The long-standing effects of a Christendom-shaped imagination incline us to misunderstand the nature and purpose of the Church. It continues to influence the way we view leadership, mission, and evangelism. It can even shape the questions we ask when we find ourselves in the position of seeking out a church community to belong to. One example of this can be seen in a current post on The Gospel Coalition website.
The article presented four questions to consider before joining a local congregation. I understand the limitations on fully articulating a position via a blog post. Further, I realize the author limited himself to just four questions. I would assume, if given more time, there would be additional questions to consider. However, recognizing the limitations, I still found the post to be woefully inadequate. I believe the essence of each of the four questions highlights the deeply rooted, and some cases, devastating effect the legacy of Christendom has on the American church.
In my opinion each of the questions flow out of a Constantinian ecclesiology that is organized around an understanding of church leadership that is skewed towards the gifts of shepherd and teacher, while at the same time void of the apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic gifts. As a result, the body doesn’t mature (read Eph. 4), and does not experience multiplication. Apostolic movement (which I believe is at the essence of the church) simply will not happen if we rely only on the ministry of shepherds and teachers. We need to understand the “marks of the church” from a fully functioning five-fold ministry model.
Moreover, I find the essence of the original questions built upon a faulty assumption that the church exists for the primary benefit of its “members.” Do followers of Jesus need to be equipped and edified as part of the body, including the ministry of shepherds and teachers? Absolutely. But I believe four decades of church growth mentality has subverted the healthy, and right teaching of the church as family and body, to a place of self-centered consumerism that is not only detrimental for the maturity of individual church members, but also for engagement in God’s mission. Encouraging those who are looking for a church to start the process by asking where they can best be “fed” has lasting implications towards how people understand the purpose of the church. Perhaps, in some cases, consumerism can be redeemed at some level; however, encouraging people to start with a question of personal satisfaction begins a trajectory that is difficult to change.
All of this leads to a view of church as a place where certain things happen, or worse, the church is simply seen as a vendor of religious goods and services. Instead we need to understand the church as the called and sent people of God. Engaging God’s mission is not an incidental aspect of what it means to be the people of God. If God is a missionary God – and I believe that is the case – then we as the people of God are missionary people.
Lesslie Newbigin said it well when he stated: “The church is not meant to call men and women out of the world into a safe religious enclave but to call them out in order to send them back as agents of God’s kingship.”
Read the rest of the original post here on the Missio Alliance website.