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.