“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:1-20).
For many years the United States was considered a Christian nation, as such the culture as a whole affirmed the existence of the church and many in fact considered themselves to be Christians. Going to church was not only acceptable, but in many parts of the country was expected of every good citizen. Most of the country had ordinances, called “blue laws” that kept most stores closed on Sunday. Church buildings were located on the square and highly visible to all. Competition between churches was through buildings and architecture, each church constructing a higher steeple than the other. Though many churches moved away from the authority of Scripture, and were irrelevant, people still came simply because they should.
By the 1970’s the societal changes that were occurring began to have a striking effect on the churches as attendance declined. For the first time in their history many churches had to determine how to get people back to church. The consensus was to make the church more attractive through programs and methodologies that would be attractive to the un-churched. As a result we began to see terms like “contemporary worship” and “seeker driven” in defining philosophy of ministry. Through aggressive marketing plans this method did in fact draw people to the church and is basis of many of the mega churches in the United States. In the 1980s it was not uncommon for churches to study corporations as McDonalds and Disney to learn their methods of marketing and customer service. Unfortunately, they adapted too much of McDonald’s methodology and produced a generation of people whose spiritual food was as nutritious as McDonald’s burgers and fries! In this era, people came to church because the marketing worked and they stayed as long as they liked the product.
Marketing the church has run its course and is no longer effective for the average church. People are weary with empty marketing and are looking for what is authentic and addresses the deeper issues of life. Even more disturbing is the awareness that marketing has resulted in an increased skepticism of the church as the programs rarely address the true issues of the heart and promoted a self-centered consumer attitude. Though there are more mega churches, there are few churches per capita and the United States is becoming increasingly less Christianized. We are now a mission field! In fact, missionaries are now coming here from countries we at one time sent our missionaries!
If the United States is a mission field, then the church must be missional[i] in that it has the responsibility of equipping its members to live out the mission given in Matthew 28:19-20. All of God’s people are called to be missionaries in the places they live, work and play. The church cannot assume people will show up simply because they exist, and they cannot merely market themselves and believe many will be drawn through their doors because of creative programming. Rather the church must be committed to sending her people out of the church to reach people in their spheres of influence.
There is not ample space in this context to fully address all that has been written on being missional. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the term resulting in both a shallow missiology and an incorrect ecclesiology. Many in fact have turned the popularity of this movement in to another program! Never the less, at the heart of being missional is a call to be God’s witnesses, or to state in more pointedly, evangelism. Any missional approach that does not have this as its end goal is not truly missional.
In his book entitled Bible and Mission, Richard Bauckham writes, “Mission is God’s work before and after it is ours. . . God continually makes more of what we do for him than we can make of it ourselves, and God continually prevents the harm our foolishness and failures would do. The Bible does not map out for us the path from Pentecost to the kingdom. It invites our trust in God rather than the mastery or calculation of history. God can be trusted to be faithful to his promises, but remains free in his fulfillment of them. . . In many ways, therefore, mission is not the imposing of predetermined patterns on to history, but openness to the incalculable ways of God in history. . . Scriptures often associate mission with the making known of God’s name. . . Witnesses, then, mediate the particularity of the biblical story and universality of its claim. . . When Christians find their metanarrative in confrontation with an alternate, aggressive metanarrative – whether that of globalization or Islam or something else – nothing is more important than telling the biblical stories especially that of Jesus, again and again. This is both an essential part of our witness and the way we retain our knowledge of what it is to which we witness” (pp 99 -101)
In conclusion my challenge to all Christian leaders is that they begin to look beyond the church doors and see themselves as missionaries to the world around them. That they ask the Father for a fresh appreciation of the Gospel and a deep compassion for the lost that moves them to deep and lasting friendships with non-Christians. And as these relationships are lived out in the routine activities of life, the biblical stories and their own conversion narratives are a constant subplot pointing to the hope that is in them.