If the vision of the church is not scary, if it doesn’t require everyone to pitch in, if faith is not needed, then folks will stay home and watch the football game.” (139)
This one is particularly interesting to me since it is Monday morning, the day after which Tony Romo led the Cowboys, my favorite football team, to a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback! And, to be honest, my wife and I decided not to go to church yesterday at all. Instead, we went hiking and then we watched some football. Before you get too worried about us, we did go to church on Saturday night, and our normal Sunday-morning responsibilities were canceled this week.
So even though it was “okay” for us not to be at church yesterday, it sure did feel funny! But I wonder if it felt funny because it broke our deeply-ingrained habits, or was it because we are truly connected to a church with vision where we feel needed. Honestly, it’s probably a little bit of both.
This leads naturally to another question for me: If lifers like Alida and I sometimes feel disconnected from the vision of gathered worship, what do folks who don’t have the same level of history think? My guess is that they don’t think much about church at all on Sunday mornings, and that if they do, they probably just think it’s cute and quaint. Sure, there will be a few who hate church and decry it for one reason or another. But my guess is that for most people, gathering together at a building called a “church” to sing songs, sit and stand, listen to a sermon, and give money never comes up.
And when it does come up, I wonder how often hiking, football, sleeping in, having brunch, etc. trumps gathering with believers to worship God?
Who knows. Provably a lot. But here’s a better question: Why are people choosing to gather less and less these days? Why aren’t people coming, including people who profess to believe in Jesus?
I think Hugh is right, our vision isn’t all that compelling. We aren’t all that attractive relative to other choices.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that Jesus’ vision for those who follow him would involve going out and coming together (Matthew 28.19-20). But it seems that we’ve simplified Jesus’ mission into activities that revolve around gathering together. Sure, we’ll throw in a few scattering things here and there: we’ll pack a shoebox full of inexpensive toys at Christmas, and we’ll gather school supplies for those sad public school kids, and we’ll write a check to support missionaries. But that’s pretty much the extent of our participation in the scattering of the church.
Not long ago I was convinced missionaries, evangelists, and their sort were the ones who were goers. The rest of us were people who went to church. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had envisioned the professionalization of scattering that way.
So we’ve limited Jesus’ mission for us by half. We’ve more or less eliminated the scattering and just focused on the gathering. But our vision for gathering together seems very different from what Jesus had in mind.
In the Great Commission (Matthew 28.19-20) there are several things to learn about gathering together: 1) It should enable disciple-making; 2) It should involve folding people fully into the family of God through baptism; and 3) It should involve instruction to obey all that Jesus commanded his disciples.
Let’s start with #3. Our gatherings in most Evangelical churches are almost solely about teaching. We’ll have one person stand in front of many people and teach for 20, 30, 40 minutes, or longer. I hope that our teaching revolves around what Jesus taught his disciples, but I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t always. Besides, Jesus taught about some crazy stuff like loving your enemies, prioritizing God above family, caring for those in the most need, and praying for God’s future reality to become real in the present.
Now to #2. We have baptisms in our gatherings, which is awesome! It’s always one of my favorite things! However, since so few of us ever actually go out to make new disciples, our baptisms are few and far between, even at large churches. (Caveat: there are some churches who are baptizing folks like crazy, which is awesome! My guess: they’ve fostered a better sense of missionality in all of their people.)
#1. When we gather it should be about disciple-making. “So are you saying that every sermon should be about deciding between Jesus and hell?” No, not necessarily. What I am saying is that when we gather one of the chief purposes should be for us all to grow in our discipleship. So new believers should be learning and old believers should be learning. All of us should be helping one another, in the power of the Spirit, to figure out how to follow Jesus better.
And following Jesus leads us to gather together and to go out into the world on mission with him.
So if our vision for church is about buildings, budgets, and butts, we’re not going to inspire many people to gather and scatter. And if our vision is to tell people what we think they want to hear, we’re not going to inspire many people to gather and scatter. And if our vision is really about our personal, financial security (“There’s a mortgage to pay…”), then we’re not going to inspire many people to gather and scatter.
It’s time we catch Jesus’ vision, namely that we get to participate with God as he reconciles all things to himself through Christ (2 Corinthians 5.19). That’s a scary vision. That’s a vision that needs all of us to pitch in. That’s a vision that requires faith. That’s a vision that will inspire people to skip out on sleeping in, hiking, watching football, etc. That’s a vision that will transform our lives, our communities, and our world!