Missional Church is Nothing But …

Missional church is nothing but a Sunday morning service with some justice projects added on.

I don’t agree with this statement at all. I do not think this describes what missional church is. Nonetheless, during my travels, a majority of my encounters with self described missional churches can be described in this way. There is a massive disconnect between the practices traditionally described as church – including Sunday morning worship – and life in the neighborhood and communities where we live, where we engage the mission of God as a people.

I think this construal of church (Sunday morning services + some add on justice projects) is bad because:

It makes justice into a project. When we organize endeavors from the center to reach places of overt need, injustices in our neighborhoods, places of violence and hurt, we inevitably turn people into a project. We gather our people around a cause, we raise resources and then we swoop in to help a problem (we have deemed a problem) and then we leave shortly thereafter. We go back to the comfort of our homes with little if any day to day contact. We might have offered some temporary relief. We might even feel better about ourselves. But we have in effect separated ourselves from people. We have enforced our diagnosis on ‘them.’ We have in effect created a wider distinction between the haves and the have-nots. We have not entered people’s lives and come alongside them, indeed becoming a part of their lives and allowing them to become part of ours. We distance ourselves from the poor. Everything I have learned about justice indicates this works against the way God wants to change the world.

It makes justice into a concept. When we try to discern justice apart from being there first, we evaluate what is justice from afar as a concept. We suggest that that homeless shelter, that government agency or that protest march is righteous. We advocate for joining in and giving resources. If we are not present in these places, we cannot understand the ways in which even the best looking projects on the outside are doing harm and evil, or instigating violence against people. So we misdirect resources, time and energy. And we are discouraged by what we see happen. Everything I have learned about justice indicates this works against the way God wants to change the world.

We cannot discern whether God is at work, whether indeed we can bring Jesus there. Justice cannot be discerned as a concept. It is our friends on the ground in need who will be the ones who know what is needed. They will know what is for real, what is corrupt. This we cannot discern apart from being there/living there first. We cannot just add on a justice project to a worship service and think this is ‘missional.’

It makes justice coercive.  Think about it. When leaders organize justice efforts, they are often making decisions separated from the people we are seeking to minister to. They are making decisions out of power and money. Many times we have not talked with the people affected at all, only leaders or workers who are part of the power structure itself (which may be bad). Even when we do talk to people we are seeking to help, we come as people from outside with power/resources to give. Then we leaders decide to mobilize and go. Often we are doing this out of our own resources and effort. It is the nature of a justice project that originates from outside the place we are ministering. Coercion and salesmanship are not far behind. Everything I have learned about justice indicates this works against the way God wants to change the world.Many times we think this will get the church to become known for doing good in the community. We expect results. And after all is said and done, we burn out. These are the signs of coercive hierarchical leadership (there is another way to lead).

There are of course reasons to do projects, to galvanize people, gather our resources and focus help in one situation. But this should be done relationally out of our regular life among people. If we do not teach and lead our people into being present among our contexts, we have simply replaced our detached, decontextualized coercive evangelism programs (detached from real life) with justice projects. We distance ourselves from the poor, we misdirect ourselves into non-righteous fruitless causes, we burn out. It is a massive default to Christendom all over again.

All this to say, church as Sunday morning service with some justice projects added on is a form of church to avoid.  What’s your take? 

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