Chapter OneFROM MAINTENANCE
THE CHURCH IN A WORLD OF CHANGE
And just as we have borne the image of the earthly,
we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
-1 Corinthians 15:49
We face a choice to be worldly Christians or world Christians.
-Paul Borthwick, A Mind for Missions
THE PROTESTANT CHURCH in North America was born into a comfortable
and familiar environment that was favorable and respectful of its
presence. For many years, new churches enjoyed the luxury of acceptance
and power. They enjoyed what George Hunter called a "home-court
While enjoying the beauty of their religious experience, however, they
became increasingly isolated from the world. Some were adamant exponents
of this separation, citing such biblical admonitions as "Come out
from among them and be separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17). They enjoyed
being with their group on a spiritual journey and sought to add others
along the way-especially those who were comfortable in the church environment.
Over the years, this separation encouraged members to adopt a
specialized language. In some churches, the phrase "She walked the aisle"
indicates coming to faith. In other communities church members call others
"Brother" or "Sister" even though they are unrelated. Unless one is
familiar with the intent, being asked to "give your heart to Jesus" might
sound like a request for organ donation! Active members learned such
churchspeak as natives of the culture. Inevitably, perhaps, their relationships
were primarily with other members of their faith family, and their
activities increasingly involved these people with whom they held much
in common. They thrived.
By the middle of the twentieth century, however, this relatively peaceful
existence was beginning to fracture. The times were changing, and
changing fast. Young people, once relatively obedient to their elders,
found themselves in an exciting new teen culture. Television, radio, and
newspapers communicated startling world events with an immediacy that
brought the brutalities of war right into the living room. Violent and nonviolent
protests challenged national interests. Social balance was upset.
What was once considered right was now wrong; what was once considered
blasphemy was commonplace. Graphic sexuality found its way onto
movie screens. Risqué language crept into television programming. Challenges
were met with claims of First Amendment freedoms.
As divorce and cohabitation became more commonplace, traditional
family units seemed the exception rather than the rule. Racial and linguistic
diversity was accompanied by growth in non-Christian religions. Many felt
uncomfortable with mosques and temples constructed in their communities.
Court cases challenged prayer in public schools, the Ten Commandments
on courtroom walls, "so help me God" in courtroom oaths, "one
nation under God" in the pledge of allegiance, and "in God we trust" on
U.S. currency. Litigants sought to erase all evidence of Christian bias. It
seemed like the end of the world for members of many Protestant churches.
To some degree, it was.
Fighting Change with Maintenance
For many church members and leaders alike, these events seemed beyond
comprehension. Impossible. Unreal. Even if they tried, they felt incapable
of relating in the changing environment. Some longed to engage the changing
culture and share with those who had never experienced the serenity
and peace found in relationship with God and the members of His church,
but to their surprise other people did not seem to see their church in the
same way. They felt bewildered and under fire. In response, they retreated
to the sanctuary, their place of comfort, growing ever more inward in their
orientation. They maintained the status quo.
Not surprisingly, they found themselves increasingly out of touch with
the rapids of cultural change and the real world in which their neighbors
lived. Most cared about those on the outside, but they felt impotent to
connect and share with unchurched persons in any significant way. Consequently,
their churches no longer anticipated having a major impact
upon society and hoped only to reach enough people to help the church
survive. I call this prevalent consumer orientation, isolation from society,
and associated lack of belief in capacity to have significant influence amaintenance mentality.
The culture in which the church exists is a changing river, charting its
own path without regard to the preferences of previous generational or cultural
systems. Members of today's churches, who once felt that they held
the high ground in a vast Christian nation, now feel cut off and isolated-islands
in a fast-flowing stream. Clearly, the Christian church in North
America no longer possesses a home-court advantage.
Where, now, is our home? As more and more people live their lives in
their cars, and constant migration from town to town and even countryto country becomes commonplace, communities have
less cohesive. Churches, once perceived as the center of community life,
have become progressively irrelevant in increasingly diverse communities.
Many people are clearly still interested in spirituality, as witnessed by the
growing interest in Eastern and Native American religions, contemplative
and monastic environments, holistic health, and nontraditional expressions
of connection with the environment. Yet the percentage of the population
practicing their faith within local churches continues to decline.
Given this situation, it's not surprising that many Western churches are
now focused mostly on survival. These churches are no longer storming
the gates of hell. They are simply trying to outlast the onslaught of secularism
that threatens their existence. These churches are filled with members
who have adopted and adapted to consumer culture. Just as they
count on Wal-Mart meeting their material needs, they expect their
churches to provide religious goods and services. Many of their pastors,
like John, are struggling to hang on and give them access to a strong spiritual
Still, a change is on the horizon. Some churches-a relative few, but
growing in strength and number-are beginning to understand that the
key to a revived spirit is both to focus inward and also to move outward-into
the world. They see the future as one of bringing the Gospel alive for
a new generation in a new world-so the church will not just survive, but
thrive. These congregations focus on God's mission, missio dei. These missional
churches-reproducing communities of authentic disciples, being
equipped as missionaries sent by God, to live and proclaim His Kingdom
in their world-have connected the pervasive hunger for spirituality with
the ancient but contemporary invitation to know God and live to His
glory. Jamye Miller, pastor of Christ Fellowship in Grapevine, Texas, sees
missional churches as "life-giving, image bearing, reproducing, multiplying,
Christ-manifesting churches that glorify Him." Beyond focusing on
maintenance or survival, they are energized as they reconnect with God
and His mission.
Theological Foundations of Missional Churches
The Bible reveals that people are created for relationship with God for
specific purposes. Foundationally, individuals are created to reflect the
image of God, or imago dei (Genesis 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 15:49;
Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). (I encourage you to go to the Reflection
and Application section at the end of the chapter and ponder these
Scriptural passages, which are printed there in entirety.)
The intent of God has not changed with the passage of time. We are
still created to reveal the image of God, as was His design before we
yielded to temptations of sin. Subsequently, as those redeemed from sin,
God desires His image to be imprinted upon His followers. They are to
live as He lives, love what He loves, and pursue that which is on His heart.
His church is to bear His image to a world that has not seen Him. The
New Testament "Body" metaphor evidences God's purpose that His
church reflect His image, as His Body being present in the world.
In His image, the Body of Christ will seek to accomplish His purpose.
Those who bear His image are sent to serve His mission, missio dei, in the
same way that Christ was sent to accomplish the Father's purpose. Many
have found it instructive to simply reflect upon His statements recorded
in the Gospel of John. Consider His dependence upon the Father, commitment
to the Father's mission, and His indication of your continued
pursuit of His purpose in several verses (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 7:29; 8:29;
9:4; 12:49; 13:20; 17:3, 18; 20:21). (These passages too are printed in
entirety in the Reflection and Application sections.) Christ's profound
sense of commitment to the purpose for which He was sent resonates with
clarity. His incarnational purpose was to accomplish His Father's will. Singular
in focus, He knew His purpose. Just as certainly, He indicated the
purpose for His followers. They are to continue pursuing His purpose.
God's mission, Jesus' mission, is the mission of His church.
A final end toward which the church is sent as image bearer of God
remains. Ultimately, His church exists for the glory of God, gloria dei.
Jealous for His own glory, this perfect, righteous, loving deity is unwilling
to share His glory with another (1 Chronicles 16: 24, 29; Isaiah
43:1,7; Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 1:5-6, 12-14. Again, see the Reflection
and Application sections for the full text.)
God desires His church to relish in His glory, share His glory among
the nations, and reflect His glory in word and deed. The church is a Body
made in His image, sent on His mission, to be to His glory!
A Change Agent Adept at Change
A church sent into an ever-changing environment must be fluid in its capacity
to adapt while maintaining a clear commitment to its unchanging purpose
and God's eternal truth. Jesus assigned His mission to a Body with
adaptive ability, not to a rigid organization. Churches must continuously
retool themselves for effectiveness in communicating the message of hope
in the rapids of changing cultures. Today, however, most churches struggle
with change. As one church leader said, "Churches are very willing to
change. They will make any change necessary to keep things the same!"
Change is difficult, and deep culture change is especially hard. Most
churches are structured for continuity of what they have been in an age
of Christendom, rather than being change, ready to accomplish mission in
today's culture. Darrell Guder, editor and contributing author of Missional
Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America,
describes this as the "museum curator" mentality found in many churches.
This mentality focuses on "preserving the 'savedness' of the members, and
the church's function to manage that salvation."
Bishop Claude E. Payne offers an extensive and excellent distinction
regarding churches focused on maintenance in contrast to mission. He says
that two tensions are present in churches: creating community among
members and reaching those who are not members. "Today's maintenance-centered
Church ministers primarily to the faithful . It is not particularly
attentive to the unchurched except philosophically, paying only lip
service to the idea of evangelism. In the maintenance church, both clergy
and laity lose sight of their obligation to make disciples."
Most observers would agree that Christendom is over, if it really ever
existed. Societal changes force the church to carry out its mission in an
environment more like that in which the first-century church was born
than perhaps any subsequent period in history. In this environment, the
church is challenged to participate with God in His redemptive activity.
As a missional community, the church expresses the incarnational reality
of Christ, present and ministering in the world. At its core, all mission is
incarnational. As Michael Riddell says, "Participating in the mission of
God means leaving our place of security, to travel to the place where others
are. This is the heartbeat of the incarnation Mission is always in
the direction of the other, and away from ourselves."
Missional churches exist as the presence of Christ, those who know
Him and make Him known to others. Knowing Him transforms the
lifestyle of His followers, those who are being equipped to live as authentic
disciples. They are each being shaped by God's heart, conformed to
His will, committed to His mission. As Jimmy Seibert of Antioch Community
Church in Waco, Texas, told me, "We have a passion for Jesus
and His purpose in the earth."
Mission-Minded or Missional?
If you are confused by the term missional church, you are not alone-it's
so new that most Christians are still coming to terms with it. In fact, if
you search the pages of books written before the 1990s, you will not find
the word missional. No dictionary included the word; most still do not.
In 1991, Charles Van Engen first referred to "missional relationships" as
he addressed the role of the local church in the world. Explaining his
intent in using the word, Van Engen recently wrote to me, "When I began
using the term, I was not aware of anyone else using it yet. I meant a quality
of the essence of being Church."
Some insist the term missional church is redundant, like "canine dog"
or "feline cat." In fact, it is not. All dogs may be canine and all cats feline,
but not all churches are missional. Many leaders who hear "missional
church" respond that theirs is a very mission-minded church, assuming
the terms to be synonymous. As you will see in this book, they are not.
Much of the mission enterprise of Western churches has been enabled by
mission-minded churches. Such churches view their role as sending and
supporting those who have been "called" to mission service. "Mission"
is therefore representative; church members pray and give so that others
may go and serve. Just as churches have other programs, such as Christian
Education and choral music, they also have a missions program. The
word missions is but one expression of the church.
People in the missional church do pray and give so that others may go
and serve; yet for them missions is more centered in "being and doing"
than "sending and supporting." The missional church understands that
although some may be supported as those sent to other locations, every
member of the church is "sent." Mission is therefore participative rather
than simply representative.
In this sense, every member is a missionary. Missions is not perceived
as an expression of the missional church, but as the essence of the