A rethink about doing church

Recently I made a decision to back out of all of my commitments outside of family and work. I needed some space to rest, think and recharge my batteries, because I was spiritually and physically tired.  My motivation was on a low ebb, which is not like me at all. I am usually Mr Vibrant, full of energy and enthusiasm, wanting to get on with things, not wanting to wait for people to catch up, but pressing on for the goal dragging everyone else with me. I wasn’t depressed or anywhere near a breakdown, I just needed some time out, time to evaluate where I was at, and some space to look to the future.

So I resigned as an Elder at my home church, and slowly but surely reduced my work load to give myself more time and space.  Firstly, more time to spend with my family, but also more time to spend with God. It’s amazing how easy we neglect the important things in life when we get busy!

Now I am a lot more refreshed and my batteries are recharged. I am ready to get going again. I am starting to feel inspired again.

This could be a good thing or a bad thing. For me, it’s great because I feel that I have purpose and direction again, new vision and motivation to spur me on to greater things, but my friends and family will have to come to terms with me going on and on about the things that God is putting on my heart. The thing is, I always get excited, and that excitement just has to come out, usually with me bothering people until they’re willing to listen.

So, what am I inspired about? What am I now bothering people about?

Mainly about missional, incarnational church, and about whether the way we do church reduces or removes the impact of the Gospel in our postmodern, post-Christendom world?

I have been reading a lot about church and mission, and there seems to be a common theme throughout, that in order to be truly ‘missional’ the church needs to find the right balance between being ‘attractional’ and being ‘incarnational’.  The discussion in the blogosphere seems to be about whether the church should be one or the other, attractional or incarnational, but I can’t help but think that she should be both!  Mainly because an incarnational church, where disciples are living, serving and ministering in real life community (or communitas to use Alan Hirsch’s phraseology) will be attractive.  People are drawn when hearts are sold out for Jesus, when His disciples kneel with bowl and towel in hand to serve those in need, befriend the outcast and share the lives of the lost and the lonely.

This is powerful and this is attractive because it changes lives for the good, not only those who are being served but also those who are doing the serving.  I think this is what Jesus would have called ‘attractional’ church, attractive to others because He is in the middle of it. He never had a problem pulling a crowd.  He is attractive.  He is the reason that people pay the price of discipleship and become part of His bride, His body, the church.

If the way we do church is stopping us from taking Jesus to those who need Him, then no wonder our churches are not attractive. If we spend so much time focussing on our church programmes that we don’t have time to tend the sick, feed the hungry, release captives and be good news to the poor then we need to change, and change quickly.

Somebody once said to me that the phrase “we have always done it this way” is the final call of a dying church.  This is so true.  Some parts of church life are timeless and ageless, but some parts need to change to make sure our worship is appropriate and vibrant for every age, culture and tribe. In fact, we can change more than we think since most of what we do seems to be based on tradition anyway. I found Frank Viola and George Barna’s book ‘Pagan Christianity’ a real revelation.  The fact that very little of what we do in ‘traditional’ church life is based on the Bible or the practices of the early church is actually quite frightening.  However, it does mean that little of what we do is set in stone.  Most of it can change.

Within this context, the whole idea of organic church, liquid church, simple church, what ever you want to call it, makes a lot of sense.  I love the subtitle of the Neil Cole’s book ‘Organic Church’, which is ‘Growing faith where life happens’.  This is what it is all about for me.  This one small phrase sums it up perfectly.  This is what Jesus did and this is what Jesus wants us to do.  This is what being church is all about.  Being where life happens and growing faith in others.  Not just on Sunday mornings, but 24/ 7 and 365 days per year, anywhere and everywhere.

That is the main problem.  So few of us in the church are willing to step outside of our own cosseted and comfortable environment. Are we willing to go where ‘real’ life happens?

I am constantly amazed how many Christian people don’t know anyone outside of their church social circle.  Their friends are Christians, they only go to church events and meetings, and don’t really associate with their neighbours and work colleagues, never mind about less fortunate people within their wider community.  This in of itself is not wrong, it just means that they never come in contact with people who don’t know about Jesus.  In the old days, everyone was taught about Jesus, everyone knew about the Cross, but times have changed.  Our society doesn’t perceive a need for Jesus and yet is slowly degenerating and falling apart without Him.

What makes it worse is that we spend so much of our time and energy trying to keep our church programmes running that we don’t have any left to go where life is happening.  We put all of our effort into putting on a decent show on Sunday morning but then wonder why nobody shows up to see it.  We run evangelistic events that make little difference because they don’t scratch where it itches, because they don’t grow faith where life happens.  We expect the “unsaved” to come to us so we can tell them about Jesus – but they just don’t want to any more.  Its as simple as that.  So we wait, absolutely convinced that some will come eventually.

Maybe a few do come, but not enough to stop the rot.  Not enough to stop our churches from dying.

The longer we wait, the smaller our churches become as we grow old and die together.  Nice, friendly people who have no impact outside of the walls of the church buildings in which we sit in every Sunday!  All the while our communities drown, desperate for our help and care.  A world that is lost and in pain.  A world in need of a Saviour.

We can’t wait for them to come to us any more.  We must go to them.  How can we stand by and watch the pain and suffering.  We, the church, must step out of our comfort zone and start to make a difference, by becoming incarnate, and being attractive by growing faith where life happens.  If a more organic approach to being church allows us to be mission focussed, and gets us out of our buildings and into our communities with more time to serve, then what are we waiting for?  Lets get on with it!

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