Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Tough Questions (Part I)

I am reading a challenging book that the ministry staff and I will be working through and discussing in the next few months. It is called The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, by Reggie McNeal. Periodically I will be sharing in this space some of what I feel is worth ruminating about with you.

The first tough question is this: Are you practicing (and if you are a church leader, promoting) “Churchianity” or Christianity? McNeal asserts that, “In North America the invitation to become a Christian has become largely an invitation to convert to the church. The assumption is that anyone serious about being a Christian will order their lives around the church, shift their life and work rhythms around the church schedule, channel their charitable giving through the church, and serve in some church ministry; in other words, serve the church and become a fervent marketer to bring others into the church to do the same.”

The point is not that Christians shouldn’t be active in the church or even “order their lives” around the church. The point is that this is not an end in itself; it is a means to join God in his redemptive mission to the world. Worship, Bible classes, and prayer groups are not the end but are a means of strengthening and sharpening us to be Christ-followers in and to the world.

The bad/good news is that most “unchurched” or irreligious people aren’t hungering to be part of the church; they are hungering for God. Thus, our efforts to point them to the church as a solution to their hunger are not working very well. But our efforts to point them to Christ will.

As McNeal puts it, “Many church members feel they have been sold a bill of goods. They were promised that if they would be a good church member, if they would discover their gifts, or join a small group, sign up for a church ministry, give to the building program, attend this or that, they would experience a full and meaningful life.”

Thus, the right answer to the wrong question is whatever strategy is aimed at helping us “do church” better. The right question is, what builds believers into strong and mature Christ-followers whose lives bear fruit for God’s kingdom in the world? And of course, a congregation developing these kinds of people is “doing” church well.

It is no secret that the church in North America has lost much of its influence. McNeal (and many others) suggest that it has lost its influence because it has lost its identity. And it has lost its identity because it has lost its mission, which is to join God in his redemptive efforts to save the world.

I don’t know about you, but this challenge to be the church in the world instead of doing church is a positive and exciting one for me. Instead of recruiting churchgoers, let’s connect people to Christ and join God in transforming lives for the sake of the world.


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