There are many words that are important in one's life…I've been embracing many of them over the years. I've been shaped by the words, "family, love, meaning, all, pause, reflect, chaos, depth" among others. It might sound a bit strange that words can make a difference but they can…they shape a thought. They give voice to meaning in one's soul…they are that which flows out of the heart of a person and demonstrate that "living water" that Jesus said would come "gushing" forth from a life that is filled with His Spirit.
In recent years, I've been wrapping my head and heart around the word "and". There's alot of reasons for that…many of which I simply don't have the time to be able to articulate. Let's just say that wisdom is showing me that it isn't "either/or" these days in many of the things that I face…it isn't "them or us", "in or out", "law or gospel", "old or new"…it is not "either or" but more AND. Dualism and polarization…the intentional marginalization of what appear to be opposites, one over the other, isn't working for me any longer. I'm really enjoying the demonstration of a rather refreshingly complex paradox within life that seems to bring peace to much of my life these days.
Which brings me to these words from Mike Breen. You can read about Mike on your own…I've never met him personally…but he has become a mentor of sorts along a path of mission that God has been leading me on for years. His voice and the voice of his ministry (3dm) has make an impact on me…why? Because of the power of AND…I've been around the pro church world block for a while. I've seen systems, programs, movements come and go. I've realized that it isn't one vs. the other when it comes to what we do as followers of Jesus in Kingdom living…there is a place for "attracting" people into community with excellence, vitality, real community, etc…but there is also a place for realizing that there is a call and a purpose to living as a follower of Jesus and that is LIVING a life of the Kingdom in the midst of real life and real relationships. As much as I am and will continue to be embracing and promoting a "lost sense" of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a gathering of followers of Jesus SENT on a mission, I also know how important it is to find meaning and purpose in GATHERING as a community. It isn't attractional VS. mission…it is attraction AND mission…gathering AND scattering. So, maybe these words will make sense to you…Mike's words certainly do to me:
- I believe there is inherent value in gathering a large group of people (75+) together to worship God, submit to the scriptures, tell stories of God moving in the community, share the Lord’s Supper, etc. We gather because, with one voice, we choose to worship our Risen Lord. We gather to be reminded that we are part of his story — his present and future Kingdom. And we gather so that we can scatter as missionaries to a world that is broken and in need.
- I believe the value of worshipping God together as a community is enough on its’ own. If there was not one single person who wasn’t a Christian in attendance, it would be just as important for us as believers. Worshipping Jesus for the sake of Jesus must always be enough.
- I believe that to sustain the scattered mission of the church outside of the large gathering there is the need for regular and rhythmic times of gathering together to remind us of the bigger story we are in, reinforcing why we live the missional life we do. I’m not saying it’s impossible to sustain Kingdom mission outside of it, but it’s very, very difficult. We gather, we scatter. We gather, we scatter.
- I believe the worship gathering exists first and foremost for believers, for people who are intentionally growing in their relationship with Jesus. Yes, people who don’t know Jesus yet can come, but honestly, they aren’t our top priority in a worship service. Can they come to faith in a service? Yes. Should we provide opportunities for them to step more fully into a relationship with Jesus? Yes. Can a pre-Christian benefit from experiencing the worship of believers? Absolutely. But we need to understand that if the worship service is our primary place of mission we’ve already lost the battle. We may believe in the priesthood of all believers, but do we believe in the missionhood of all believers — outside the ‘gathering’?
- I believe the worship gathering should always keep an eye on the shaping of the community for mission outside of the walls of the service. When they leave the gathering, believers should know they leave as missionaries and agents of the Kingdom. How is the church community shaping that reality for people?
- I believe many who say they are advocates of the ”missional church” have thrown the baby out with the bathwater and have rejected, out of hand, larger gatherings. To an extent I understand this, but the reality is that many missional churches struggle to grow, stagnate and fizzle out. Why? Because scattering is unbelievably hard and gathering sustains. It reminds us who we are. It shows us we are part of a bigger story that is reinforced when, upon looking around, we see enough people to remind us we aren’t alone in this. We hear stories of victory and redemption. It nourishes our souls and allows the wounds of the missional frontier to receive some healing. It is not the only place care happens, but it is an important one.
Humans are creatures of overreaction. We jump ditch to ditch quite easily. Many saw the issues and the inertia involved in becoming a Sunday-centric, worship service oriented community (and rightly so!). But know this: The reason the worship service became the center of evangelism and mission is because we stopped making missional disciples who understood the nature and purpose of scattering. We’re bad at discipleship and so we’ve gotten ourselves into this predicament. Scattering is the cake and gathering is the icing in the life of the church. We’ve become a fat church from eating a lot of icing. But don’t throw out the icing! Cake just never tastes quite as well without it.