Lost in Translation Part 2: The Gathering Function of Leadership

Last week, I wrote a post on 5 overreactions in the Missional Church. I told how I regularly find the same issues popping up in missional communities that are hurdles to the progress of community formation and witness in the neighborhoods. These issues, I discovered, are overreactions to “non-missional” Christendom forms of church. In an effort to not repeat the mistakes of Christendom forms of church (in order to be ‘missional’) we missional leaders overreact and create hurdles to community formation. I call these items “things that get lost in translation” because they are items that get lost in translation when we go from Christendom modern forms of church to post Christendom missional forms of church.  In last week’s post I talked about losing 1.) the ability to lead, and 2.) the proclamation of the gospel. Here’s 1 more thing (no. 3 on the list) that gets lost in translation, the ability to gather.
3.) Gathering. Many of us missional types are reacting to the mega church attractional models of church and in the process losing the wherewithal to gather. We observe in these churches how the majority of hours and resources are devoted to putting on a Sunday morning service to attract people into the building to Sunday services. The result of this is these churches have little time and effort to cultivate the churches presence in the lives of the hurting, lost peoples outside the Christian bubble. This results in a church that a.) caters to only Christians (because post Christendom non believers would not consider darkening the doors of a church), b.) creates consumers of Christianity because they are constantly being appealed to in order to keep them coming back, and c.) creates competition/antagonism between churches for the remaining Christians that are left. The missional movement has rightly criticized these ‘attractional’ modes of gathering Christians on Sunday.

But often this resistance turns to overt reaction against any gathering at all. So, we who are founding missional communities resist doing anything to enable newcomers to enter the small space of our communities and become part of us. Our communities are therefore experienced as closed-off, cliquish,  tightly woven and off putting. We demand so much from a visitor up front that they walk away intimidated.  In our attempt to be non-attractional we have rejected the task of gathering entirely. This in my humble opinion is another instance of something important to church life that has gotten lost in the translation to missional church.

The paragon of missionaries, the apostle Paul, when he traveled around the world proclaiming gospel, went first and foremost to the synagogues. Here is where dispersed Jews and/or Hellenized Jews met who already knew (and studied) the Story of God and Israel (Acts 17 despite its popular usage in missiological discussion was a grand failure). Paul went to these places proclaiming that Story had now been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. And he invited them to ‘repent and believe’ and enter into the Kingdom. I believe in the same way missional leaders need to start by challenging Christians who already know the Story, but have been stuck in passivity,  to live fully into the kingdom. We have to invite them into the new reality of what God is doing in Christ right now in their neighborhoods, work spaces, families etc.

Of course, we should resist competing with other churches (over things like worship experience or children’s ministry or preaching). When we gather Christians in the neighborhood, we should resist by all means anyone leaving their existing church communities if they have one because Paul never asked the Jews of the Gentile mission to quit going to synagogue).  We should resist trying to appeal and keep customers.

We should however be open to challenging Christians who have found the current versions of Christianity wanting. I am convinced that there are huge numbers of Christians who have realized the inadequacies of the mega church big box church who are looking for something more. In effect, these are people who know the Story well, yet they have not seen how the Kingdom is now being fulfilled in Christ in their neighborhoods. They need to be called into the Kingdom! Could these people be the synagogues of our day? I know this sounds contradictory to the notion we shouldn’t compete with other churches. But I insist it is not!

All this to say, missional leaders should not be shy of the task of gathering. They should be doing things like:

a.) Having ‘Kingdom cups of coffee.’ They should regularly be sharing time across a table with searching people sharing the vision of local Kingdom participation in this neighborhood. And ask what is God calling you to? We should be regularly challenging people to participate in the Kingdom together in the neighborhood. We should help them see that God is at work and called them and us to participate in what He is doing.

b.) We should have a road map for Christians to understand what this would look like for their lives. What rhythms are we calling people into? For example, we might say, “Yes we have worship, we share a meal in the neighborhood, we practice presence in the neighborhood, we meet for prayer on Thursday mornings in the domestic abuse shelter. We gather not to ask you to become a social services worker in your spare time, rather together we practice certain disciplines together in the community and allow God to use us to bring in His Kingdom.”

The gathering function of the leadership is very important to the ongoing work of missional communities. We must avoid the mistakes of attractional church while at the same time not abnegating the role Paul did so well as he founded churches all over Asia. Macedonia, Rome.

To all you missional leaders out there, how do you do this function of gathering? How do you handle these tensions in your gathering?

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