30 July 2008

Is this any way to do ministry?

stool As I sat having coffee with a friend, we focused on the idea of mission that seems to be prevalent in the church at large, and discussing what a healthy church in mission would really look like.

It is somewhat arcane, but the image of a church in mission that came to mind was a stool. A proper stool, as a high school industrial arts teacher once said, needs at least three legs if it is to be of any use. Otherwise, it will topple over. I think that the stool would look something like this picture to the right. stool_1_ministry

As a metaphor, church mission is much the same. There are three legs, Outreach, Service, and Spiritual Formation. And of course, there needs to be a balance between the three legs for it to function effectively.

What happens when the stool has only two legs, or one of the three legs is not the right length, too short or too long?

This happens when outreach is a program, not balanced by service and spiritual formation, or when service takes the place of spiritual formation.

Unfortunately, I have seen all the above. Churches are great at getting people interested in visiting the church, but they can't get them interested in spiritual formation. Or they use service opportunities as a substitute for spiritual formation.

A church I visited had several excellent opportunities for community involvement in place, booths in the lobby to get people signed up and involved. But I saw no opportunities for spiritual formation. It seemed that the service opportunities were being used to bring people into the church and then getting them involved, assuming that it will cause spiritual growth.

Without belaboring the point, the REVEAL study has put the notion of involvement as an indicator of spiritual maturity in perspective:

We found that those who were the most active in the church did not necessarily report higher levels of spiritual attitudes (“love for God and others”) and spiritual behaviors (evangelism, tithing, etc.) than those who were less active (chart 2).

Part of the problem, or maybe even the root of it, is that churches do not understand what it means to be involved in missions, or, for that matter, what it is to be missional.

I have been wrestling with the issue of being missional and what it means to be emergent. I don't think they are synonymous.

It is easy to critique a church and its mission, another to give help and suggestions on how to make changes.

But that is for another post.

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