Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Classic way of being church -- missional

Series Index to The Classic way of being church:
An Apologia

Recall, my friends, that this series on the classic way of church is by no means my way of saying it is the only way of doing church. It is rather my apologia, my confession of the value I find -- and my assertion that there is still value for such a way of doing church.

Now, my emergent church and house church friends might raise an eyebrow at the use of the term missional for classic church. After all, the normal critique of the classic church is that it's irrelevant, out of touch, and stale. How can it possibly serve as a missional outreach - how can it possibly equip the saints for living as disciples when it's so horribly out of touch with the modern world.

First thing is that we dare not equate external expression with inner fire. Missional is a way of being, not a program for marketing. Being missional is about being oriented in such a way that the people of God recognize that they are sent and that God has planted them where He has sent them. Missional is about understanding whole life discipleship and the oscillation between being made strong by the spiritual disciplines and being sent to use the strength Christ gives us.

That said, a classic church, done right, can be very missional. The orderliness, the regular attention to spiritual disciplines, the attention to the saints of the past as a living fellowship with the saints of the present. All these things make us strong.

Then classic churches, when done right, afford dozens of opportunities to serve, in both large ways and small. Because of their institutional nature, they attract all kinds of information from all across the community on ways that Christians can plug in and be a blessing. They also gain a kind of instant credibility when they approach places in the community saying they'd like to serve -- no major background checks needed because of the institutional flavor of the classic way of being church.

Classic churches, done right, bring people together in all kinds of different combinations so we can learn community and build deeper relationships. No, it might not be as intense as the community in a house church -- but house churches might be surprised at the level of commitment people in classic churches have for one another.

Yet another way classic churches are missional is that they are different from our everyday reality. I'm keenly aware of the evangelistic impulse that drives churches to adopt seeker-sensitive models, and I applaud the passion for the lost that these churches demonstrate. However, it is a fallacy to absolutize that model then as the way of reaching out. There are plenty of people who are wounded and disaffected from those churches and are looking for worship and community that has a completely different texture. They may feel that the seeker churches feel commodified -- or perhaps they feel too much like a show. Or perhaps it's just that they want to feel like when they come to worship, it's something different than what they encounter in the rest of the week.

It's also very puzzling for those who aren't used to it -- and sometimes it's not a bad thing to be puzzling. It is a bad thing to be puzzling without having compassion. But being puzzling in of itself is probably a very good thing.

Of course I realize that the classic way of doing church also gives people liscence to hide behind the professionals; it also becomes a fortress for those who just want music they way they like it (and the devil can have anyone else that doesn't like it that way); it also becomes an in-club that makes outsiders prove that they really want to belong. I know these are the dangers and I know these are the critiques. However, these are perennial temptations, regardless of style.

There is hope yet that classic churches continue to reach people in a spirit of love and they continue to faithfully build up the saints and proclaim the gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria