In keeping with the new format of www.missioalliance.org, we are adding a second post every week on Wed-Thursdays by other/former pastors of Life on the Vine Christian Community and our church planting network. This week Chris Morton is writing for us. He’s a like minded blogger/thinker to RTM and gives us all a good push back. Chris will interact if you comment!
Last week David Fitch engaged Ed Stetzer on his data about megachurches and sheep stealing. It seems that the only thing they could agree on is that there were too many church transfers.
This is part of who we are as a country. The average American moves fourteen times over their lifetime. 58% of people who have changed churches changed for reasons that had nothing to do with location.
There may be reasons to leave a church. In a way, Church hopping is very American. It makes sense in a place full of personalized playlists and individualized movie reccommendations.
It would be easy to write off church hopping as a cultural phenomenon. You could even cite the individual for a lack of spiritual maturity. But churches have a responsibility as well.
Imagine if your sheep were so deeply committed to your church that it would be hard to accept a job offer in a new city.
Imagine if there was such a level of commitment that they would be willing to put up with poor preaching and bad music.
Church hopping and sheep stealing doesn’t have to be inevitable. But it will require doing at least three things differently.
1. Build Community they Don’t Want to Leave
Think of the closest community that you have ever experienced. Maybe it was your traveling basketball team in high school, your best friends from college, or the connections you made on a mission trip. Do you remember that heartwrenching feeling you had when it was time to leave that community?
Does your church feel that way?
Churches are often indeited for being nothing more than purveyors of religious goods and services. They may even “sell” community through some sort of small group system or another official program. But these are often attended only by a small percentage of the church. They can easily become a perfunctory event rather than a time of deep communal sharing.
The second chapter of Acts paints a picture of the young church, gathering daily in the temple courts, eating in each others homes, sharing possessions and growing numerically. It displays three traits of meaningful community, that probably sound more like your idealic memories than your modern American consumer church: Proximity, Interdependancy and Shared Mission.
-You lived down the street from, or even in the same house, as the other members of your church?
-You saved the money you would spend on buying tools and borrowed your hammers and drills from a member of your church community?
-You were more concerned about the churches shared mission than your own careers?
It’s hard to leave a community that close.
2. Engage in Meaningful Shared Mission
A friend of mine is an underground missionary in Southeast Asia. He told me that every few Sundays someone gets up and makes announcement about needing volunteers for children’s ministry. Just like every other church. Serving on Sundays is important, but in the way the paying your electricity bill is important.
Engaging people in meaningful mission is includes facilitating church programs, but it is much more. The example of Jesus teaches us that mission is inseparable from incarnation. For a church to be a missional people, they must be engaged in displaying Christ in their unique time and place.
This means developing a vision for representing Jesus in the church’s neighborhood. It also means equipping individuals to represent Jesus in the schools, workplaces, gyms and bars they inhabit every day.
It’s hard to walk away once you’re are a part of a mission
But having a mission is not enough. It has to be a shared mission. This grows out of a process of listening for the Holy Spirit as a community, and engaging the gifts of the entire body of Christ.
3. Be the Body of Christ
Of the metaphors for the church, the most useful for organizing is the Body of Christ. Paul’s description of a dysfunctional body is laughable, with eyes yelling at hands saying “I don’t need you! Instead, the church is meant to engage each individual in doing what only they can.
Sheep that stick around do so because they feel recognized as a part of the body. This means more than spiritual gift inventories. It means having a role which effects the church’s life together. It means knowing that they are valued, they also know they have a responsibility. That’s hard to feel when Church is just something you show up for on Sundays.
It’s hard to leave a place where you know you matter.
Let’s stop lamenting when sheep get stolen or people church shop, and focus on being a tight-knit missional body that is really hard to leave.
Missio Alliance Comment Policy
The Missio Alliance Writing Collectives exist as a ministry of writing to resource theological practitioners for mission. From our Leading Voices to our regular Writing Team and those invited to publish with us as Community Voices, we are creating a space for thoughtful engagement of critical issues and questions facing the North American Church in God’s mission. This sort of thoughtful engagement is something that we seek to engender not only in our publishing, but in conversations that unfold as a result in the comment section of our articles.
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