There is much discussion these days about the mission of the church and existing patterns and methods of church.
Of course this discussion has been going on for 2000 years; it seems though that the intensity of this discussion is at a level unseen in recent history.
What is the churches mission and how can it best fulfil that mission? The ‘what’ of the church and the ‘how’ of the church. To me these seem to be the questions at the heart of the emerging church conversation.
For years the ‘what’ question for the church was seen by most to have a satisfactory answer in; ‘save souls from going to hell.’ Preach the message of the cross in order that sinners might repent of their sins and find forgiveness in Jesus Christ, and thus be converted to Christianity. Plundering hell to populate heaven was a slogan or bumper sticker I seem to recall seeing or hearing along the way.
The ‘how’ was then seen to be a no brainer. Preach, teach, evangelise and pray; what is now referred to a ‘ministry’ model of running church. At least this seems to have been method of outworking this in the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches of Australasia. Ministry through the enabling of the Holy Spirit and the outworking of the gifts of the Spirit. Ephesians 4:11-13 has been a core passage of scripture in regards to this, and He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Beginning in the early 80’s and really coming to fruition in the last 10 years or so there as been a shift from a ‘ministry’ model of church to a ‘leadership’ model. Leadership was seen to be an essential ‘how’ in making the ‘what’ a reality. Young leaders within the church, with an appreciation that most churches in the world were under 200, saw this ‘ministry’ model as a limited ‘how’ as they sort to reach lost people and build the church. Looking to some of the larger churches that did exist and outside the church at the business world, the leadership model began to take prominence. This model has sought to promote more effective ministry though the promotion of leadership within the church. Leadership is seen to build the church, by building and releasing ministry that builds people. At times the leadership model has been criticised as being too ‘corporate’ or too ‘structured’; it has been accused of limiting the ‘move of the Spirit.’ However in many places it has been very effective in creating structures that have allowed ministries to grow, expand, and multiply which has lead to a lot of church growth.
With this history of ministry and a focus on leadership many of today’s young leaders have grown up theologically illiterate, or at best with a very basic and simplistic theology. This is causing many of today’s young leaders, particularly those of the Millennial Generation (aka Gen Y), to begin asking afresh the ‘what’ and then necessarily, the ‘how’ question of mission and method within the church. What are they actually trying to do as Christian leaders, leading in this thing called the church? A question that is being discussed with reformation like intensity.
Largely this discussion seems to be being led by those in the emerging church, even though the figure heads, leaders, key voices, (Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Scott McKnight, Dan Kimball, Tony Jones, and many others etc) are an older generation. The thing is; what they are talking about is resonating with a young generation.
The old ‘what’ save souls from going to hell seems so narrow. Say a prayer of repentance, repeated after a preacher up the front, recite the right words, and that’s it? Now you are not going to go to hell? Now you’re a Christian? Young people intuitively know that there has to be more to it than that; the problems and issues in the world are bigger than that. The ‘what’ has to be bigger. Following Jesus today in the 21st Century has to be as revolutionary as it was in the 1st Century. It must be an all encompassing life changing adventure that will turn your life upside down. We intuitively know it must be so, and we want it to be so.
Different voices offer a wide variety of answers to the ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions. Most of the answers and conclusions are not new, in the sense that they have been outworked somewhere along the line in church history. However, most of the answers are new to a new generation. Mark Sayers summarizes a number of different fractions all of which will have their own versions of mission (what) and method (how) thus making them distinct from one another. You can see his summary here and it is defiantly worth a read.
What is a Christian?
What is the mission of the church?
What is the best way to go about fulfilling that mission?