As an instructor at Wesley Seminary (Marion, IN), I teach a class called “The Missional Church.” It is a joy to see “lights go on” in the hearts of students when they consider the priority of believers to share the message—and experience—of God’s love beyond the walls of their church. The “missional movement” is bringing many church leaders to the important realization that Christians are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their world.
I have observed, however, that after reading books by missional authors and viewing videos of missional teachers, some students seem to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That is, they conclude that the ultimate goal of a “missional church” is to go into the community to do good works in the name of Christ and the expansion of “the Kingdom.” And whether these needy folks ever come to faith, and membership in a local church, is not a criteria to define “success” in their missional endeavors.
For example, a missionally inclined blogger recently lit into Andy Stanley’s “5 million dollar bridge.” North Point Community Church, a church known for its commitment to outreach and evangelism, has grown to the point where parking has become problematic. Stanley told his parishioners of the need to ease traffic congestion by constructing a bridge off of the main thoroughfare into the church. His letter to members included the following paragraph:
Is it [the bridge] worth it? It all depends. If our mission is to be a church that’s perfectly designed for the people who already attend, then we don’t need a bridge. But if we want to continue to be a church unchurched people love to attend, then yes, it’s worth it. From my perspective, this is not a “nice to have” option. Honestly, I don’t want to raise money for, or give money to, something that’s not mission critical. I believe creating a second access point allows us to stay on mission. [i]
It seems obvious that Stanley’s commitment, as pastor, is to make disciples and assimilate them into the local church. But the missional blogger responds:
This makes me sick. This is completely un-missional. Missional churches are not attractional churches. Missional churches send out their parishioners as missionaries to the world, not bring them to church over a five million dollar edifice set up to speed up their exit and entry.[ii]
In their zeal to create the Kingdom of God in the world, some who “buy into” the missional movement seem to have (or develop) a bias against the established church. Their commitment is to “bring the Kingdom of God into the community.” But, the success of those kingdom-building efforts does not seem to be evaluated on whether those who are exposed to “the Kingdom” are ever reached and assimilated into active membership and participation in a local church.
A commitment to the great commission (Mt. 28:19-20) demands a “high view” of the church—that the church is absolutely essential. It is not a Body of Christ; it is the Body of Christ. Not just a bride, but the bride of Christ. The Church is held to be the central part of God’s plan for the salvation and discipling of people and nations. New converts must not only believe in Jesus Christ, but must become responsible members of the Church. If the Bible is to be taken seriously, we cannot hold any other point of view. Becoming a Christian means becoming a part of the Body. In fact, unless non-Christians believe and become part of the Church, personified through the local congregation, the ultimate value of our “missional” activities must be questioned. This is the high view of the Church. A low view of the Church is that whether or not you belong to the Church is more or less a matter of choice. If you like it, you belong; if you don’t, you don’t.
As we lead our congregations forward in a re-commitment to focusing beyond the walls of our churches, I hope we will keep a balanced notion of Christ’s ultimate objective, and thus ours: to seek and to save those who are lost (Lk. 19:10), and to be an instrument of Christ in building His Church (Mt. 16:18).