A couple of things have provoked me this past week to think about church-planting and being a “missional” church, both in my particular situation here in L.A., as well as in a more general context.
There is much discussion, some good books, and a few quality blogs that tackle the question of what it means to be missional. I was intrigued by one blog post I caught this past week in particular with the heading: “A Warning List For Those Who Would Join a Missional Church Gathering.” As I read through this top-ten list, I resonated with much of the content, however, I was left with a strange impression that went something like this: the weak and needy need not apply. In other words, come and join our church-plant or “missional gathering” only if you have your act together and won’t demand too much from us. We are not here to serve “you”; we are here to reach out to those around us.
I have, on any number of occasions, felt those exact sentiments in my ministry context. Any number of people are drawn to missional, outreach-driven churches who, once there, become overwhelmed by their own needs and issues and end up resenting that the pastor, the church, the worship, or whatever is not “feeding” them in the ways that they need. The very thing that attracted them (a church that focuses on ministering to those not yet in the body) ends up being the source of deep frustration and even at times irreconcilable differences. I have seen enough people leave “missional” churches for reasons like this.
I have some mixed emotions about this. On the one hand, I completely relate to this mindset that says, “the church is not about us (those of us already ‘in’) being happy and having our needs met. It is not about simply being ‘saved.’ It is about being saved FOR something: to be a blessing to others; to participate as servants of God’s mission to the world.” Yet I speak from experience when I say that there are times when I am needy; when I am weak; when something is falling apart in my life. And my church better be the place where I am cared for, and where I share in the caring for my brothers and sisters.
I guess too I am realizing that I don’t want missional churches and missional living to become a new brand of monasticism, meaning that thing that the super-religious, self-denying folk do while the rest of us live out a lesser calling. If anything, evangelicals responding to Ted Haggard’s failures are coming to grips with the need for new thoughts about a culture of honesty about weakness right now. As humans, we will have human experiences: loss, struggles in our marriages, challenges with our children, mental health crises, disappointments and failures. What I don’t want to see is a sign hung over “missional” saying that people with lives marked by those things need not apply.
I appreciated this from a fellow blogger/pastor/church planter Bob Robinson:
It takes a special person to be the leader of missionaries as well as be the pastor of a church. Perhaps this is why church planting is a unique calling. Perhaps this is why you need more than one person at the point – a team of people to perform all the nuances of church-planting ministry. Perhaps this is why so many church plants fail â€“ denominations do not see church plants in the same light as over-seas missions and are failing to think in innovative ways to make new ventures successful in reaching people. Funding is set up poorly, long-term viability is not pursued.