If God is a missionary God (and He is!) then we as his people are missionary people. Therefore, the church doesn’t just send missionaries; the church is the missionary. Individually and collectively as the body of Christ, we are a sent, missionary church.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people in the church today do not think of their congregation in a sending, missionary manner.

There are two prominent ways people today understand the church. The first view is what some call the “Reformation heritage” perspective. The point with this understanding of the church is that Protestants have inherited a particular view of the church from the Reformers, which emphasizes the right preaching of the Word, the right administration of the ordinances, and the proper exercise of church discipline. Historically these have been referred to as the “marks” of the church. While each of the three marks are important aspects of church life, this view has left us with an understanding of the church as a place where certain things happen. In other words, a person goes to church to hear the Bible taught “correctly,” to participate in the Lord’s Supper and baptism and, in some cases, to experience church discipline. Once again, all good things, but is that the way we want to define the church? Does a place-where-certain-things-happen understanding speak to the real essence and nature of the church?

The second view is a slight variation on the Reformation heritage definition. This “contemporary variation” view is perhaps the most prevalent way people in America understand the church today—that it is a vendor of religious goods and services. From this perspective, members are viewed as customers for whom religious goods and services are produced. Churchgoers expect the church to provide a wide range of religious services, such as great worship music, preaching, children’s programs, small groups, parenting seminars and so on.

One of the major issues with both of these views of defining the church is that the church is seen as an institution that exists for the benefit of its members. Further, both views are woefully inadequate ways of understanding the true essence of the church.

The alternative vision of the church is to see it as a people called and sent by God to participate in his redemptive mission for the world. The nature of the church—rooted in the very nature of God—is missionary. Rather than seeing ourselves primarily as a sending body, we must see ourselves as a body that is sent. Of course the church still gathers, but the difference is that we don’t simply gather for our own sake, but instead for the sake of others, or better yet, for the sake of God’s mission. We come together as a collective body of followers of Jesus to be equipped through prayer, worship, and study and then to be sent out into the world. The church is to be a gathered and scattered people. Missionary Lesslie Newbigin stated it this way:

"The church is the bearer to all the nations of a gospel that announces the kingdom, the reign, and the sovereignty of God… It 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."

As leaders we have to stop perpetuating a misguided view of the church! We must look closely at the language we use. The things we count or measure. The people and things we celebrate. Nothing is going to change until we recapture the missionary nature of the Church.

For more on the topic on "sending language" go here.