Another update of an old post
I bought a book a while back with the title “Unlearning Church” that title is also a pretty accurate description of the journey I have been on over these last few years in how I understand the Body of Christ. Looking back I can know see I have gone through a significant number of paradigm shifts in how I understand the purpose and mission of the church, some of these have been big, some relatively trivial, all have involved unlearning what I used to think and ways I used to act. So here are a couple of things I am unlearning
I AM UNLEARNING that mission is part of the church’s purpose. In the late 1990s I was pretty taken by Rick Warren and the Purpose Driven Church thing, you know with the five purposes of the church. I still think we can learn a tremendous amount from him and what Saddleback are doing, but I no longer believe that mission is one of the purposes of the church. I now believe that the Church exists for mission, it was created to join God in His mission of restoration and transformation of all creation. All the other so called “purposes” find their meaning and expression in the context of the missional church. Darrell Gruder’s Missional Church book was key for me in making this paradigm shift. So its not so much that God’s church has a mission but that God’s mission has a church.
I AM UNLEARNING that church is mainly about Sunday services. Looking bacl I can see that my training and gifting as a preacher made me over emphasize the importance of church services on a Sunday in the life and mission of the Church. I now believe that what is much more important is what we do as disciples and as a community 24/7 in all areas of our life and community. Gathering for worship is important, but not more important than gathering and going for prayer, acts of compassion, social action, serving others etc.
I AM UNLEARNING that the goal of mission is the growth of the church. I drank deeply from the Church Growth Movement and still believe that they gave us many key insights and helped us rediscover the missional nature of God and the church. However the CGM was obsessed by numbers, bigger was always better. I still believe that the growth of the church is hugely important I don’t see any virtue in remaining small. However I can now see clearly that the mission of the church is greater and more important than bums on seats or names in a membership book. I now believe that the church exists to embody, serve and extend the Kingdom of God, to bring healing, justice, peace, love, compassion, freedom, to work to see individuals, communities, nations and ultimately all of creation transformed.
I AM UNLEARNING an unhealthy obsession with conversion. Now I need to be careful about this, I still think that people have to make a positive choice to become a Christ Follower, no one enters the Kingdom of God by osmosis or accident. However earlier in my minstry I was a bit obsessed with getting people saved, to the conversion point and then over it. I was elated when people decided for Christ (and so I should be, after all heaven is according to Jesus) and depressed when I saw no one coming to faith. Now I see conversion as a continuing process, what happens after “conversion” is equally, if not more important than the moment of decision. To me a Christ follower is not someone who came forward at a meeting, or prayed a certain prayer with the right words, but someone who has encountered Jesus and is continuing to be transformed by that encounter. I now want the church to be as committed to helping people grow in their faith as it was in the past to helping people coming to faith.
I AM UNLEARNING the idea that the point of the Gospel is all about going to heaven in the future. Praise God the Gospel does say that our eternal future is secure but it seems equally insistent that eternal life starts now, its about a quality of life as much as a quantity. We aren’t saved to twiddle our thumbs waiting for the rapture, but to be involved in seeing the future we are part of invading the here and now.
I AM UNLEARNING that mission starts with the church. In both the churches I have led the mission of the church was determined by the church, our mission was determined by what people in the church liked, or disliked, what the board would approve and give money for. Mission for me now starts with God, I want to understand what the mission of our great Trinitarian God is, from that I can understand what the mission of God’s people should be and from that flows my understanding of the church. Alan Hirsch & Mike Frost really helped me on this one with his book “The Shaping of Things to Come”
I AM UNLEARNING my role in the church as a leader. I was trained to be a pastor because in standard “Christendom Mode” that is what a church leader is. I was trained and employed to look after the pastoral needs of a congregation. I no longer see myself as a pastor, I just ain’t very pastoral. I now believe I am gifted more in the area of apostolic ministry than pastoral ministry. I don’t mean that I am a contemporary Apostle Paul and have ultimate authority but that my gifting and wiring by God has made me passionate and effective in moving the church forward in mission. I always want to push the edges, try new things in new ways. Pastoral gifts are still really important to the church but part of the problem with the church in recent years it seems to me is that it has been led by pastors or those forced to be pastors and so inevitably has been inward looking and focused on its own needs.
I could probably go on, but these are among the most significant of my paradigm shift when it comes to Church and my ministry. What about you, how has your understanding of the church changed?