I am spending the next nine days in Sheffield, England studying one of the most powerful movements of God going on in the world today and what it means for the church in America. Follow my blog as I post reactions to what I am seeing and learning and what God is doing as a result.
I am not too ashamed to say that one of my favorite movies of all time is The Matrix (the original, the rest of the trilogy was awful). It’s not out of some love for Keanu Reeves (although I was a big fan of the Bill and Ted movies). Even though it has become terribly cliché in the church, I still love the spiritual metaphors that abound throughout the movie. My favorite scene is when Morpheus, upon first meeting Neo, explains why he is different, why there has been something nagging him all of his life, that something with this world is not quite right. He said it was like “a splinter in your brain.”
I know what this feels like. I have spent hundreds of hours involved with ministry over the last several years, and much of that time was spent trying to push my teams and churches to the next level. Part of that stems from my apostolic tendencies, but also from an understanding that something was not quite right within the church. I could never put my finger on it, but it was always there.
Having been exposed to a truly missional church and been immersed in missional living over the last several days, I now know the source of my angst. It’s because every church I have ever been a part of, and most churches in America and across the Christian world, would claim to have a New Testament approach, but they are really Old Testament churches.
Let me explain what I mean. In the Old Testament, if a person wanted to hear from God and learn what kind of life God had for him, he would go to the temple. The temple was the four walls within which God resided. The man of God, called a priest, would be the mouthpiece for God and a spokesman for the people. Only he could approach God with requests. Trained professionals were responsible for nearly all ministry, and the people would consume their fill of God and head home, until they would return either out of spiritual emptiness or simply out of duty. What they experienced in worship often made little difference in their day-to-day life, and the world in which they lived felt limited impact from the expressions of their faith.
Does any of this sound familiar?
In the New Testament, it is a completely different story. Rather then sending a “you come” message to the world, Jesus commanded a “go” approach to anyone who would claim to be one of his followers. That meant it is simply not enough to show up and get your “God-fix” for the week; there is actually a responsibility on the part of Christians to be God’s representatives in the world. That does not mean that we take up social causes and fight the Culture Wars under same banner we think God commissioned us with, but to love people where they are at, regardless of their sins, faults, and failures, and to point them to a life of passion and purpose. This is meant to be accomplished in the context of community, where followers of Christ are committed to living a life of passionate worship, authentic fellowship, and missional zeal. This is the Acts 2 model most churches aspire to live, but that most fail to accomplish.
For too long, the American church has expected those outside its walls to be wooed by good music, a captivating leader, cutting edge marketing, clean bathrooms, and plenty of parking. Don’t get me wrong, there are some churches doing this that get pretty good results putting cheeks in the seats. However, our standard is discipleship, and when the main goal of a church is attracting a crowd so that they can hear from the appointed “man of God,” that church will likely become what the folks of Willow Creek Church, at the forefront of attractional ministry, recently found themselves to be, a mile wide and an inch deep.
What if, instead of placing the emphasis on buildings, services, and programs, the church had a philosophy of radical, missional life done in the context of family-like community? What if those communities were not an also-ran in the church, but the entry-point, where those with honest questions about faith would have safe place to belong before they were ever expected to believe or behave? What if those who became believers were not hounded to sign up to volunteer but were empowered to be true witnesses to the work of grace done in their lives? What would this church be like? Does it even sound possible?
You can take the blue pill, forget what you’ve read over these last couple of days, and keep doing church the way you have already done it. Or you can take the red pill, continue reading, and I will show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.