Thursday, March 19, 2009


My first clear understanding of the missional nature of the church emerged when I was in seminary and pastoring a small church in suburban Chicago. It came to me in the form of two small books by Dr. Richard C. Halverson, called Between Sundays, and How I Changed My Thinking about the Church.

Dr. Halverson has a simple practical ecclesiology, one which I think is still being missed by the church in America...
  • The church exists in two basic forms: (1) the church gathered, and (2) the church scattered.

  • The first we might call the Sunday church; the second, the church "between Sundays".

  • When the congregation gathers, it does so to do "church work"—the work that takes place among God's people, and which also includes maintaining and supporting the institution. When the church scatters, it does so to do "the work of the church"—fulfilling God's mission in Christ in the world.

  • One primary purpose of the church's gathering is to equip the church to fulfill its mission when scattered throughout the week in various places where the routines of everyday life occur.

Today, a few pertinent quotes from Dr. Halverson to flesh this out a bit...

The Christian life is elliptical; it revolves around two foci--one an invitation and the other a commission. The invitation is that of Jesus Christ, "Come unto me...." The commision, also from Jesus Christ, is "Go ye into all the world...." The healthy Christian life revolves around the coming and the going. (How I Changed..., p.21)
He further observes that this "coming and going" lifestyle must be balanced. There are those who are always "coming"—who build church-centered lives and devote most of their time and attention to being involved with the Christian community. Others, perhaps disillusioned with the institution, are always "going"—devoting their lives to doing good in their community but neglecting the edifying fellowship of other believers.

However, these complementary spheres of Christian living are meant to balance and support one another...

If one were to begin from scratch to build a theology of evangelism and mission on the basis of what he found in the New Testament epistles, he would probably be impressed with the paucity of material upon which to build....

...the weight of the exhortation and instruction in the epistles has to do with the relationship of believer with believer in the community, in the body of Christ. The implication can be clearly drawn that when these relationships are right, i.e., when the brothers and sisters love one another and when they are abiding in Christ, evangelism and mission will be the normal and healthy result of such relationships....

...Here one does not find the churches organizing to reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But what one does find is the Gospel being scattered widely and rapidly because the church is in such a healthy condition that this can happen. (How I Changed..., pp. 63-65)
The true work of the church happens when this kind of congregation scatters and each member engages the world of his neighbors daily in the context of real life situations...
It became apparent that the work of the church is not what is done for the institution, the organization, the establishment. The real work of the church is what is done between Sundays when the church is scattered all over the metropolitan area where it is located—in homes, in schools, in offices, on construction jobs, in market places. This is the work of the church and it requires every single member. The responsibility of the pastor is to equip every member to do the work of the church wherever he is between Sundays. This radically alters the pastor's way of thinking about his responsibility to the congregation. No longer do they represent men and women who are to be mobilized to do the work of his ministry; but on the contrary, they have a ministry wherever they are and God has called the pastor to equip them for their ministry....

One of the reasons the institutional church has become irrelevant to the extent that it has in our contemporary life is that many Christians have become so busy in church work they have not had time to do the work of the church....

The view persists that the serious Christian, the one truly committed, will be active in the life of the religious institution. If he loves Christ he ought to be doing "something for the church." The program of the establishment is equated with service for Christ. As one does this he is "spiritual." In everything else, except as he may sporadically talk to someone in an effort to win him to Christ or get him into the church, he is "secular."
The truth is, everything we do in the church organization, in the church building, in the church program ought to contribute to the church's effectiveness when it is not involved in the building or the program or the organization—when it is out in the world.

...In other words, the measure of the effectiveness of a congregation is not what one sees when the congregation is gathered, not the size of the building, nor the size of the budget, nor the size of the congregation or the Sunday school. The real measure of the effectiveness of the congregation is what happens when the congregation is not in the sanctuary or the Sunday school or meeting officially as boards or committees or councils. The measure of the effectiveness of any local congregation when it is gathered, is the measure of what that congregation is doing when it is dispersed.
(How I Changed..., pp. 71-77)
Halverson summarizes the missional focus of the church in this succinct, earthshaking statement:
Think of it this way. The program of our church is everything all the members are doing between Sundays. (How I Changed..., p.106)
Why is this so earthshaking? Because it challenges the fundamental understandings and deeply ingrained practices of a vast majority of churches. In fact, I know of NO churches in my own experience that genuinely believe and act like this.
  • Isn't the church's program what we announce in our bulletins, calendars, newsletters, and websites?
  • Doesn't the program of the church consist of what we organize and oversee in order to fulfill God's mission in the world?
For the most part, NO.

The programmatic approach that most churches take says much more about our cultural commitments than it does about living out our Biblical calling to be Christ's people in the world.

No comments: