Thursday, March 13, 2008

Being Missional in Congregations

For us to be missional, we need to encourage missional church leaders. The average pew-warmer, no matter how many sermons on outreach they hear, will only be involved with people outside of their comfort zone on occassion, and still be ill-equipped to know how to speak Christ cross-sub-culturally.

So we need to develop missional leaders. Yet, in my experience, the established church is focused on developing what they already have, to replicate what they consider to be "successful programs." But true outreach is not to reach out to a culture already sturated by some kind of gospel teaching, but to connect with cultures and sub-cultures that are not experiencing the true gospel of Jesus in word and deed.

The middle class Americans already have the Warren- and Hyble-clones. African Americans, both older and newer have their own sub-culture outreaches and churches. And the emerging church is a strong beginning for the up and coming educated class. But there are many sub-cultures in America that aren't being reached effectively. The homeless, for instance, who have many "missions", but few churches. The alternative cultures. And those completely disenchanted by church culture in any form (I saw today a church board which said, "An opportunity for those who are disgusted by church-- every Sunday morning" I laughed to myself because if they were disgusted by church, why do you think they would come into a church building on the standard Christian morning. Cultural assumptions like that are exactly the kind of stuff they are trying to avoid.)

Why don't we have more churches for these folks? For sub-cultures that reject standard church culture altogether? Because the standard church won't pay for missional leaders to do this. Now, I admit that many missional leaders are expecting to be paid full salary for full time work, and given the financial structure of the church, that just won't work. But the church also is unwilling to pay for alternative churches, which will not abide without full church support, both financial and encouragement-wise. Churches are willing to pay for a small "outreach" or "mission", but not accept it as a full, equal church unless they accept the cultural assumptions of the original church.

I recently heard of a church in Seattle who had a pastor couple who was interested in doing outreach to homeless youth. After ten years of "paying thier dues" in the large middle class church, they were finally supported to begin a homeless youth church. With only one condition-- that they do the church plant somewhere other than Seattle. Not because the original church would have competition from the other church (the middle class church would never fully welcome homeless youth), but because they needed some distance between the churches.

I am not faulting the church in Seattle. Actually, it shows some cultural insight that many of us lack (myself included). The alternative cultures, we need to remember, aren't just looking for a new kind of church-- they are rejecting church culture. And this is something that the current parishner can't accept. They can't accept that the songs, service and preaching they are so blessed by actually drive some people away from God. But it is the truth.

How can the church really support true outreach to the lost? How can this be done, given that a missional leader would have to be on both sides of a cultural war, a double agent, so to speak?

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