It’s hard being a parent. My wife and I have three kids under the age of 10 and we are by no means professionals. We are learning as we go and we are trying our best to do it with wisdom and grace. I’ve learned that I have a default though and that is to expect my kids to be good little children all the time. That is probably not realistic with a 3-year-old! One of the most profound things I’ve heard recently is this statement: The goal of parenting is not to produce perfect kids but to prepare competent adults. As much as that is revolutionizing my parenting perspective it also got me thinking about the Church.
I’ve been in the Church my whole life and I can say without a doubt that the majority of churches I have been part of were more focused on having perfect members than they were on preparing competent missionaries. The bulk of the Church’s efforts are focused on improving the behavior and appearance of those who regularly attend. This mentality can be evident in a number of ways. Sort of like, you might be a “perfect child” church if:
– There is pressure to look or act a certain way to gain others approval
– It becomes uncomfortable when someone who looks or acts different visits
– Most of the teaching is about how to improve yourself and be a better person
– Discipleship is referred to as a program
– The primary mission of the church is getting people to come to services
This basic level parenting produces children who will fake it to make it. They will figure out the system quickly that you don’t actually have to be perfect you can just pretend. Or it produces children who try so hard to be perfect but resent you along the way and can’t wait to get out. These churches have Christians who are not really growing and living out their faith. They are focused more on personal reputation than on a person’s redemption. We need churches whose primary mission is producing competent missionaries.
Scripture unpacks this modern term missionary in a very different way than we typically use it. Most commonly we apply that word to people who go live in a foreign country, eat weird food, learn another language, and preach the gospel. But the role of missionary according to the new testament is applied to every Christian. Every believer in Jesus Christ is commanded to live as a missionary in this world. (Matt. 28:19, 2 Cor. 5:20) Jesus himself was the first true missionary, the “sent one”. He came to our world to seek and save the lost. It is after the ministry of Jesus that we are to pattern our mission. His mission should become our mission. If we consider ourselves children of God then it’s about time we took the family business seriously.
The problem with the Church is not a lack of attendance but rather that those who attend remain largely unchanged. The benchmark of success has become the number of attendees instead of true Kingdom impact in the community. Those who attend are not adequately equipped and challenged to live out the mission of God. Churches often fall into the trap of using up all the activity of believers to make their programs and their services function. The busyness of church activity can gloss over deeper needs. God is irrespective of our branding and entertainment and is looking for fully devoted followers of Jesus who live as ‘sent ones’ in their context at work, neighborhood, or school.
Now, let’s take a look at how to move forward.
First, a church whose mission is preparing competent missionaries practices intentional discipleship evangelism. Preparing competent missionaries starts from the bottom up. It starts with connecting to and discipling unbelievers into faith in Jesus. The next step in the discipleship process is critical. It can’t be church membership or lessons on how to look like a better Christian. The natural next step after salvation is proclamation. You see it all over the gospels. Those who met Jesus and decided to follow Him became instant missionaries. (John 1:45; 4:39; 9:25; Mark 5:20) Phillip, a Samaritan woman, a blind man, a demon posses man all had an encounter with Jesus that changed their lives and they immediately went to tell others! Jesus is worthy of bringing people to.
Second, the Church needs to go back to the original math that Jesus exhibited; “the one”. If we are to pull away from this faux success of attendance and dig down to true widespread influence we must value “the one”. The above stories listed about the Samaritan woman, the blind man, the demon-possessed man and more all describe Jesus leaving crowds behind to seek out “the one”. We get so caught up in crowds that we trivialize the ones who make it up. When is the last time you gave up a group just to prioritize one person? Jesus did it all the time.
Third, the Church has to GO. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to build cool buildings, create attractive programs, and offer up free coffee to attract “the one” to come. No, He sent them out to GO do ministry where “the ones” were working, playing, and living. (Luke 10:1) Missionaries move. The modern model of inviting people to come attend our Christian service is woefully inadequate and does not fulfill the command Jesus gave in Matthew 28 before he ascended. He said Go. The Church that Jesus envisioned is ten times more active in the community then they are at their church building. He modeled it and then he commanded it.
I had a friend tell me once that if you want to change a church you start a new one. We can’t start the whole Church over but we can change one community, one family, one ministry at a time. We can disciple intentionally, seek out “the one”, and we can GO. May you find a way to embrace the mission and method of Jesus and live them out naturally. Now go carry on the family business!