This is the tenth in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral and a missional church. The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.
I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.
The ninth difference is described this way:
When thinking about change, members of a pastoral church ask: “How will this affect me?”
When thinking about change, members of a missional church ask: “Will this increase our ability to reach those outside?”
Church people often say that they want their churches to grow. That’s a good thing (things that are alive are growing). Those people often think that the next question they need to ask is, “What do we need to do in order to grow?” That question is not as critical as “Who?” Who are the people with whom they will be growing? Do they know those people? Are they willing to get to know those people?
The days of finding a programme that will fix your church are pretty much over. It’s not about a new programme; it’s about relationships. You’ve got to develop relationships.
And you have to be intentional about developing those relationships. The church in North America used to count on the culture to help us make Christians. The culture is not doing that anymore. Now it is up to us to present people with opportunities to hear what Christian faith is about and we seem to have lost the knowledge of how to do that.
I have been asking congregations to find some youth or young adults or unchurched people and listen to their answers to the questions:
“What is important to you?
What are you excited about?
Where do you experience God’s presence?
Where do you experience God’s absence?”
The most common answer to “Where do you feel God’s presence?” is usually “in nature”. I presume that they mean in experiences of nature that are beautiful: sunsets, mountains, lakes and trees. I wonder, “Would they also find God’s presence when ‘nature’ is a tsunami that destroys whole villages? or when nature turns cells in your body cancerous? or when part of nature is humanity in its most violent and destructive forms?”
I also wonder is “experience of God in nature” enough to sustain you or help you when you experience the soul-shattering pain of your parents’ divorce; or when a loved one gets Alzheimer’s, or when you realize that your addiction to alcohol is destroying your life, or when the online bullies attack you for being gay? Is “God in nature” enough in those situations?
The church used to be able to articulate a gospel that gave hope and redemption and salvation in such circumstances. Somehow many Christians have forgotten that gospel and have reduced its message to “God is in flowers that bloom in the springtime”.
Many of us would say that ‘the gospel is love’ — that God loves each and every one of us to the very depths of our being with an unwavering, life-giving, life-transforming love; that God loves us even in our brokenness and weakness and woundedness; that God does not abandon us when we get lost but searches for us until God finds us. There are children who do not know that God loves them that much. There are people who have never heard about that kind of God and have never met anyone who was trying to incarnate that kind of love for them. As Harold Percy once said, “Imagine being loved that much and not knowing it.” Those children are missing from our congregations. What are we willing to do to make sure that they know that deep love of God?
For many people, love isn’t the critical issue. It is hope. They have no hope for the future. They have no hope that things will change. They do not have a hope that drives them to reach out to help others. The October 30, 3014 edition of The Sarnia Journal reported that “Suicide is identified nationally as the highest cause of death among 15 -34 year olds”, and “many teens feel disconnected but are afraid to ask for help. . . Many teens said they would feel stigmatized if they spoke about depression and suicidal feelings . . . they want more open dialogue with a trusted adult.”
We have a gospel of hope. We worship a God who takes utter chaos and makes a new creation. We follow Jesus who knows his way out of the grave. We are pushed and driven and enticed by the Holy Spirit who breaks down barriers and reconciles the most unlikely people.
There are generations of people that are missing from our congregations. They are people whom God loves and is searching for. They are people who desperately need the Story that gives them hope and courage for making their way in a dangerous world.
After congregations have listened to the answers from youth, young adults and unchurch people, I ask them to consider this critical question:
“What about your church life are you willing to sacrifice so that these people have the opportunity to be introduced to the triune God and the gospel of Jesus Christ?
What are you willing to do so that the next generation knows that there is hope?