As I continue on this path of deconstruction, along with many others, it can get very easy to get caught up in just pointing out things that are wrong with the institutional form of church. I think that’s an important part of it–we can’t re-think the things we won’t be honest about–but I also think that’s just one part of the healing process. There are a lot of things in the church that began as right things–we’ve just been going about them the wrong way, and muddling them up in the process. Those are elements that should not be thrown out–just stripped back to basics, or reinvented, or at least placed in a context where they work better.
Take mission, for instance.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, for some obvious reasons. I have been set on a journey leading away from all that was familiar to me about the church, but I am fully aware that as the Scripture says, “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” I still feel that tug in my heart toward the mission of Christ, but I have been removed from the only vehicle I have known that was used to fulfill that mission. The reason I walked away was because in my view, the vehicle itself was broken down and cumbersome, and when it moved at all, it seemed to be moving away from what I perceive to be the mission of Christ, not really toward it. I can’t help but picture myself on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, walking away from a broken-down car and wondering when a new form of transportation will present itself.
All that said–I still believe mission is one of those things that started out right in the church, and ended up getting muddled over time. And part of it is that I think we’ve lost focus over what mission is–what it really looks like from God’s point of view, when we strip back all the stuff we have added to it.
How did we get off base? Well, look at it this way; when your basic premise gets messed up, all the things that are attached to that premise get distorted as well. For many centuries, the church has suffered from mistaken identity. We’ve perceived ourselves as an institution rather than an organism. We’ve built up man-made structures to surround the organism, and somehow lost focus and began to serve the structure rather than be part of the organism. When you’re serving a structure rather than following a Savior, it changes your perception on a lot of things, including mission. Even if you recognize relationship with God to be at the heart of conversion, you will still view the mission of Christ more as an attempt to get more people into the institution of church, rather than how Jesus Himself perceived and walked out His mission when He was on earth. Add to that our commerce-based culture, and every attempt at mission turns into a sales pitch, a gimmick, a tactic–all loaded with a perceivable agenda that quite frankly turns the stomach of most non-believers.
Just as we perceive the church as an institution rather than an organism, mission now has the connotation of agenda. Someone on a mission is automatically seen as someone with an ulterior motive.
That’s a huge part of why I moved away from the institution, and why I’m moving very slow at setting up anything else in its place. I really believe that the mission of Christ is a part of the church we can’t ignore or extract, but every model I have seen within institutional Christianity seems to be counter-productive. I’m looking for a new model, a new vehicle–or perhaps an old one, one that better reflects what Jesus intended in the first place.
I think that starts by re-visiting what mission is in the first place, and what it really looks like.
What is the mission of Christ? What did His mission look like when He walked the earth?
Was His mission to start a new religion? No.
Was His mission to win converts? Not exactly. (That’s how we view it through our institutional filters, but He didn’t have those filters.)
Was His mission to draw lots of people to His events, or draw warm bodies to join His organization? No. In fact, a lot of times He purposely said things that turned people off.
Was His mission to convince people He was God–to win them over with persuasive arguments? No.
What, then, was His mission? And what is His continuing mission today?
I think that is the very heart of it. Jesus came to a fallen, broken world for the purpose of redeeming it back to Him. And while redeeming mankind is undoubtedly the main thrust of that mission, there is Scripture that suggests it is actually more than that. (I’m thinking specifically of Col. 1:19-20, where it states that God in Christ is reconciling all things unto Himself. That one idea could keep a guy up all night.)
What I’m saying by all this is when you strip off the institutional agendas and tactics, the heart and soul of the mission of Christ is to redeem, to reconcile; and when you think about it, there are a lot of things we can do (besides what we have been doing) that are redemptive in scope. Lots of things that demonstrate Christ’s genuine love for people without a personal agenda or expectation attached.
Lots of things…
We’re not done with this by a long shot. Hang tight.