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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Going to Church is a Good Idea, But Don't Go

We need to be the Church, not go to church. Part of being the Church is joining with other believers for relationship and worship and teaching and mission. I agree with the premise of an article in Relevant magazine that tells Millennials to go to church. They need to be grounded in a local community for relationship building over time to those who need to see the love of Christ lived out. They also need mentors and a secure place to return to after taking risks in their faith.

The systemic problem of the church is what limits the church's connection to this generation. What God-fearing Christian wants to spend their life energy, passion and resources maintaining a broken system.

Millennials, like other sane people, don't want to spend time filling positions on planning boards, redecorating the church foyer or making photocopies for Children's Church. They want to connect with people who are in need (spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially...) and pour out the love of Christ into their lives.

The Mission of the Church is as clear as the mission of most churches is muddled. The Mission is to live in community, grounded in the love of Christ, demonstrating that love to the world of people within their reach and influence. "Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (MSG)

The typical church structure hinders this. It is much more direct to walk the streets, strike up a conversation with a homeless person and invite him to lunch than to sit in a planning meeting about the next church barbecue.

Church-owned property, church-centric programs, and finance-driven decisions betray the anemic mission of most churches.

When I mention that our family has started a home church, we sometimes get asked questions that reveal a tragic misunderstanding of the nature and mission of the church.

The first question is usually: "How many people come?" I want to say, "Really? Is that your first question? How about, 'How have you seen God working in your midst?' or if we are close friends, 'Are you fulfilling your mission as a church?'" What I usually say is something like, "Not many. It's been the most rewarding and life-giving experience of our lives."

We are called to be light and salt, to bring life to those who are dying, to rescue those who stumble, to feed the hungry and preach the Gospel to everyone we meet.

Millennials should not join a church just because there are some good reasons to. They should continue to think outside of the church systems and find new ways to be the Church. They can help the rest of us figure out how to be rooted in communities, facilitate much needed mentoring relationships and maintain a strong faith community without wasting our resources on finding creative ways of inviting people into our well-maintained buildings.

I was a pastor at a traditional church for 18 years and was unable to break through the systemic problems to get back to the important role of the church to be light and salt. In a traditional church, buildings must be maintained, bills must be paid, organization and hierarchy are necessary evils.

Every moment spent on these hinders the church from fulfilling its true mission. When we ask questions like, "How do we keep people from leaving?" or "How do we attract more people?" or "Who can we get to fill this position?" we demonstrate a commitment to the structures that is stronger than our commitment to Christ and to His mission. The traditional church model is not the answer and more and more it seems to be a hindrance.

Let's find a way forward together.

My next post is in response to questions that arose from this one: The Mission, the Men, and Me

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