This is the ninth 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 eighth difference is described this way:
The pastoral church is concerned with the church’s institutional nature, organizations and structure, canons and committees. The missional church is concerned with culture; with understanding how secular people think and what their needs are.
The church never exists merely for itself. The church is a people gathered by God to be sent into the world as a “sign, witness, and foretaste” (David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission) of the Reign of God. Paul tells the church in Corinth that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20).
Churches tend to forget that they exist for the sake of God’s mission in the world for a number of reasons:
- When the church assumes that the culture in which is functions is basically Christian, it is easy to drift into being merely a religious social club;
- When a church ‘settles in’ to the way things are, there is a natural tendency to forget its core purpose for existing and to get preoccupied with matters related to managing itself;
- When the church’s survival is threatened, the temptation is to turn inward, focussing on tactics and programmes to reverse the decline.
In a workshop at the 2012 Worship Symposium of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Mark Labberton spoke of growing up outside the church, largely because of the deep anti-Christian sentiment of his father. Religion, said his father, tends to make things small. It takes something great and glorious and makes it less than what it actually is.
Churches that are made up of people who are mostly all from the same age bracket, the same economic and social classes, the same race and ethnic background are too small. They are too small because God has so much more in store for them. They are too small because the gospel is so much bigger.
A missional church is a church that is rediscovering the largeness of the gospel. It turns outward, attending to the wondrous work that the Holy Spirit is doing in the world. It works within very wide horizons, responding to God’s challenging work of reconciling all things. It finds itself crossing boundaries as it follows Jesus in new and risky adventures among people different from itself.
This turn outward seems difficult for many people in our mainline congregations. Somehow, we have trained them to believe that the church exists mostly to meet their needs. Somehow, we have convinced them that getting what they want is more important than sacrificing their own wants and desires in order to working for what God wants.
In a few different situations, I have invited people in the church to participate in what I thought were relatively easy exercises as a way of getting out into their neighbourhoods. “Walk around the neighbourhood of your church building (or your own neighbourhood), praying, ‘What do you want me to see, God?’” Or, “sit in a local coffee shop and pray the same prayer”. I invite them to do this a number of times and share with others in your congregation what they have seen and heard and observed.Very few people actually take up the invitation. I don’t know why but I expect that figuring out why so many of us resist that turn outward may be the first step we need to take in participating in the ‘new thing’ God is doing in our day.