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One urban pastor used the following procedure with new members. He asked, “How did you come to Christ?” It was not the church to which he wanted to connect them, as much as to Christ Himself. He wanted to hear their ‘Jesus’ story! He asked a second questions, “What were the circumstances that led to your faith in Christ?” He wanted them to think through the events that brought them to Christ – to see His guiding and pervasive hand in their lives. Third, he asked about their most enjoyable faith experiences through the years. The second and third questions were both calibrated toward mission. In the second, they often recalled personal pain and confusion before their decision to follow Christ. The pastor made the connection that such circumstances are common and often the gateway to faith. He made notes. He looked for opportunities to connect them to others with their own story. The third rehearsed meaningful faith and community experiences. Many recalled some outreach effort or community service involvement (social action, a mission trip, food drive, care of the homeless, etc.). Last, he would ask, “If you could wave a wand and create a future for this church, what would it look like?” With that, they solidified their commitment to the congregation’s future, and unlocked possibilities for the church in which they could be emotionally and spiritually invested.[1] This pastor kept encouraging them to act on their experiences, their abilities and dreams. “The greatest tragedy to befall a person is to have sight but lack vision,” (Helen Keller).[2]

Becoming missional means we move beyond from prayer for our narrow slice of pain to prayer for the harvest. We move beyond seeing the church as a place of nurture for us and our families and see it as a place of nurture and healing for the city – for all people in the city, Christians and non-Christians. We cease to see the church as a kind of religious social club that is exclusive to its members and their guests, and we see it as a missionary enterprise engaging the neighbors and the city, at every angle possible. We release the pastor to be a holy man of God, a missionary trainer and mobilizer. We give him as a gift to the city.

We move from being members, to missionaries – in whatever sector of the culture God has planted us. We cease to be a ‘come to’ church, and we again embrace a ‘go ye’ gospel. We shift our focus from the church, to the city. We become inclusive without compromise. We recalibrate our resources until our budget becomes a theological statement about our mission. Everything we do is bathed in prayer. Everything we do is with the lost and the mission in view. Everything we do at the church must be designed to touch the city and the world.

Worldwide, Christian churches spend more than 85 percent of their resources on themselves. Less than 15 percent goes to outreach, evangelism or mission causes. In U.S., 95 percent goes to home-based ministry, 4.5 percent to cross-cultural efforts in already-reached people groups, and only 0.5 percent to reach the unreached. American evangelicals could provide all of the funds needed to plant a church in each of the 6,400 people groups by specifically earmarking only 0.2 percent of their income. Praying and giving are to be partners in missions. Christians collectively have an annual income of $12.3 trillion. But only $213 billion is given to Christian causes, 1.73 percent of total income. Of that, only $11.4 billion goes to foreign missionary causes. Of that money, 87 percent goes to sustain work among those who have already become Christians. Only 1 percent goes for work among an unreached people group, the utterly unevangelized.

The church has all the resources necessary to reach the unreached peoples of the earth, in fact, it has over 100 times those resources necessary to plant native churches among these people groups. It simply does not have the resolve. Leonard Ravenhill claimed that Christians spend more money on dog food than missions. Ravenhill declared:

Today the church in the city must proclaim and live the whole gospel. It cannot consign concern for everyday human needs to government and expect to be relevant to people. It must provide for the care and nurture of its members, help feed the poor, heal the sick, counsel the distraught, care for the widows and orphans, and preach the Word with boldness. It must avoid the dichotomy that separates evangelism from social ministries and see both as ways to bear witness to the transforming power of the gospel.[3]

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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1]       Bakke, 88-89.

[2]       DeAnn Sampley, A Guide to Deaf Ministry: Let’s Sign Worthy of the Lord (Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 1989, 1990), 52.

[3]       Paul Hiebert and Eloise Hiebert Meneses, Incarnational Ministry Planting Churches in Band, Tribal, Peasant, and Urban Societies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), 346.

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Comment by Andrew R. Wheeler on April 8, 2017 at 2:57pm

Douglas, what inspiring thoughts!  I suspect that the "attractional" model of the western church is much at fault here.  We're all about getting people to come to our services, rather than about taking the Gospel to people where they are.  When a person does become a believer, he/she is encouraged to get involved in the church, go get in a small group, etc. - but that nearly always takes place outside the new believer's home, separating the believer from his family and making the Gospel something that splits families up, rather than brings them together.  Is it any wonder that spouses and children often resist the Gospel?

Far better is the "Discovery Bible Study" method being used so successfully in many parts of the world, where people are brought to study the stories of the Bible often in the context of their own homes, even before they become believers.  This way, the entire family is exposed to the truth in their own context.  They see the Gospel as something that belongs in their home, and they're challenged each week to actually do something about what they've heard.  Each week, they're asked what they did with what they learned last week.  As a result, the Gospel becomes an integral part of life, not something that's encountered only between the walls of an unfamiliar building.

Once we accept the model of "bringing people to church", rather than being the church in our communities, the rest of what you point out becomes inevitable.  Of course we spend our money on ourselves and our building - because that's where we spend our time together.  And this is by far not the only result.

As we become more and more isolated from society, we lose our prophetic voice.  We become less and less likely to address societal problems like abortion and gay marriage, because we're just not that involved with the world around us.  The Gospel becomes something that's OK to believe, but not OK to act on, so businesses that refuse to cater to gay weddings are brought to trial.  This is all a result of becoming less missional, more isolated, and more inward-focused. 

Even our prayer meetings reflect this.  How much time in the average prayer session is spent praying for personal needs (the all-too-familiar "organ recital" as people focus on health issues, etc.) and how much spent praying for the community and for the mission of the church?

All of these practices support each other in an increasing spiral of isolation and irrelevance to the culture, as well as a decreasing understanding of and commitment to the mission Jesus gave to his church.  It can change.  It must change.  But only God can change our hearts and re-center our thoughts and affections on him.  Only he can change our mindset from "consumer Christianity" to missional Christianity.  And he will do that as we earnestly seek his face for the church.

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