Let me paint for you a picture. It’s one that I live in real time on a somewhat regular basis, it’s something I, from here on out will, refer to as Church Planter’s Groundhog Day:
It’s Wednesday afternoon, 4p. I am sitting in a local pub (Starbucks was so 90’s). As I scroll through a bunch of junk email from Amazon and Apple trying to look more important than I am I see him walk in the door and begin his search for me. We’ve never met but I know right away it’s my 4p meeting, but since I am so cool I wait patiently for him to find me. How do I know it’s my 4p you ask? Simple really, he’s a 20-something wearing plaid and has this year’s edgiest interpretation of a Pastoral Fow-Hawk—or whatever you call it.
He sits down, we both order the most obscure pint on tap and start talking about how it’s not nearly hoppy enough for our bold taste. Just after we discuss beer selections we start talking about church. He is a planter, failed planter, wannabe planter, gonna-be planter or something in that region…As we discuss models for ministry I am careful not to say any of the 4-letter words that pastor’s disdain these days. No, not curse words. Pastoral 4-letter words.
Or the doozie of them all, so much so it gets TEN letters: Evangelize.
I don’t mention these words, instead I let him enjoy his first beer while he talks about all he intends for his city through church planting, his plan has everything to do with MISSIONAL LIVING. Puke.
He and his team of six are going to clothe the homeless, serve the city, adopt teachers, end slavery, baptize chimps on the moon & do it all in Toms shoes & sunglasses.
I sit quietly by, listening with some level of authentic interest, after all these are GREAT things to do. But are they really things to be ABOUT? This goes on for a while: the t-shirts they will print, the websites they will launch, even a coffee house or retail store giving proceeds back to the needy. He is pumped and I am, despite my current snarky demeanor, excited for him as well. But there is a part of the conversation that is still suspiciously lacking, evangelism!
Our second beer comes. He gets a few sips in and I drop the bomb. He has by now lost a bit of his inhibitions (because he usually drinks 4% with an orange slice, not 8% in an Imperial) so he can’t dance around it as well as normal. I ask, “Can you remember a time when Jesus did ANYTHING that you would constitute ‘missional’ without also talking about lost-ness, need for salvation, impending doom, money or personal sin?”
He has no answer right away, other than to allude to their strategy that will patiently “earn the right to share the Gospel after building a relationship”. We finish our beer with some small talk, compare “friend counts” on Facebook and go our separate ways. I am left troubled.
This is a quality guy, and I am decent too. How did one of us go so wrong? Who is right? Are we both wrong?
Then I am reminded when Jesus met the woman at the Well in John 4, he not only failed to be very “missional” with her, he actually asked HER to serve HIM. Then he debated theology with her (a no-no), told her she was lost (Pastoral 4-letter word) and invited her to surrender to God.
No food pantry.
Not a Bounce House or free cappuccino in sight. And yet, she turned her whole city upside down in three days.
Nicodemus’ experience wasn’t much different, except for he was what we would think of today as a Seminary Professor, and Jesus basically called him a pagan.
You see, I am not suggesting that DOING missional things is bad. But I am suggesting that making our churches or ministries ABOUT whatever “missional” means these days is not only bad it may be anti-Jesus. Being missional while simultaneously forgetting THE Mission is as pharisaical as a Christian in our times can be, right?
Aren’t we supposed be focused on leading people into developing relationships with Jesus?
Recently in a strategic planning meeting we noticed as a team that no resources or leadership energy was being committed to “missional projects” in the coming year at our church. I was unhappy with that, as were the rest of our team. I want to see our church serve our city and make a difference, of course. As I pondered how it could have happened that missional projects slipped from our focus one of our more outspoken pastor’s spoke up and said something to the affect of, “isn’t the act of inviting people to walk with Jesus every week pretty darn missional?” He nailed it.
All the extreme home makeovers and city-serving initiatives are more than a bit void if we do not precede, accompany AND follow the acts with what we are REALLY ABOUT as Christians, which is to walk with Jesus. Do them, yes, but don’t forget to ask people if they would like to join you in walking with Jesus. Amazing things just might happen. Everyday.
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
To read more from Stu, our Lead Pastor, click here