It’s Sunday and I’m spending this holiday long-weekend, away from my wife and my home in Prince George, in the town of Kitimat where I have been serving a church as its transition pastor for the past eight months. Because it’s an eight-hour drive to Prince George and the church is relatively small and unwealthy, I don’t get home every week. In fact I’m usually here for at least 2 1/2 weeks before I get home for about ten days. I’m on a mission to help a church survive a number of hits and to help it prepare for the coming of its next pastor. Because I’m away from home and have little else to do I can throw myself into this task using as much time as possible each day to connect with the wonderful people of this church and civic community.
The “crowd” was a little smaller at church this morning because of the long weekend, but it had some new faces and a seemingly appreciative group of regulars. We enjoyed a time of musical worship led by someone who really wanted us to tune into the expereince of giving appropriate praise to the Lord. When it was my turn to speak, I reminded everyone that our experience together was only one small part of what church is all about. It is good and right to gather regularly for corporate worship, mutual encouagement, and some instruction from God’s Word, but this is only to help us prepare for our real work of scattered ministry in the community during the week.
The latter thought was freshly stimulated by listening to Hugh Halter in Langley this week as he spoke to delegates of our biennial District Conference. Over the course of three or four talks he told us about his own experience in which he struggled so much with how to do church in these times. In the end he and his wife moved to Denver, Colorado where they began a more organic experience of church in which they focused their attention on seeking to become an incarnational community of faith within their neighborhood. What Hugh described resonates with many of us because we long to see the church experience better traction in being effective in its mission of taking the Gospel to the community. So much of the church’s work and ministry it seems is often taken up with its own maintenance instead of being the force for change in people’s lives and in society as God intended.
It is a fact that the institutional church of the past generation no longer has the impact and relevance to the culture that it once enjoyed. And that is because a new generation is less connected with the church’s life and message. A pluralized, post-modern society is no longer tuned to the language of the church. Along with so many other well-established institutions of the past Christianity and the church have been systematically deconstructed and marginalized. Though vestiges of Christian influence remain strong the church itself is no longer central to western culture.
So it is that Hugh Halter and his ilk are experimenting with a more incarnational/missional approach to church and Christian faith experience. He believes, rightly I think, that Christians have to become more intentional about living as God’s kingdom people in their communities. They need to practice, more intentionally, what it means to love their neighbors for Christ’s sake and with his power, often working in community to reach out to the people of their community. The church needs to decentralize. Instead of expecting people to come into the sanctified atmosphere of the church to hear the message of the Gospel, Christians need to go to the people meeting them at street-level (so to speak) at their point of need. This is what it means to be incarnational and missional.
At the same time, it is not as if Christians should abandon the need to regularly meet together for worship, for prayer, for the breaking of bread, and for instruction and teaching in God’s Word. But before that can happen, Haltar’s idea is that Christians need to open their homes as places for inclusive and missional ministry. It is a case of the church both “gathered” and “scattered.”
I will think more about all of this as I prepare to speak about being a missional church next Sunday. Today I took the opportunity to share some ideas on how to measure maturity in Christ. My thesis was that spiritual growth is analogous to physical growth — that just as there are stages of physical maturation so there are stages of spiritual development that integrate various elements of Christian spirituality or sanctification. But that’s a discussion that I’ll leave for the next edition of the Blog.