Our reading assignment this week was to read and review “The Local Church in Mission: Becoming a Missional Congregation in the Twenty-First Century Global Context and the Opportunities Offered Through Tentmaking Ministry.” This paper is a report from the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization held in Thailand in the fall of 2004. The point of this report is to refute the desire of the Church to be attractional rather than heeding the Great Commission mandate to be missional.
Click here if you’d like to read the report for yourself.
Many churches these days believe that their role in culture is to build beautiful buildings and host extravagant events that will draw people in. Just the other day, I passed a local church and read on their sign “Come check out all of our great activities!” That sign itself must certainly grieve the heart of God who sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross and left us with the commandment to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)
Churches that heed the call to go and tell are called missional churches. “Missional congregations are those communities of Christ-followers who see the church as the people of God who are sent on a mission.” (p. 1) Attractional churches say “come and see”, whereas, missional churches “go and tell.”
In our class on cross-cultural missions, we have read and discussed a lot about what it means to build a relationship of trust with other cultures. The danger of being an attractional church is the fact that you will always attract people that are like you, you will never be able to reach cultures that are different. Take a look around your church on a Sunday morning and chances are that, for the most part, most everyone looks like you! I hope you won’t be surprised when heaven is very different than your local church.
We live in a consumer society that causes people to ask “what can you do for me?” Many people come to church with a buffet mentality looking for a place to worship so they will feel better about themselves, a place that is safe to drop their kids off for VBS, and a way to connect with other men and women that might be of benefit to them socially or professionally in some way. These people usually roll into the parking lot a few minutes late each Sunday morning and are the first ones out when the pastor says the final Amen. It is a shame, but these people are missing the point of what church is all about.
I liked the quote by William Temple, former archbishop of Canterbury, who said, “The Church of Jesus Christ is the only cooperative society that exists primarily for the benefit of its non-members.” (p. 2) If we truly desire to become more like Christ, we should seek every opportunity to serve others that are outside the walls of the church. Jesus didn’t only hang out with the religious people, he hung out with those that wouldn’t really fit in well in most churches today. How willing are we as twenty-first century Western Christians to go outside of our comfort zone to serve someone that is different than we are? I have to ask God to intentionally put me in situations I would never choose for myself that make me uncomfortable so that I can serve people for His glory.
Another point made in this report is the realization that, “Incarnational ministry may not result in fast mass conversions. Rather it often manifests as a steady long-term witness.” (p. 8) Evangelism is a relationship process, not just something to check off of a task list.
The Lausanne Report also spent a great deal of time talking about the fact that a nice building and a large staff don’t always insure that the church is doing Kingdom work. The consultants pointed out that many times churches will grow when they are understaffed or under resourced. Those situations cause the laity of the church to step up and serve others and reach those outside the walls that a paid church staff might not be able to get around. One of the missionaries interviewed pointed out the fact that the church members will usually have a far better opportunity to reach people than a pastor might. The members are the ones that work in the offices and factories alongside lost people.
I especially appreciated the suggestion that churches strategically plan their calendars around the fact that people shouldn’t always be at church. Instead, they should be out in the community serving others. If you have your members tied up on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night for worship and then again on Monday night for visitation and Thursday night for committee meetings, that doesn’t leave much time for reaching those outside of the church. “Congregations may need to ask the members to spend less time in internal ministry so that time is available to be in the community.” (p. 13)
The remainder of the section about becoming a missional congregation talked specifically about being intentional in training your members to go out in the community to reach others. The committee pointed out that missional congregations must be led by missional leaders who set the example by building relationships in the community. Others-centeredness is contagious and will quickly spread in a congregation devoted to the same vision. This doesn’t happen overnight. The pastor must implement a solid strategy to train Christians to live alongside people in such a way that will give them a chance to share their faith.
The remainder of this report talks about the ministry of Tentmaking. Tentmaking is basically moving into a culture with the purpose of sharing Christ while supporting yourself by working in the local community. Tentmaking is really making a comeback because of the economic downturn in our country. Some church planters and missionaries are finding it harder than ever to raise support and have to work regular jobs in addition to planting churches and being missionaries.
Tentmakers can be found in cultures around the world including right here in the United States. The article pointed out the benefits of Tentmaking, particularly the relational opportunities with the community and the local church. It is easier to build relationships of trust when you are living life together with people rather than parachuting in on a short-term or even a long-term mission experience.
As discussed in the first part of the article about building missional congregations, Tentmaking requires a certain level of training. It is critical for Tentmakers to be educated in seminaries or Bible colleges that can help them build a firm foundation in theology. This education will give them credibility on the mission field as they teach and disciple those they come in contact with and have an opportunity to share Christ with.
The article closes with a challenge to local churches to support Tentmakers as a way to extend the arm of the local church. The entire article laments the fact that many churches have shied away from outreach and relied out outside mission organizations to do the work of reaching people outside the church. The problem with the converts in that situation is that they have a hard time becoming assimilated into a local church. The Lausanne Report implores churches to embrace mission organizations and support them as a ministry of their church, partnering with them for training and resources, so that those who come to Christ will be able to plug in to a local church. These churches provide opportunities for worship, community, and mission that are lacking in independent mission organizations. As Christians, we are called in Acts 1:8 to partner together to “be [Christ’s] witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”