Monday, June 05, 2006

Don't Think Church, Think Mission

Michael Frost's saying, "don't think church, think mission!" has really challenged me, and got me thinking personally. The following is a summary of what he said in a meeting, I'd be interested in what your comments are, and I'll tell you mine:

Stop thinking conventionally about how to do church, as if there is some presupposed purpose for church in the contemporary scene here in Australia. If many, many Australians don't see any great usefulness, far less relevance, for the church today, how can they see churches as anything but anachronistic and quaint? Start thinking mission. Start thinking in a missions-to-the-first-world kind of way. Start thinking of the church in Australia as an uninvited, intrusive missionary movement in an uninterested, sometimes even hostile, pagan land.

We are only now getting used to the idea that the church in the west must become a missionary church in its own milieu if the church is to survive. Institutionally, of course, this is a massive paradigm shift from our standard ministry focus. Before reading any further, pause for a moment and ask yourself the following question, "If we could completely dismantle everything we now know as church (its structures, its ministries, its institutions, its traditions etc.) and literally begin everything from scratch, would you still do it the way we do it today?" I am not asking you to question the biblical basis for Christianity, the teachings of Jesus. I am asking, if we took Jesus' teaching seriously and if we really cared about the eternal destiny of Australians, would we do church the way we're currently doing it?

Literally everyone I have asked that question of has responded with a resounding "No, I wouldn't do it the way it's being done." So why do we put up with an approach to being church that neither reflects the radical thinking of Christ nor makes a way for the lost to encounter him?

The seemingly steadfast refusal or resistance by the western church to seriously contextualise the gospel is one of its greater mistakes and will sadly hasten its declining influence on Australian society. We are not taking the gospel seriously. And we are not taking our cultural context seriously either.


Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I think most Christians need to radically re-think how they understand the Church and how it operates. I also agree that we need to give more priority to mission.

However, I think it is vital to see the importance of the Church within God's plans. We need to reject wrogn ideas about the Church by recognising the truth of the Body of Christ.

I am uncomfortable with talk about contextualizing the Gospel. The New Testament defines the Gospel and it is a Gospel for all. People reject this Gospel because they love the darkness of sin and because they are deceived by Satan. What we need is the power of the Holy Spirit and a greater sense of urgency.

Every Blessing in Christ


dorsey said...

Wow, Kitty. I'm loving this guy. Where did you find him?

One of the phrases that struck me was "...if the church is to survive." I like the point he made, but for too many people, the survival of the institution is primary. Mr. Frost seems to understand that a proper institutional role is not self-preservation, but Kingdom building (which involves sending people out, not gathering them in), even if it means doing so at the expense of institutional survival.

Now there's a radical thought. Temporary, goal-specific institutions.

I think it would be awesome to hear of an institutional church that decides, "Y'know, we've been at this awhile, and we did a lot of the things we set out to do. It's time for a new vision. First, let's sell all our buildings and property. That way, we don't have to twist up the new vision to fit into the old facilities."

Can you imagine? A fellowship that regularly reorients itself to engage and serve a changing culture.


Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I certainly agree with Dorsey about selling church buildings and facilities. We are pilgrims on this earth. Let us travel light.

God Bless


Kitty Cheng said...

Matthew, how do you propose most Christians re-think radically how they understand the Church and how it operates? What are some of the wrong ideas that you suggest? I feel that what Michael Frost talks about are some of the issues we certainly have to grapple with.

I think contextualization is an important process in mission. Surely the message of the Gospel is never changing, but the way we present it should be relevant to the people we share it to in order to make sense to them.

I agree totally that the power of the Holy Spirit and a greater sense of urgency is a must for mission.

Kitty Cheng said...

Dorsey, I heard about Michael is a mission training. He is a noted Australian Christian communicator and evangelist.

I must admit I am ambivalent about institutionalization and structure of church. You know I have been grappling with the ideas of centrifugal and centripetal (the sending out and the gathering).

Surely temporary, goal-specific institutions, selling of buildings and property is a radical thought.

It is a great thing to have a fellowship that regularly reorients itself to engage and serve a changing culture.

Thanks for your insights ;)

Kitty Cheng said...

Matthew, travelling light as a pilgrim on this earth is really desirable, but challening to many people. **me included**

Kc said...

Okay you radicals (hehe) there is one body but many members each with its particular function. The arm doesn't have to make the leg reach out and the leg doesn't have to teach the arm to kick. If you're an arm then reach and let no one stop you but don't expect the legs to do anything less than carry you. ;-)

Isn't there a need for all? Are all the people of the world really living in the current pop-culture or is there still a vast majority who are just struggling to survive a day at a time with no thought or concern for the latest hip phrase or fad?

Kitty Cheng said...

Matthew, I would also like to add that contextualization (contextual theology and practice) must be deeply connected to and rooted int he word of God - that is unchangeable.

I was wondering when you said you are uncomfortable with talk about contextualizing the Gospel, have you thought about the power of the Holy Spirit and the sense of urgency actually help us to make the Gospel relevant to those who love the darkness, and their eyes and hearts can be opened b the Gospel, which is for all?

Kitty Cheng said...

Kc, your points here are very wise and balanced. So often we get so caught up with our own ideas that we forget that each of the member of the body has its particular function and that each member of the body of Christ has their particular call in ministry.

I wonder if we sometimes get confused as to whether we are the arm or the leg hehe.

There are so many sub-cultures out there (apart from pop-culture of course), and that is exactly why there needs to be people of God who contextualise the gospel in these various cultures so that the gospel is understood in these context, and that it is relevant to them.

The Krow said...

There is a good basis for this thought of missionary Christianity vs what I'll call institional christianity. But is it a vs thing? Or what if we rethink the purpose of each. First I would suggest that the current structures of church needs to revitialize the message of Jesus within, the message I think of is when he says he has called us to him to send us out. Often church has become viewed as a safe haven from the "evil world out there"; many of us have forgotten who Jesus spent alot of his time with... the "Evil world". The structures of te institution have suppressed and crushed our ambition to follow Jesus in this way.
I think the best analogy I can think of for the current state of church is when civilization began to settle down and lose the nomadic interests... buildings popped up and we became attached to them thinking they are essential, we lost our desire to move around the world, took on comforts that we now think are essential, we became dormant and slowly the pilgrim within us all died culturally... church the same way, it was spread by 12 pilgrims/adventurers and those affected followed suit but slowly structure was established and we lost our desire to continue being nomadic.
For the spread of the gospel we need more people that are outside the current structures, people bold enough to share God's message even if it endangers their lives... but the strucutres we have are useful if we morph their purpose and focus moreso into a training institution where new believers can be equipped to be sent into the world. Where they are aided on their journey of spiritual growth, and lear n to live out Christ in their daily lives... practicial christianity.. christianity beyond the academic that is taught in many churches currently.
To conclude... both missions and institution have thier place in a new structure of church... both need to be seen in a new light. The church becomes more focused on spiritual growth and practical christianity, and starts to revitalize sending out the saints; from that comes missions and the nomadic movement of church.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I cannot remember reading anything about contextualizing the Gospel that was not connected with some wrong doctrine or overemphasis.

The world is opposed to our Lord and Saviour and the message of the cross is foolish to those folks because they are perishing. I serioulsy doubt that contextualization is the problem.

When I preach on the streets of Worcester, I do not speak in a different language. People can understand me, but they do not like the message.

I think when people talk about contextualization, they are not so much talking about communication of the message, but emphases within the message, and sometimes a different message altogether. Perhaps I am mistaken, but this is the impression I get.

Every Blessing in Christ


Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Kitty, thanks for asking.

'Matthew, how do you propose most Christians re-think radically how they understand the Church and how it operates?'

To meet simply as Christians who are part of the one body of Christ. To stop meeting as members of some particular 'church'. To realise that we have no power to make our own 'churches'. To recognise the Holy Spirit's leadign in our activity. To stop trying to organise what we do and simply let the Holy Spirit have His rights over our meetings.

'What are some of the wrong ideas that you suggest?'

That is is possible to start genuine churches today. That a Christians is a member of A church as opposed to a member of THE Church. That we have power to appoint elders, deacons and pastors. That we are building the kingdom of God through our activities. That we should try to get unbelivers to 'go to church.'

Every Blessing in Christ


Kitty Cheng said...

Matthew, thanks so much for your comments and responses to my questions. Appreciate it very much. I will think about them and perhaps get back to you on another post.

Kitty Cheng said...

The Krow, I need some time to digest your points here.

The concept of missionary christianity vs what institutional christianity is indeed very complex.

Garth said...

I can only agree and its interesting to see these points arising independently around the globe...just might be something in that! For me I express it like this...Church is not something we do, but something we are. While we're busy doing church, we reduce it to an event. THe concept of church Not being a time and a place is what we started out with in Acts. Somewhere along the way we lost our identity and replaced it with a logo.

Kitty Cheng said...

Garth, it's true that so often, we think of church of only a place (building) or a time, and really forget that it's the people of God. The concept that we are not to 'do' church, but we are the church needs to be reminded.