Membership vs. Mission

I just read a great article called No Members, Just Missionaries in the Catalyst Monthly that arrives in my inbox every 4 weeks or so. (I also shared some thoughts along these lines at the church picnic a few weeks ago.) Just thought I’d post a couple quotes from the article:

One of the surest ways of becoming suspect to mainline evangelicalism is to actually reorient the church around the mission of Christ.

The article then talks about how for a long time, the American church has sent out missionaries to far away places to fulfill the mission of the church there – while settling for adherence to ritual here at home. But the globe-trekking ‘missionaries’ have grown up into leadership in the church and are now calling the church to join the mission they should have been on all along.

Their calling isn’t to pastor churches that focus on the happiness of its
members, but to mobilize the church for the purpose of fulfilling God’s mission of reconciling the world to Himself. We used to send our missionaries out, and it kept the mission a safe distance from us. Some how they broke back in and decided they were not going without us.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. The idea of “membership” is focused on self. What can I get out of it? If I pay my dues and follow the rules, what do I gain? Frankly, there’s no place for that attitude in the church. The attitude of Christ led him to leave the comforts of heaven – the privileges and perks that come with being the Creator of the Universe – and become one of us in order to reconcile us to His Father. Where is that attitude in the church today? Thankfully, it flickers in places, but the world needs to be able to see a church that is bright with the light that’s created when we humbly set aside all claim to what we think we deserve – in order to pass to someone else what we know they need.

Why do we even need church membership anymore? (That is not the same question as “Why do we need the church?”) Is it only a way of ‘keeping score’ between different teams? I know this slaps the face of institutional church practice, but I wonder if membership and mission can even coexist? And if they cannot, how many more churches will have the guts to say “we have no members here…but here’s our mission”?

“I feel like I’m married to Peter Pan” ~ Eileen Flynt

Here’s a story about a man named Mike Flynt who got kicked off his college football team for fighting and is now coming back onto the team – 37 years later! Yes, you read that right. He’s 59 years old and he’s made it back onto the team. He’ll be playing college football at 59 years old.

There’s a myth in youth ministry that you grow out of it. That eventually, you’re just too old to keep up with students. That after so many years, you just can’t relate to kids anymore. But if a registered member of the AARP can play college football…

Will he get hurt? Maybe. So do the young guys.
Has he worked hard to stay in shape? Obviously.
But what a story!


This Sunday night, I’m leading worship and preaching for an annual event that we do here called “Blessings Beneath the Bluff”. It’s a hog roast / all church picnic / fun time / celebration of God’s blessings held at the foot of the bluffs here in our area. But I have a bit of a problem… (and writing out some of these rambling thoughts is helping me find solutions)

It’s way too easy, in celebrating God’s blessings, to focus on the blessings and forget about the Blessor and His purpose for blessing. So I want to challenge the people to stop thinking of blessings as something which they collect for display. It’s not that it’s bad to receive blessings (obviously), and it’s definitely a good idea to praise God for the way He blesses our lives and our church. But, too often, we stop there. It’s an immature perspective on blessings that allows us to thank God for the sunshine and simply bask in it. I don’t want to bask.

I don’t want to enable our church to bask (which is our inherited Western tendency). So instead of talking about the various ways we’ve been blessed, I’m going to push for our people to be blessings. Throughout the OT, God talked about His people not just as ‘blessed’ – but as ‘blessings’. They themselves were blessings for others. Even as early as God’s promises to Abram, He spoke of Abraham being a blessing for others. After he gave Israel hope of restoration in Ez. 34 (and calling them blessings) God continued to reasssure them with the episode at a valley full of dead bones (Ez. 37). “Just like I did that, I’ll put my Spirit into you and you will live.” For what purpose? To be a blessing? Just maybe…

I’m going to hit on James’ take on wealth when he said that the man in “humble circumstances” has “high position” and the “rich man” should “glory in his humiliation”. It’s not what we have that is evidence of our state of “blessity” or “unblessity” (again, I know those are not words) – but a “man who perseveres under trial” is called blessed. Following through the first chapter of James, you hear him telling us to actually do what the Word says to do. Hearing Him without doing what He says is pretty much worthless.

And that is often where we get stuck. That is where many churches are more “bluff” than “blessing” (I’ll definitely be playing with those words Sunday night). I’m reminded of Casting Crowns’ “If We are the Body” Are we blessing our community? If our church disappeared, exactly how would our community be worse off? Do we settle for “membership” at the expense of “mission”?

We need to stop asking “What do I need to do to get blessed” (A close cousin of “What’s the least I can do to pass this test?”) and ask instead, “How can I bless our valley?” Primarily, by living a life that leads the way to Jesus… By loving my neighbor the way only Jesus can… By actually stopping to help that guy beaten at the side of the road… By giving a drink to that lady that looks so thirsty… By letting that kid get close enough that I might get hurt…

Incidentally, if you are looking for more ways to ‘be a blessing’ check these sites out:
Compassion (give a kid hope)
Kiva (small interest free loans for businesses in underdeveloped places)
Blood:Water Mission (clean blood and clean water projects in Africa)
The Junky Car Club (I love their slogan “Living with less, so we can give more.”)

Wind and Water

I’m not quite sure, but I think I just felt my paradigm shift! I’ve grown up in the church and seen too many people and too many churches that seem to be completely out of touch with reality – living in some kind of lalaJesusland where all the messiness of life is wrapped up in a nice sugary bow just after the second commercial break so put on a happy face and pretend everything’s alright. A broken world can’t relate to such a nicely facaded (not a word, I know) church, so they stay away.

Because of that experience, I’ve talked a lot about the church needing to be more relevant in our communities in order to reach those communities. I’ve never advocated going overboard with gimmickry (yes that is a word, actually) in order to entice consumers to listen to our Jesus-spiel, but I have endorsed an approach to taking down traditional walls that don’t need to be there any more in order to be ‘relevant’.

This effort to be relevant carries the implication that the church is falling behind culture and needs to catch up. A Catalyst TV podcast I just watched (#4 I think) showed a clip from a couple years ago from one of my favorite pastors, Erwin McManus (and no, I’m not just agreeing with something because he said it). He asked the question “Aren’t you tired of trying to be relevant?” Why are we playing catch-up? Why are we not leading the way?

The time is way overdue for people in the church to live lives that lead the way. I still want to lead students who don’t live a church life AND a separate school life. I still want my students to live amongst the mess of life in such a way that they are leading people to the Water they really need. I still want my students to keep their head out of the clouds of religion and live in relationship with Jesus and his people and our community. But maybe I need to find a better term than relevance. We’re not playing catch-up anymore. As we follow the Wind, we’ll lead the way to the Water.

Great Idea!

Found this on the CCT page. This club was started when someone put some feet on their faith. Living with less, so I can give more – great idea!

Solid Rock trip

Just got back from a climbing trip with Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries. This was a student leadership retreat for our student ministries, and it really went well. One of our weaknesses over this past year has been in the area of leadership. Just as I was coming into the ministry here, the students who were the leading students of the group graduated. They are a great group of students and the student ministry felt their absence. So I chose a handful of students who I hope will become the leadership team of Wind & Water and invited them to come do a little backpacking, a lot of climbing, and a great deal of searching out God’s heart. Not all of these students would call themselves leaders, but I wanted to get them to see the potential that I’ve seen that God has put in their lives.

The trip went really well – from cooking meals together over a little camp stove, to huddling under the tarp while it rained, to just spending time together surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery of God’s creation. It was good to develop a deeper level of trust between the students and myself and between the students and each other. I’m looking forward to seeing how the challenge will play out now that we’re back home…