I’ve been thinking quite a bit about church and mission lately. Last week I shared with you the ‘missional critique’ of stained glass windows — and as the ensuing conversation revealed, the Stained Glass Window mindset was a much deeper problem than the mere presence of stained glass.
Now I want to share 3 ways I reckon church can get side-tracked from mission by focussing too much on itself.
To do so, I’m going to borrow from what Tim Keller says about how churches can get side-tracked from worship — hopefully the connect will become apparent:
- Practice gate-keeping habits of speech and behaviour. This is all about reinforcing your sense of being right — because you lack confidence or feel embattled or whatever. The subtext of everything that goes on is: ‘Hey everyone who’s already in the church, aren’t we great?’
- Constantly ‘sell’ yourselves. This one’s a bit paradoxical, since it’s explicitly aimed at any ‘outsiders’ who are visiting. But this is symptomatic of an anxiety to perform and show any visitors that we’re good and plausible and worthy of respect. The subtext is still, ‘Aren’t we great?’ only this time it’s aimed at outsiders.
- Make everything about training. This one’s more controversial (obviously). But you get off track if you’re overriding aim is to tell people things they don’t know and give them skill they don’t yet have. The subtext of this kind of behaviour is: ‘Isn’t knowing stuff about Jesus great?’
According to Keller, none of these behaviours (except perhaps the first) is harmful in and of itself. The problem comes when one or other of them becomes the dominant or overriding aim — the thing towards which everything else drives.
Instead we want to drive towards: ‘Isn’t Christ great?’ And we want to do this in a deeply compelling way.
I reckon this holds as true for mission as it does for worship (where Keller applies it). And it certainly holds as true for edgy ‘missional communities’ as it does for those with a more traditional Sunday public gathering.