stop trying to keep your church alive…or free it to live

“Being missional means moving intentionally beyond our church preferences, making missional decisions rather than preferential decisions.” ― Ed Stetzer, Comeback Churches

I got the privilege of meeting with a young church planter from a mainline denomination yesterday. She is charming and passionate, though somewhat doe-eyed, seemingly not completely sure what she was getting in to (though, she is quickly arriving there).

I met her last week while teaching a track on the Missional Church at the Whitworth Institute of Ministry. While during the introductions, I came to find out about her dream and calling to church planting (got me excited) and how she was an embedded planter in a mainline church here in Spokane (got me even more excited, because I believe an embedded approach is the healthiest model to embark on the challenging journey of planting).

Anyway, that all led to us connecting yesterday. After some small talk, I began to ask into the “why?” and the “how?” of this new project. While I was thrilled to hear the church plant was being initiated, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my gut that those who were helping her hadn’t fully calculated the cost, nor were they clear on how to pull it off.

Part of the dilemma is that the local church she is embedded in and will supposedly send her out is in somewhat of self-protected posture. In other words, they like they idea of birthing a new church, but they don’t want it to cost them anything. There is already an apparent pulling back of support because they fear they will lose members.

Ok, listen carefully to this next part: You cannot do any form of mission, particularly church planting, without risk. Because the denomination she is a part of is dying, and the church that wants to send her is an aging congregation and apparently not robust, there is a contraction of resources…which is the very worst thing a denomination or a local church can afford to do.

If you want your church to flourish, you must have the courage to release resources – both money and people. It is not the churches job to try to keep people. If a church goes into protective mode, the very people the church wants to participate will not stay. The people who correctly see “life as mission” will go somewhere, where the church is not trying just to stay alive, but to a place where the church will give itself away for the sake of the Kingdom.

What happens is, to keep from dying, all resources flow toward vital systems, which seem logical and even natural. Yet, in the Kingdom, there is a counter logic. We hear Jesus say all of these crazy, counter-intuitive things like, “If you want to live, you have to die. If you wanna be great, you have to submit and become a servant.”

If a church, or a denomination for that matter, cannot transition its identity from a “container” for Christian people (Christendom orientation) to a missionary community, it will eventually come to an end. I know, those are hard words…sorry. Why? It will come to an end because the church is living counter to what God intended it to be…a community on mission.

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