, we give our money to the business, not the church. If the church is a business, then we all become managers with different opinions, and we all fight and bicker as to the way we think things should be managed; complaints aren’t because the church isn’t on mission, but because the business end of the church isn’t operating the way we think it should.
When we talk about “our church”, we talk about how our church does this, and our church did that, our church has this program and this focus. We compare ourselves to other churches and we have this sort of arrogance about the way we do church, and we think that other churches are missing it, as if somehow, this is fulfilling God’s will.
This business view creates within the church, a DNA of people who are jockeying for position, authority, power, and we are competitors within the church, not to mention it destroys the unity between believers that Christ prayed for in John 17. We’re so worried about our small unbiblical view of church, that we are completely missing out on the rest of the world who is perishing. We’ve let culture dictate the church’s mission!
John Stackhouse, a professor at Regent College in Vancouver, cites several historical instances when the church has allowed itself to be shaped by its surrounding culture, including the church in Nazi Germany, the South African church under apartheid, the Rwandan church in their long period of tribal violence, as well as the Western church in modern and postmodern secular culture. In each of these examples, the church forgot its biblical role and instead adopted the cultures’ identity and forms.
The church must not be a building or a business. These world views must be destroyed, and we must beg Jesus to once again restore to us the belief and the conviction to live out the belief, that the Church is one body, one family of God, working to reconcile the warring factions of this one family.
Church as a Body
In the book of Ephesians, the word body is sṓma in Greek, which means “an organized whole made up of parts and members; a whole, an aggregate, a collective mass.” In other words, the whole body of Christians collectively, of which Christ is the head. This word shows up in the book of Ephesians (1:22-23; 2:15-16; 3:6; 4:4, 11-12, 16, 25; 5:23, 30) (see also Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:13, 27; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15).
There is a very striking illustration in 1 Corinthians 6:15 regarding the body of Christ (the Church), where Paul says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” If you are a disciple of Christ, then you are a “member”, joined as a part of the body (family) of Christ, and the parts of your body are parts of Christ’s body.
We’re not Christians, we’re ‘family members’ joined by and with Christ, with a mission to make His beauty and worth known over every earthly treasure.
Jesus Christ has a body here on earth. It is called the Church. She has legs to go to the places that Jesus would go. She has arms to do the work that Jesus would do. She has mouths to say the things that Jesus would say. She has backs to carry the burdens that Jesus would carry.
Paul said that his aim in life was that “the life of Jesus might be made known to others in his mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). In other words, his aim is that his body might make Christ’s body real to the world.
Jesus calls out this kind of religious short-sightedness in Matthew 23:23c: “…you neglect the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.”
It seems we as a church in all our forms have often neglected the weightier matters of God:
We’ve been far too concerned with success in a way that Jesus wasn’t…
We’ve been far too concerned with entertainment and comfort in a way that Jesus wasn’t…
We’ve been far too concerned with being the best in a way that Jesus wasn’t…
We’ve been far too competitive in a way that Jesus wasn’t…
We’ve been far too promiscuous in a way that Jesus wasn’t…
The late Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, writes this in 1967 with her message being addressed to the church: “As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.” “In Peace Is My Bitterness Most Bitter”, The Catholic Worker, January 1967, 1, 2.
So it is there I will leave you. The body is the bride. She is messy. She is adulterous. She does not act like a bride of a king at many times. She is entangled in affairs that makes the groom cringe. She is in many ways lost. She needs to run back to Christ. She needs a conversion of the heart, not a reform of methods or an updated approach to being “more missional”.
So how do we not duplicate history? Where do we start as a people of God? Maybe you’re having self dialogue saying this: “I’m convicted and I want to live out my identity of being the body of Christ, but I don’t know how.” I want to close today with 3 identities that the church must adopt if it wants to be the true church of the 21st century, the visible body of Christ:
Body Life as Family
1 Peter 2:9-10 is one of many verse in scripture that teaches us that we are all children of God who care for each other as a family. We are God’s chosen people – His family – set apart to live in such a way that the world would know what He is like. Through faith in Jesus we believe we are children of God, and brothers and sisters with each other.
As God’s family, we see it as our obligation to personally care for the needs of one another, both physically and spiritually. We disciple, nurture and hold each other accountable to gospel life together. We also labor to reconcile the broken and warring factions of this family across denominational lines. This is the messy and sometimes dysfunctional part of the church that makes relationships hard, but that’s what family does (Gen. 12:1-3; John 1:12-13; Rom. 12:10-16).
Body Life as Servants
Luke 4:18-20 reminds us of the words of God through the prophet Isaiah (Is. 61:1-2), as Jesus quotes this passage among a very religious church culture, claiming that it points to Him and what He came to do. We are servants of Jesus who serve Him by serving others around us as He did. Being fully God and fully man, Jesus took on the posture of a servant. He gave his life, even unto death, so that others could experience salvation, peace and restoration. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves…” All those who follow Jesus are called to serve in the same humility.
For us, this means joyfully submitting to Jesus as Lord, to the leaders He has placed over us, and to each other as we also serve whomever God brings into our lives. We do whatever He leads us to do, whenever He tells us to, and wherever He wants us to do it. As servants of Jesus, we give a foretaste of what the eternal city will be like under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ; our humility points to his ultimate humility, our servant hood is led by the Servant of all, and our sacrifice is motivated by the One who gave up his life for us (Matt. 20:25-28; 25:31-46; John 13:1-17; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:16).
Body Life as Ambassadors
In Galatians 3:8 we are reminded of the gospel that was preached before Christ moved into our neighborhood (see. Gen. 12:1-3), the very gospel that we too are to take into all the world; to proclaim and display. We are sent by the Spirit to restore all things to God through Jesus Christ through lives that proclaim and display our homeland. God sent Jesus to Earth to take on human form and live within our world, to show us what his world is like. He worked, ate and interacted among the people; living in such a way that those around Him could see and experience what God and his kingdom was truly like. Jesus came so that all people, places and things could be restored to a right relationship with God. In the same way, we believe we are ambassadors sent by God’s Spirit, into our culture to restore all things to God through Jesus, by living and proclaiming what it looks like to be a citizen of heaven on earth (John 1:14; 20:21; Colossians 1:19; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21).
As ambassadors, we are sent to share the truth about God’s love for the world through the sending of His Son. The Spirit has been given to us so that we can know what is true of Jesus (John 14:26; 16:12-15), live fruitful lives as evidence of God’s power to change (Gal. 5:16-24), be empowered to share it boldly (Acts 4:23-31) and trust that He is the One who convicts the heart and gives new life (John 3:4-8). All fruitful work of an ambassador is a result of being people who are born of, filled with, and led by the Spirit. (these three points have been adapted from Soma Communities in Tacoma)
As we labor to gather as the body of Christ in new forms, may we not lose sight of the mission of Jesus’ body, gathered to gather as one family, to serve and to display what God’s kingdom citizenship is like and to raise up worshipers of Jesus.