Why do church congregations exist? What is their purpose? What mission do they have? Why do we need churches, anyway? What vision do they need to share with the world around them? These are questions that many Chrisitian congregations should be answering. And they need to find those answers quickly, because, at present, most mainline congregations are only religious social clubs. Congregations must be more than social clubs if they are to be relevant in today’s world.
I recently led a leadership group in a local congregation in an evaluation of where they were as a church on the life cycle of institutions. They decided, correctly I believe, that they were in what George Bullard called the maturity phase, as he defined in his book, Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation: “Maturity is that period when Relationships, Programs and Management are dominant. Vision is no longer dominant. Management is controlling the direction of the congregation. A congregation that is past it’s prime characterizes Maturity. It is more passive than active. It is still successful in many areas. For the most part it has a positive spirit…..It is no longer focused. It is no longer clear about its vision. The success culture of the congregation keeps it moving forward . It is blind to the fact that it no longer has an empowering vision that is fueling it forward. “
That lack of vision and mission became evident when I asked the leadership what the purpose or vision of their church was. No one had an answer. They are still struggling with why they exist as a church congregation! While I suggested how to go about creating a vision for their church they have not followed through with my suggestion and the congregation they lead still has no clear vision of God’s purpose and mission God desires for their congregation. . I gave them several examples to think about to get them started: “To Be a Nurturing Church in a Hungry World”; “To Live the Great Commandment in the Community Around Us”; and the vision of the Saddleback Church as stated in Rick Warren’s “The Purposeful Church.” (With a Great Commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, God will Grow Our Church).A vision shared by the entire church should define the mission of the church. The raison d’etre for their existence. Without a vision of their mission a congregation is just another social club. I suggested that the leadership group needed to form a small task force to do develop this vision of mission with much prayer, Bible Study, and discernment so as to arrive at a vision and mission that all in their church congregation could “buy into”. As of yet, almost a year later, none of this has happened and things go along the same way they have for some time—-downhill.
In my opinion, this is the reason for many of the mainline churches being on a downward spiral and increasingly shrinking both in numbers and in their influence on their society. That society is becoming increasingly immoral or amoral, violent, greedy, not compassionate with the needs of the most vulnerable in our society, polarized in politics, distrustful of government and each other. These church congregations have forgotten that the one they are named after—Jesus the Christ—-gave them a mission which is to continue the mission Jesus began of sharing the good news of God’s adoption of humandkind as God’s children—as a part of what Jesus called “The Kingdom of God” . That is the rule of God in people’s lives that reflects the love and passion of God for all the world—-all the world. Jesus saw good news in God sending him into the world to show what life lived in the Kingdom could be. He didn’t just tell us about it, he lived it. And life in the Kingdom of god is-pretty much the opposite of what the life of most people is now in the U.S. We have a mission as a church to bring about the new way of living that Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of God that was breaking into the world in Jesus’ time and is still here with us. The Kingdom of God exists now—not later—-not after we die—Now—in this world!
It is not our mission as the church to sit on the sidelines, bemoaning the thin moral air in our society and the lack of morality, the violence, the greed, the distrust, the polarity in politics, the lack of compassion for the vulnerable. It is the mission of the church to step up to the plate and deliver a faith that gives stability,; to work with love and compassion to overcome the victimization of the most vulnerable; to offer a way of peace to replace the violence that infects our society and world like a terminal disease; to offer caring for others needs to replace the greed upon which our economy is now based; to insist on compromise over polarization in our political arena. The mission of the church is not to get along with the world as it is. Not to be part of the present establishment governmentally, politically or religiously; , but to point toward a better way—-the Way of Jesus that he demonstrated for us in the Gospels.
We should never settle for the status quo—-the mission of the church is to transform lives, to change lives, and in transforming lives transform the society in which we live our lives as church iby showing how that can be done using our lives as an example.
Let me illustrate with this story:
Edwina Gately is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania. In their newsletter she wrote about the following incident:
“I once worked in a downtown overnight shelter. It was a big, basement shelter, and every night when the homeless came in, I would stand at the door handing out blankets. Once this guy came up to me and said, “Edwina, could I have one without lice?” “What?” I said. “Could I have one that doesn’t have any lice on it?” And I said, “Oh, er…okay,” and starting holding up the blankets to see if I could find one without lice. “Here. I’ve got one here. This one’s got no lice. There’s nothing moving on this one.”
And suddenly I thought to myself, “What am I doing? Here I am picking out blankets without lice and urine for certain folks. This is all wrong.”
So I went to the supervisor and said to him, “This is not right. We should launder these blankets every day instead of every week. We can’t do this to these folks. They deserve better than this.” The supervisor looked at me and smiled. He shook his head and said, “Edwina, let me tell you something. When you have been here as long as I have, you get used to it.”
NOOO! ..something in me screamed. WE MUST NEVER GET USED TO IT. WE MUST NEVER ACCEPT THE WAY THINGS ARE BECAUSE WE ARE TOLD, “Well, it’s always been like this.” The world was not meant to be like this!! We were not meant to live in poverty. We were not meant to be hungry. We were not meant to be homeless. We were not meant to have to sleep in lice-infested blankets. When we accept the system with “This is the Way it is” we become a part of that system. We are part of the oppression, the injustice, the diminishment.”
The Church is meant to take action for change in many areas of our society that need to be improved. Blessed are the Christians who never get used to it and continue to work for change!