Monday, April 4, 2016

The Church: From Sending to Being Sent

Free stock photo of snow, sky, winter, church

The church in North America is in trouble.  The church of today has been described as a mere vestige of the original movement started by Jesus and the original disciples.  Today, the church is more of an institution than a movement, driven by two complementary values: civil religion and social club. Reggie McNeal muses provocatively, "As he hung on the cross Jesus probably never thought the impact of his sacrifice would be reduced to an invitation for people to join and to support an institution." (Reggie McNeal, The Present Future).

The Christian missionary movement made great gains in the twentieth century and became a truly worldwide movement with churches established on all continents and among major cultural groups. At the same time, Christianity in North America has been declining in adherents, cultural prominence, and impact on society.  North America is truly a mission field today.  What was once a mission-sending nation has become one of the largest mission-receiving nations.

To address this challenge and reverse this trend is going to take more than just problem solving and fixes to our methods.  The issue is about identity more than technique and process.  There is a growing awareness that mission is not just one program of the church, but rather defines the church as God's sent people.  Darrell Guder sums up the situation: "Either we are defined by mission, or we reduce the scope of the gospel and the mandate of the church.  Thus our challenge is to move away from church with mission to missional church." (Darrell Guder, Missional Church)

Towards the end of Jesus' ministry on earth, He prayed about His disciples, "Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world" (John 17:18).  God is a "missionary" God and His people are necessarily a "sent" people.  Despite the fact that the North American church has become a place for programs primarily for church members, the deepest nature of the church is that of a missional, sending body that invites people to experience the forgiveness of Jesus and trains them to receive and walk in the life-transforming power of the Kingdom of God.

Lord, may it be so again!