Everyone knows that the missional purpose of the church is to reach the lost, right? The great commission. So why isn’t that what we are all about as churches? No matter how much we say that is our mission, the truth of what we are is in what we do.
To be honest, I don’t think the focus has been on our mission, but rather on our meetings, on how we are together.
Are we pomo, emerging, simple, seeker, mega, traditional, or fundie?
How are we going to worship? Hymns, contemporary, alt, stations, dance, art, loud, intimate, with instruments, or not?
How are we going to baptize? Sprinkle or dunk, hot tub or creek?
What about communion? Wine or juice, loaf or cracker, one cup or many?
We especially identify ourselves by our theology, teaching, and preaching. We meet in this particular building together because we hold this particular doctrine that our brothers in the building next door don’t agree with.
When we promote ourselves in the community as a church, these are the issues that people talk about. When someone is deciding on what church to join, they look at what kind of programs a church offers and their style of gathering.
While we may have programs for mission, it is not who we are. We are all about these other things.
If we were gathered for a missional purpose we would be known for that.
The 1st Church on the Corner might be known for reaching into the drug community.
While the 2nd Church on the Other Corner would be known for their ministry to the homeless.
And the 3rd Church Next Door might be all about their service to at-risk youth.
In church shopping, people would join themselves to a particular missional cause rather than to a worship gathering style.
That is not who we have been. Service to others has always been an add-on program after we have served ourselves first. In spite of our megabudgets, we have bake sales for the latest mission project. We send the youth on most of the outreach programs.
Look at our books and conferences. Let’s just keep tweaking the gathering, the structure, the members, eventually maybe we will get it right and produce some fruit.
Look at how we spend our resources, our time and money. It is telling of our real mission and purpose. We cannot truthfully look at the church we have built over hundreds of years and honestly say that our reason for existence is mission and service to others.
“Attending a respectable middle-class church in a respectable middle-class neighborhood isn’t a liminal experience.” (Michael Frost, Exiles)
Even if we do something less respectable, in a home or a pub or a coffee house, we will not be a missional community if our organizing purpose isn’t mission. Anything less and we will just be another group of like-minded people in a safe religious club, even if we happen to be a hip, cool club.
We have had a chronic case of cart before the horse, and it seems nearly impossible to turn the two around. However for those who are launching into missional expressions, perhaps we can learn from this. If we are not gathered around our missional purpose, none of the rest matters.
Missional community emerges from missional purpose first. We gather with those who share our heart and passion for this cause. We function together in the service of this cause. Our service together is what produces liminality which then creates the communitas we share as a group.
Therefore, the identifying question of who we are as a church should point directly to the missional purpose that we serve. Only then will we create a missional community.