November 19, 2017

My Issues with Evangelicalism: (3) Mission

By Chaplain Mike

Note: When I originally ran this series on another blog, I introduced the “Mission” issue by telling the story “Who Is My Neighbor?” which was posted on IM January 20, 2010. You can read that post here.

ROSES AND LILIES CHRISTIANITY
This year, we held a series of Lenten services at our church. We read and discussed Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. Written out of his experiences of living in intentional community in an underground seminary in Germany during WWII, Bonhoeffer teaches believers what it means to relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. However, the book opens with an important reminder that is all too often forgotten by believers today…

It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. “The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?” (Luther) (p. 1f)

The problem with much contemporary American evangelicalism is that it has created an alternate “kingdom,” one which is OF the world but not IN the world (the opposite of what Jesus intended). The freedom and prosperity we enjoy in this country has allowed us to withdraw from meaningful interaction with our neighbors in the context of real life situations so that we might spend time in “Christian” pursuits.

Churches are organized to satisfy this centripetal impulse. Life for many American Christians revolves around the “temple” and its program of activities for all ages and interests. It seems that the purpose of the church is to provide what Luther called a “roses and lilies” experience for people that protects them from the harsh realities of the world and the challenges of learning to relate authentically with those who don’t share our faith.

This pattern is “of the world” because it grows directly out of the American suburban ethos. Suburban living is about comfort, security, and prosperity. The modern evangelical movement has capitalized on these desires by providing superbly outfitted temples that cater to the consumerist cravings of their congregations. It provides “safe places” where parents can be assured that they and their children will never have to rub shoulders with pagans, never be disturbed by ideas or concepts that challenge their Sunday School faith, and never have to deal with the uncomfortable realities that live next door.

Nor have I even begun to speak about the Christian publishing industry, the Christian music business, the host of Christian enterprises that provide unlimited “edification” opportunities for believers so that they need never find themselves in an uncomfortable atmosphere of ungodliness.

A church newsletter from one of our local megachurches contained an article about their new sports program and their new multi-million dollar recreation facility, written by the elder in charge of this “ministry.” When asked why he had signed up to lead this “ministry,” he related a story about how one of his children had a bad experience with a soccer coach in a community youth league. Apparently this coach was always yelling at the kids. The elder decided he would head up the church soccer league so that no child in his program would ever have to have suffer such indignity. Imagine having to deal with that.

So… the answer in this situation, as we find so often in the evangelical approach, is to withdraw from the world and start something of our own that will be “safe” and promote a more godly way. Sure, we say we will invite the community and “win people for Christ,” and we do to a certain degree, but at the root lies a desire is for protection, safety, and non-involvement with a messy world of sinful people. As Luther said, we want “to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people, but the devout people.”

As we’ll see in the next post, this approach denies one entire aspect of the church’s identity. The church is called to live out its life in Christ in two contexts in this world—as the church gathered and as the church scattered. Unfortunately, we seem mostly to have retreated into fortresses of our own making, satisfied that we are fulfilling the Great Commission by lobbing gospel tracts and culture war diatribes over the walls, and occasionally inviting someone on the outside to come in and take a tour of the castle.

We are thus losing the ability to relate to our neighbors on the basis of a shared humanity in the context of real-life situations.

This is the missional issue in a nutshell.

LIFE BETWEEN SUNDAYS
My first glimpses of understanding about the missional nature of the church came when I was in seminary and pastoring a small church in suburban Chicago. I read 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, emphasis mine)

Why is this so earthshaking? Because it challenges the fundamental understandings and deeply ingrained practices of a vast majority of churches.

  • 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 do here in the church building?
  • Isn’t our mission in the world contained in the outreach programs we organize and run?

My answer is “no.” Hear Halverson again: “The program of our church is everything all the members are doing between Sundays.” I think he is right. But this kind of thinking is rare, and betrays an institutionalized, programmatic approach that says more about our cultural commitments than it does about living out our Biblical calling to be Christ’s people in the world.

Being a Neighbor
There is a lot more talk these days among church leaders about churches being “missional.” I hope progress is being made. What I fear is that this will become a just another way to add more programs to the church—directed toward outreach, yes—but with the same mentality that says if we don’t organize it, it ain’t real.

While there is nothing inherently wrong about organizing or running a program to help people, show them Christ’s love, and reach out to them with the Gospel, programs should be seen as the dessert of missional living, not the main meal.

What I long to see, in my own life, and in the church, is more real life, next-door neighbor, face-to-face, building of relationships and practicing grassroots Christianity in our communities. To paraphrase John the Baptist, may the church program decrease and may living with Christ among our neighbors increase.

Comments

  1. Chaplain Mike,
    I think you are SPOT on, but I also thing you are swimming against the tide!
    🙂

    We have become a Nation of individuals with no sense of community or civic responsibility. Ill disappear into my gated community and just leave me alone. No one knows their neighbor much less actually talks with him. The Evangelical Circus is just replicating this model–give me my entitlements and a choice and let me choose my own belief, my own Christianity. Tolerance is the Good News.

    Thanks also for the info on Pastor Halverson–I had not heard of him and he makes a GREAT deal of sense.

    • The loaded implication of your statement is the we are a “Nation” of Christians, which isn’t at all the case 🙂

      80% Self-Describe as Christian
      25% Regularly attend some sort of Christianish worship services

      The wheat grows up with the Chaff so to calculate it out…
      If you remove the mormons and JWs and generously assume half of the visible Christian church (regular attenders of RCC, EO, and Protestant Services) are in fact believers you get 10%.

      Add on about 10% of the population of Christian-identifying non-attenders and you have a maximum of 15% of the U.S. population that could be believers.

      I think that is overly generous, so we’ll set an error bar, 5%-15% of the U.S. are baptized into Christ, repenting of their sin, and trust in Christ for their salvation

      If you read Virgil’s Anneid, you’ll discover that ancient pagan Rome was a Nation obsessed with the virute of civic duty, even the civic duty of pinching incense to Caesar. If you read Heideggar or any of the philosophers of Fascist National Socialism, you will understand that they were obsessed with community to the point of murdering millions of Christians that would not capitulate to “community”.

      “Civic duty” and “community”, are political movements tainted with the persecution of the saints, what we need is Christians involved in true Christian charity. 🙂

      • And just to clarify, Bonhoeffer did not subtitle his book “Classic Explorations in Christian Community”. Older english subtitles have been “A discussion in Christian Fellowship.

        The German title is Gemeinsames Leben. Which means “common life.”, much the way modern Lutherans describe the common life of the church. The way emergents discuss “community” exactly mirrors neo-pagan fascism. During the run-up to the rise of of the National Socialist party, the “community” and inclusiveness was emphasized above all else. Much of the hatred of jews centered on their historic refusal to be part of “community.”
        Early Nazi party motiffs proudly displayed a bundle of sticks bound together as a community.

        Unfortunately, under Heidegger’s decidedly post-modern deconstructionism, the fascists by the very nature of their driving philosophy adhered to relativist community standards of morality. Among such community standards was the standard of the survival of the fittest. You can make the community stronger by killing the weak.

        This is of course the opposite of what Christian are called to. We are called to be aliens and sojourners. We are in community with the body of Christ, and we are amidst the pagan culture serving as salt and light, but we are not IN community with pagan culture. We are OF Christ, we are not OF the world.

        • Jeff Livingston says:

          Beon wrote:
          “The way emergents discuss “community” exactly mirrors neo-pagan fascism. During the run-up to the rise of of the National Socialist party, the ‘community’ and inclusiveness was emphasized above all else.”

          I have to take issue with this. The Nazis emphasized the national (i.e. German)community. That’s a long way from the stress that some emergents place on Christian community.

  2. We just saw the ‘between Sundays’ effect when we did a survey to ask why people weren’t involved with church outside of worship. It turns out they’re doing lots of missional-type work, it’s just not under the umbrella of the church. If someone is volunteering at their kid’s school, is that any less legit than volunteering to help our Sunday School?

    To Mich’s great point, the kids at the local mega-Christian-school had to sign a document acknowledging they could be kicked out if they’re caught associating with anyone who might bring a bad image to the school.

    I can see the point, you don’t want pictures in the paper of your students flashing gang signs or something, but on the other hand it would seem to just reinforce the insularity that already comes with private religious schools.

  3. Watch OUT! I think he’s turning into a Lutheran.

    I would add to this, however, vocation. It is not just the things we do outside of our jobs and homes that are the mission of the church. When we do right in our vocation, serving our neighbors and masters in humble honest devotion and dedication, we do a good work.

    The “MISSION FIELD” is just as ripe for a slave with a brutal taskmaster as it is for a charity director.
    And when we fail to work honestly and diligently, many suffer. We are all connected by a web of vocation and economics. When bankers in NY are dishonest, children in Haiti, starve. When we fail to serve the LORD in what God has given us to do, the reputation of Christ is maligned.

    Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
    Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.(1Pet2)

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    It provides “safe places” where parents can be assured that they and their children will never have to rub shoulders with pagans, never be disturbed by ideas or concepts that challenge their Sunday School faith, and never have to deal with the uncomfortable realities that live next door.

    And you never ever need to speak to or have anything to do with Those Heathens, from Baptism to Rapture or Homegoing (TM), never need to go outside your Christian (TM) Thomas Kincade Cottage except for drive-by prosletyzing sallies. You have your own Christian (TM) Romance novels (“Just like Harlequin Bodice-rippers, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”), your own Christian (TM) workout gyms, your own Christian (TM) cofffee houses (“Just like Starbucks, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”), your own Christian (TM) superheroes (Bibleman), your own Christian (TM) rock concerts (Spin Me Round Round Jesus Round Round), your own Christian Paranormal Romances (“Just like Twilight, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”), your own fantasy novel series (“Just like Tolkien, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”), even your own cyberspace — GodTube (“Just like YouTube, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”) and Christian Chirp (“Just likeTwitter, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”) All Sanitized so as not to possibly offend any Professional Weaker Brethren or Church Ladies, all certified Christian (TM) and “Safe For The Whole Family!”

    And on the outside is everybody else — like me.

    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.”

    There was a medieval version of this — Clericalism. Where the only thing that mattered were ordained clergy, monks, and nuns, and you weren’t a real Christian unless you had Holy Orders or were doing 24/7 devotions devotions devotions in a monastery or convent. (Usually not as self-destructive as St Rose of Lima’s, but…)

    16th- and 17th-Century Spain had some of the worst (and most widespread) cases of this, after Spain reacted to the Reformation Wars by redefining themselves as Uber-Uber-Catholic and firewalling it as far as they could. (Had as many institutions prefixed with “Holy” as the British do now prefaced with “Royal”.) Until the easy money from their American colonies ran out, between 1/3 and 1/2 of Spain’s adult population were cloistered in monasteries or convents being Holy Holy Holy. (Then the easy money from the Americas ran dry…)

  5. “Hear Halverson again: “The program of our church is everything all the members are doing between Sundays.” I think he is right.”

    This sounds great, but how are you going to convince yourself to care what I do all week?

    It’s not possible.

    Christianity is a LIIIE!!!11, etc.

  6. Kenny Johnson says:

    I think this is a fair criticism, but I think there is more missional-thinking in Evangelical churches than you may give credit to — especially among the emerging church. I know MS was critical of the EC movement (often rightly so), but I’ve been part of it in some way for the last 10 years and am currently involved in a church that is/was influenced by it. Our church is only about 6 years old. We don’t own a building (we rent a space from another church), we’re small, and we’ve already planted two churches. We’re involved in our local communities with things like homeless dinners, community service (e.g. http://www.sharefestinc.org), and foreign missional work as well (orphanages, Opportunity Intl, etc). The pastor doesn’t have an office, so he does much of his preparations and meetings in public (Starbucks). We’re definitely not an insular church.

    If anyone is interested my pastor wrote a book which really captures the spirit of our church, published by IV Press:
    Embodying Our Faith: Becoming a Living, Sharing, Practicing Church
    http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3729

    And we’re, in my opinion, still a church that is part of the Evangelical church. Obviously you were making generalizations to make a point, but I think there is more conversation about the mission of the church than we give credit for.

    Christopher Wright’s new book from Zondervan seems to also speak to this mission mind-set:
    The Mission of God’s People
    http://www.zondervan.com/Cultures/en-US/Product/ProductDetail.htm?ProdID=com.zondervan.9780310291121&QueryStringSite=Zondervan

    • Kenny, I acknowledged your point at the end of the post. What I will say I that I am very excited about much that I am reading and hearing about. I’m not seeing much of it in our area. There’s a lot of “churchianity” around here. That probably skews my perspective.

  7. Chaplain Mike,

    Thanks for the post and the introduction to Dr. Halverson. It’s probably softer than you originally sketched out. You kept it positive but I couldn’t help but think of Merton’s The Moral Theology of the Devil. When I first read it last year it sounded way too much like he was writing my biography.

    Merton: “The theology of the devil is for those who . . . no longer need any mercy . . . The people who listen to this sort of thing, and absorb it, and enjoy it, develop a notion of the spiritual life which is a kind of hypnosis of evil. The concepts of sin, suffering, damnation, punishment, the justice of God, retribution, the end of the world and so on, are things over which they smack their lips with unspeakable pleasure. Perhaps this is because they derive a deep, subconscious comfort from the thought that many other people will fall into the hell which they themselves are going to escape.”

    He goes on to talk about a feeling of complacency that I often referred to as “faith.” In your post you discuss the church and the American suburban ethos but you sheltered the individual by avoiding this feeling of complacency. I confess that I fell into it’s trap and found myself asking, “Who am I to care?” when the question really is, “Who am I not to care?”

    • I guess that’s part of your point. The Evangelical Church may not endorse this type of thinking, but it too easily accommodates it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Merton: “The theology of the devil is for those who . . . no longer need any mercy . . . The people who listen to this sort of thing, and absorb it, and enjoy it, develop a notion of the spiritual life which is a kind of hypnosis of evil. The concepts of sin, suffering, damnation, punishment, the justice of God, retribution, the end of the world and so on, are things over which they smack their lips with unspeakable pleasure. Perhaps this is because they derive a deep, subconscious comfort from the thought that many other people will fall into the hell which they themselves are going to escape.”

      Random trivia cascade time again. “The Abominable Fancy”, where the Joy of Heaven is gloating over the torments of the damned in Hell. Add Spiritual One-Upmanship, stir well, and inflict on everybody else. Familiar to anyone who’s been hit with Jack Chick tracts, Hellfire-and-Damnation preaching, or slogged through Left Behind.

  8. dumb ox says:

    Word! This is such an important message. Thanks for sharing it.

    I anticipate that Michael’s “Mere Churchianity” will have more to say on this subject.

  9. If there is one area of “heathen” that needs desperate, genuine missionary work, it is the evangelical church in small town America. From my experience, small, backwards communities have mostly Baptist churches (but include non-denominational and other churches) while lives of the congregants are not much different than the people we see “on the street.”

    I have attended churches where there the members fight (Satruday Night’s Alright), abuse alcohol and drugs, have illigitimate children and are generally proud of their utter lack of peace and education (call it hillbilly pride). God help me, some are known to lie and steal from their church and their children grow up in needless poverty born from irresponsibility. I ask myself why are they even attending church on Sunday (churches supported mostly by the silver-haired members) and what the pastor is doing. And when I pray with some of them (as opposed to simply throwing a “I’ll pray for you” over my shoulder), most are utterly shocked that somebody would.

    My apologies for the rant. It breaks my heart to see a community with a thousand churches where Sunday morning is no different than Saturday night. For me, THAT is a mission field in and of itself.

    • MW Peak,
      From the outside perspective, churches are full of sinners, not saints. We know that, to some real extent, those folks are still a part of the Body of Christ.

      A friend complained about churches full of hypocrites; well now, that would also include me. C.S Lewis’ argument is that maybe all these “Saturday Night fighters” are a little better than they would be because they at least have access to a moral compass and a time to return to God and reflect. The blemishes in some of the poorer church communities can be a little more crass and obvious than those in the middle class churches with nice parking lots, the average person in the poorer pews are often a little more desperate. Poor communities are rife with more crime, more teen pregnancy, more STD’s, more drugs, and your much more likely to find someone with a conviction or restraining order. This is reflected in the congregation. Somehow we expect the Holy Spirit to do a better job of transforming them and us. Of course it happens and some communities really do transform, but I don’t think it usually works this way. We remain a product of our communities. We remain heavily influenced by the world we live in.

  10. MOD NOTE: edited for length.

    This book looks relevant to the topic: http://euangelizomai.blogspot.com/2010/05/john-dickson-promoting-gospel.html

    Product Details for The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission:
    This practical guide to the biblical art of sharing your faith offers refreshing insight into the many ways, spoken and silent, that all Christians can be involved in spreading the good news about Jesus.

    Description:
    This book comes out of years of reflection, failures, and some successes in the task of reaching out to others with the gospel.

    Many Christians think of the task of mission as an entirely verbal activity, when perhaps the best kept secret of New Testament teaching about mission is that it involves a whole range of activities that explicitly promote Christ to the world and draw others to him, and only a few of them involve speaking. Without diminishing or downplaying the importance of speaking the gospel, John Dickson shows that, on the other hand, downplaying the range of activities that promote Christ to the world has its own set of problems. It can make those who are not confident about speaking—of anything, let alone Jesus—feel inadequate and self-conscious in the task of reaching out to others. Equally, it can make those who do have a flair for speaking feel as though they are fulfilling Christ’s mission just by talking. But the reality is that the Lord wants our whole life, not just our lips, in the task of bringing the gospel to the world. Every facet of our lives can be used by God to promote the news of his power and mercy.

    In this practical guide to the biblical art of sharing your faith, John Dickson offers refreshing insight into the ways that all Christians can and should be involved in spreading the good news of Jesus. While not all Christians are called and gifted to become evangelists, we are all called to promote the gospel through a wide range of activities—prayer, financial partnership, good deeds, godly lives, public worship, daily conversation, etc.—with and without our lips.

  11. Christopher Lake says:

    When I lived near the D.C. area, I was a member of a Reformed Baptist church body that actually lived out the “missional” concept about as well as I can imagine. The church had almost no formal programs, but the laity were encouraged, through strong, expositional preaching (including application) and organic discipleship, to actually get out *into* their communities and be lights in a the world– not by condemning the world, so much as by simply living out the implications of the Gospel in the world.

    Now, I will say, as one who has come to believe that certain foundational principles of Protestantism are (gulp) not “Biblical,” I could not now be a member of this church…. but man, while I was there, it was truly an inspiring place to be, as a Protestant who had serious qualms with the insularity of so much of American evangelical church culture.

    I’m not sure why it is so difficult for many church leaders to see that church is not about entertainment, it’s not a happy big show for the nice, clean “good people,” it’s not about a holy huddle against the terrible world, and it’s even not really about how to get non-Christians into church buildings so that they can hear the Gospel.

    We come together, as a body, to receive God’s sustaining grace and strength, and then, we go out into the world to both show and tell people about this God and the difference that He makes (the difference between light and darkness, hope and despair). Why do church leaders feel the need/drive to make church into being about anything else?

  12. “We are thus losing the ability to relate to our neighbors on the basis of a shared humanity in the context of real-life situations.”

    Exactly. It’s a little too long for a bumper sticker, but maybe “Life Between Sundays” will do. (Or how about “Is There Life After Sunday?”)

    It’s thinking about some of these issues that has led me to wonder what the difference is between sitting in a crowd of thousands in a converted basketball arena, a crowd of 500 in a wired-for-sound refurbished sanctuary or with 6 other people in someone’s living room.

    Really, I want to know. Does it really make a difference? And if so, how? We spend less than 1 percent of our week in a church service and the rest of it living out our faith (and, we hope, sharing it).

    Surveys consistently show that it’s person-to-person contacts that lead to the majority of commitments to Christ, even if the final step is hearing a sermon in church, watching an evangelist on television or something else. And beyond the initial decision, it’s real-life, in-depth relationships that are the catalyst for discipleship.

    It’s the way we find a doctor or lawyer or someone to remodel our home, through personal “testimony” and recommendation. Why should we think that something as personal as spirituality could be handled any other way?