I have the awesome privilege of meeting a lot of pastors and church planters. It is an exciting time for the American Church. We’re seeing local churches partner for the sake of their cities instead of being territorial (well, Phoenix still has its share of territorial churches, so it’s not all roses). There seems to be a surge of theological passion and Gospel Centrality.
There also seems to be quite a surge in all things “missional” (however you define the term – for the sake of this post, we will simply define it as followers of Jesus living everyday lives as missionaries in their immediate context). The problem, of course, is that not everyone agrees what the term missional means or what it should look like. The result is that many highly “attractional” churches (Sunday morning is the main attraction, also coupled with their luxurious amenities – the prevailing attitude is that the culture will “come to us”) tack the word “missional” on to their small groups without really making any changes.
For the vast majority churches in North America, Sunday morning’s “service” is the “organizing principle” of church life. In other words, Sunday receives a bulk of time and attention during the week. Between staff members and volunteers, it’s not uncommon for hundreds of hours/week being poured into making sure “service” goes off well. Most of the other ministries of the church find their place in relation to Sunday. Sunday is the entry-point and many of the other ministries exist to keep you tied to Sunday.
In some ways, this is understandable. Sunday morning is easy to quantify; easy to gauge “success or failure.” How many people were there? How much money did they give? How many “professions” did we tally? But a question should be the umbrella of all of those other questions: what exactly should the church be doing? Jesus told us quite clearly to make, mature and mobilize disciples, followers of Him (Matthew 28:18-20). The next question we should be asking is: how well has the North American model of church done at making disciples? I have had the chance to ask hundreds of people this question in a variety of formats. Not once have I had someone tell me that we’re killing it. We are doing exceedingly well at making disciples. In fact, nearly everyone recognizes that the Sunday-morning driven model of church creates consumers more than it does disciples.
And yet we keep at it. Remember how Einstein (how cool is it that a scientist is on a one-name basis with culture?!) defined insanity?
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
I see church planters asking advice on “preview services” and how to create “wow experiences” or “turn first-time guests into fully-engaged members of our churches.” Most church planters would not say that they are setting out to plant a Sunday morning production but in practice, that’s exactly what we do. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying preaching is unimportant. I’m not saying singing together is unimportant. I’m not saying worship gatherings are unimportant. But I am saying that these are not the most effective way to make disciples. Emphasizing these things reinforces consumerism rather than an expectation that we will die to ourselves and personal preferences.
By no means do I pretend that I/we/Church of the Cross have this thing figured out other than that, what the North American church has been emphasizing for years isn’t working. Wouldn’t you think that at least the pragmatic types would recognize this? I am becoming convinced that the primary “organizing principle” for local churches should no longer be Sunday but Gospel Communities on Mission. People being equipped (Ephesians 4:11-13) to speak the Gospel to themselves and one another in sacrificial community, mobilizing themselves as missionaries to reach those who don’t yet know Jesus.
This means that the elders should spend less time preparing for Sunday and more time working out the Gospel with people in everyday life. I’m admittedly not great at this yet (having been “trained” in a Seminary and all) but I am trying to rearrange my priorities as a pastor and even how I go about doing what needs to be done. Please pray for me and Church of the Cross . This is not an easy process and we’ve got a long way to go but we are convinced that everyday life is no less important than Sunday morning.