2007 August

Lately it seems that everyone I talk to is tired of church. Some are actively involved- teaching Sunday School, attending Bible Studies, even leading worship. Others have given up church altogether, opting instead for isolated and lonely personal ministries outside any organized body of believers.

These people are not where they need to be, but not because they are in sin. They aren’t rebellious or angry. They are discouraged because the church as they know it looks nothing like the community of faith that we read about in the scriptures.

Churches are all about programs, events, and activities. You’re a twenty-something married couple? Thirty and single? We have a program for you. Mothers of Preschoolers. Parents of Teens. Businessmen breakfasts, Scrapbooking, Golf, Church-league softball. The more you do, the holier you are. If we haven’t seen you in a while, we question your spiritual maturity.

Church leaders desperate to grow their congregations don’t know the people already in the pews. The gospel has become an invitation to church, and discipleship an altar-call. Why doesn’t anyone ever say, “Wow, they must be doing something wrong for God to be cursing them with all those people in attendance.”?

The result of the programs- and numbers-focus is a growing number of people who are churched-out. These are faithful people who have taught the Bible studies, led the mission trips, given their money, and visited the visitors. They know what goes into each big campaign (and how little comes out), and they don’t have it in them to “put-on” another one. Now they are finished. Many drop out altogether because they don’t see an alternative.

Maybe your mega-church should start a program for them.

It occurs to me that much of our missionary efforts today are carried out as though God wasn’t on the field.

God doesn’t “send” us. He calls us to join Him. There’s a difference. If we think that we’re doing something great for God, or that He (or the “nations”) needs us in any way, we think too highly of ourselves.

Consider the terminology we use: “Reaching the nations for Christ.” “Finishing the Task.” “Building the Kingdom.” “Engaging people.” Because we haven’t been careful to explain what they originally meant, these trite phrases have helped shape a human-centered missiology among many believers.

Few missions strategies include something like, “Get involved in the community and wait for God to bring us the people in whom He is already working.”

Instead, we have people canvassing neighborhoods in search of anyone who will listen, and broad (and generic) “Sowing of the gospel.” It’s as though we were afraid that the God who called us to the field has left us to search blindly for what He might do.

Why do we view the role of the missionary as perpetually active (“reaching,” “evangelizing,” “sharing,” etc.) and rarely passive (“being given the opportunity,” “being used,” “being led”)?