In yesterday's post I discussed the problem the church faces today of being unable to reach younger people. You can read that post here. I shared how we now serve in a mission field, and if we want to effectively reach the people God has given us we must understand how they think and how they view God and the church. Before we will be able to do this we are going to have to rethink what it means to be a church.
For the past few years I have challenged those attending my church leader's seminars that we need to stop viewing ourselves simply as churches and begin to see ourselves as mission stations. America is no longer a Christian nation. Christian thinking and values no longer shape our society. One writer has referred to our society as a "rapidly emerging pagan culture." Many of us would agree with that assessment. We now do ministry in a society that is as ungodly as any in which our missionaries serve. Being content to be a church isn't going to have much of an impact on such a society, and, in fact, it hasn't had much of an impact now for several decades. We have to change our mindset and begin to view ourselves as mission stations God has placed to reach the unchurched people around us.
We get up on Sunday mornings and talk about going to "church." We put on our nice clothes, drive to a nice facility, often with beautifully manicured lawns, and sit in comfortable pews or chairs. Our music may range from pipe organ to a praise band, but they are all playing music that points us towards God. Everyone is pleasant and polite (at least during the service). Everyone present basically thinks alike and shares the same core values. The speaker delivers a message that most people agree with, and an hour or so after arriving we all return to our homes inspired to eat lunch and get on with the remainder of our day.
As the atheist Matt Casper in the book Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians asks, "Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?" After spending a summer attending church services with the book's author, Jim Henderson, he couldn't get past the fact that he saw little action on the part of the people who sat in pews week after week. Henderson writes, "Casper simply could not imagine Jesus telling his followers that the most important thing they should be doing is holding church services. And yet this was the only logical conclusion he was able to come to based upon what he's observed."
Casper's question is a valid one. Jesus gave the church a mission. We call it the Great Commission (Mt. 28: 19-20). We talk about it often in church. We just don't do it. Attending church services is great, but it's not fulfilling the Great Commission. The purpose of attending worship services is to worship God and to be equipped to do ministry the rest of the week. This is what a mission station would do. It would give God's people an opportunity to come together to worship and to celebrate God, and then equip and encourage people to be engaged in ministry the other six days of the week.
If we view ourselves as part of a church we will have certain expectations of what that means. If we view ourselves as a mission station we will have a different set of expectations. I would encourage you to take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side list the expectations you would have of a church, and on the other side list the expectations you would expect of a mission station. Which list best represents your congregation?
Our society needs the church to rise up and be a body of Christians with a mission. We must be willing to leave our "sanctuaries" and go into an evil and hostile world with the transforming message of the gospel. The church must take the Great Commission seriously and begin to boldly share the gospel with those who have not heard it. Let's turn our churches into mission stations and begin once again to make an impact on our society.