Bella* was passionate and energetic. Thrilled about the work going on in her local church, she was always one of the first to volunteer and help. She constantly came up with ideas about how the church might reach it’s neighbors, and seemed to be willing to give her time to anything new and exciting.
After years of sacrifice and giving, she left the church, partly due to personal struggles and partly due to burnout. It seemed that through all of her willingness and giving, the church had failed (in her eyes) to have as much passion or concern as she did.
Jimmy* enjoyed the back row of his church. Never one to give too much of anything, he was content to slip in and out without being noticed, that was of course, until he did go unnoticed. After missing a couple of weeks of church, he stopped coming. When someone asked him why, he stated that if he can miss two weeks and not be called or visited, he didn’t need to be a part of that church.
Mary* served faithfully behind the scenes of her churches various ministries for years. Never one to take the spotlight, she became a grandmother figure in the church. She would lovingly and passionately nurture and build up people so that they could reach their full potential. She worked tirelessly until her body wouldn’t let her anymore.
Sarah and Jeff* intentionally moved into one of the hardest apartment complexes in their city because they knew that it was something that God wanted them to do. A place rampant with abuse in many forms, they felt that they could be a tangible and beneficial presence for Jesus.
These are stories that I hear of (and see) all the time in the church. Perhaps in reading some of these stories, you found part of your story, or someone in your church. These four stories illustrate two completely different ways of doing (and approaching) church. In the first two stories, we see people that struggled to find the vision to look outward. Though equipped and gifted to serve the local body, their propensity and desire to consume, rather than participate, led to their burnout and failure.
But it’s also a reflection on the state of the church. The church as a body has failed to train them up as leaders. Bella, energetic and passionate, was an apostle, always looking for something new and exciting. Tired of routine, she always volunteered for something, but never followed through very long. The churches failure in this, was to support her in that and follow though. What she perceived as the church’s passionless life was really just an inability to equip her for better and more effective ministry.
Jimmy was in a similar situation. Loving and caring, he was wiling to help, if only he had been asked. The failure of the church in Jimmy was not seeing him and calling him as a Pastor (Shepherd) that could care for the poor and hurting. When his life hit its own mini-crisis and care was needed, he discovered that no one was there. What the church should have done is created a space for him to care for people, and train others to do the same, so that when he needed the comfort of someone else, it would have been there.
But the other two stories are stories of hope and transformation, stories where the church has successfully trained up people to give and shape future disciples. Mary became a grandmother to those that needed it. She was loving, kind, and attentive. She ministered well beyond what her body would allow, and her legacy will live on for years after her. She molded and influenced a new generation. She was the symbol of what a good pastor (Shepherd) could be in the church. Not one to take the spotlight, she found ways to invest in others and build them up.
Sarah and Jeff also lived out what faithful mission looked like. Giving up other opportunities, and by many standards a ‘better life’ they were willing to go to the hardest places of their city and be a living example of Jesus to the hurting and unreached. While family members pleaded with them to find the big house in the suburbs and put their children in a better school, they knew that God had called them to this hurting neighborhood. Their stories of transformation around them, and the hope that has descended on that apartment complex is in no small part a credit to their willingness to use and steward their gifts as evangelists and teachers for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
The future of the church will be determined by the number of people that are willing to rethink and reinvest in the life of the local body. Consumerism has been bred into the American psyche and even in the life of the American Christian, and people continue to act like consumers as long as they are treated like and expected to act like consumers [Tweet that].
In our last post in this Missional Christianity series, we began to look at the words that Paul gives us in Ephesians 4 and how the church can reach full maturity. Using these gifts requires not only identifying and using them in our own lives, but by creating spheres where groups of like-minded people can come together and use their gifts in a corporate way to benefit others.
Missional Christianity can take place in both traditional churches and in new frontiers, but it cannot take place apart of the willingness of people willing to use their whole lives in service to the Kingdom of God.
Missional Faithfulness creates an ownership of all people to advance and participate in the Kingdom of God. It takes seriously the command of Jesus to make disciples, and call people to follow him.
The future of the church hinges on people willing to adapt this mindset. No longer will a watching world find compelling the story of Jesus if it is limited to a few in class specific manner, or seen as unable to help in the totality of their lives. The church, modeling what it means to make Jesus both Savior and Lord, must call those who desire to be a part of the community to lay down their lives and follow Jesus, equipping and shaping new followers for him.
Names have been changed.