Monday, July 23, 2007

A MISSIONAL CHURCH


I’ve been in pastoral ministry since 1974. A lot has changed during those thirty-plus years. The American church needs to continue to change, and it needs to change dramatically.

My church background is probably very similar to the backgrounds of most evangelicals who grew up in the 1960s. Our church had a giant plywood map of the world in the lobby and there were little red lights shining through the holes in the plywood in the places where we supported missionaries. There was also a huge rack in the lobby that held the most recent prayer letters from all of these missionaries. Every year we had a week-long missions conference. When I reached high school I was able to participate in short term “over the border” missions trips in the Mexicali Valley in Mexico. To the very best of my recollection that was the extent of the ministry our church had outside of the walls of our building.

I remember vividly the Sunday when a number of Jesus People showed up at our church. I don’t know why they came to our church. The guys had long hair. They all wore beat up jeans and many of them were barefoot. The best description of them would be hippies who had come to Christ. They were abundantly unwelcome by the leadership of our church. As I recall, it was rather an “incident.”

The first ten years of my ministry career pretty much reflected what I grew up with. I invested all my energy in providing programs for the people and youth of the church. Then in 1984 I was called to another church, a large church. I wasn’t there very long before I began to realize that I was expected to serve as chaplain to a congregation that was basically run by four or five founding families. There was no vision for ministry outside of the church. The people seemed far more concerned with remaining “separate” from the lost than seeing them come to Jesus. That’s when I began to sense the Holy Spirit moving in my heart and challenging me to focus the attention of the church on the community outside of our building.

When we started Shiloh Church three years ago our vision was rather simple. I publicly told the folks that Shiloh would never be a megachurch. We would be a community church that focused all of our attention on ministering to others, not ourselves. If we ever got as large as 250 or 300 people we would 50-100 people and start another church in another community. I insisted that we would not advertise to try to get people to come and try Shiloh. If we were going to grow, we would grow because our own people cared enough about their friends and neighbors to bring them along. And one of our stated purposes is to reach out and touch the “unclean” and “outcasts” of our culture; the poor, the prisoners, the broken people.

The term that is being used among the emergent group is “missional.” The church needs to be missional. It needs to see itself as a group of Christian people who focus their time, energy, and resources on reaching out to hurting people in their own community, not just supporting missionaries in foreign countries. World missions is a very critical part the church’s ministry as well! It’s just that the church has neglected the people next door and comforted itself by putting up world maps in its lobby. Local ministry is another thing the emergents are doing very well.

12 Comments:

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Doulos Christou said...

Mr. Shiloh...

Sure hard to argue with this as a focus - having visited (or attended!) some of the churches you've mentioned, I remember all too well the insular nature of at least some of those environments. It's a tragedy that the vision of making a difference in the lives of those in their own community appears to be so far from the experience of many churches.

You also raise a very interesting point about the pattern of helping "the world" (meaning somewhere where we don't have to get our hands dirty) and ignoring the needs around us - reminds me a little of the old "Peanuts" cartoon where Lucy said: "I love humanity; it's people I can't stand!" Seems to miss the whole point to me.

I'd only question if its possible to be anything other than a "missional" church - or is such a thing best described by our Lord when He said that:

"You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet."

So I appreciate this emphasis in the "emerging church" - although I confess my concern for some of the other aspects of the "movement." But you'll probably get to that sometime too, right!

Great post - I've been looking forward to this series!

 
At 10:01 PM, Blogger Shiloh Guy said...

Doulos,

Great to hear from you! Thanks for your meaningful comments. It's been thirty years (believe it or not) since we met and I'm not sure I have ever known anyone with whose heart mine has beaten in closer rhythm! I've always wished we lived closer so we could be in ministry together!

Specifically, you strike right at the heart of the matter. If a congregation lacks the "missional" vision, can it be a true church? Even the Greek frats usually have some sort of social program!

Dave

 
At 8:38 PM, Blogger jazzycat said...

Dave,
I certainly think you are right about church ministry. Do you think it is possible for churches to do local ministry well if they do not proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ? IOW, if they meet temporal needs and proclaim a crossless works oriented social gospel, would that be effective local ministry when the souls of those being helped are considered?

It is a shame that large denominations did not and do not do a better job of mercy ministry and I admire the vision your church has adopted in your local area. It is certainly the best way to effectively present the true gospel which I know you do.
wayne

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger Shiloh Guy said...

Wayne,

Thanks a lot. Back in the '60s we criticized the mainline denominations for being "social gospel," dealing with social needs and concerns but not preaching the gospel. On the other hand, we neglected people while focusing on preaching the gospel to a building full of Christians.

Obviously, it has to be both. Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom, repent and believe, and then ministered to the needs of the unclean sinners.

 
At 2:25 PM, Blogger jazzycat said...

Right on brother Dave. The gospel plus mercy ministry.

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger Smoking Christian said...

Shilohist,

I just wanted to sign your guest registry here this afternoon and express my gratitude for this posting. I'm glad I stopped by on my busy ride to nowhere.

Yes, church can be a social club where the rules are read each week and that's about it. But when I attend a newer, groovier church, I tend to think they're all crazy or fake. Lately, I've just been coming to my little office here on Sunday mornings and hiding until it's safe to go home again without my Mother torturing me about attending church.

Is this so wrong? Is there any good Bible verse that tells us it's a very good thing to hide while others attend church? If not, is it too late to add one?

Your favorite lunatic,

PM

 
At 4:56 AM, Blogger mark pierson said...

"Local ministry is another thing the emergents are doing very well."

I've been doing a lot of thinking about this lately. Granted I come from the very city where Raushenback (sp.?) and the social gospel were born; but has the orthodox church adopted a bad attitude towards meeting the needs of the community around them by going too far in the other extreme by merely preaching/ Spurgeon was very involved in the community around the Tabernacle with orphanages and alms houses, etc. Good thoughts, Dave.

 
At 6:38 PM, Blogger Jonathan Moorhead said...

"If we ever got as large as 250 or 300 people we would 50-100 people and start another church in another community."

I love that. Out of curiosity: do you see any similarities between the Jesus People of the 60s and the current emergent movement?

 
At 2:25 PM, Blogger Jonathan Moorhead said...

Thanks for your answer at the Moor!

 
At 2:43 PM, Blogger Yakimaniac said...

A new post over at http://petersashtray.blogspot.com/

 
At 8:44 AM, Anonymous johnnymurdoch said...

You call yourself a christian but you wont to take In god we trust off of money??? Would god appreciate that?

 
At 5:25 PM, Blogger mark pierson said...

Dave,

Merry Christmas to you and yours!!!

Mark

 

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