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Missional churches

A few days ago I asked a guy about his faith and he responded, “I think organized religion has done more harm than good.”  I responded, “Well that’s OK, our religion is pretty disorganized.” Actually, a lot of churches are great at organization, but have little real sense of purpose o…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

A few days ago I asked a guy about his faith and he responded, “I think organized religion has done more harm than good.” 

I responded, “Well that’s OK, our religion is pretty disorganized.”

Actually, a lot of churches are great at organization, but have little real sense of purpose other than to care for the spiritual needs of their members.  The term “purpose-driven church” becomes one more catch phrase that doesn’t fundamentally change anything. “Feed me,” we say.  “Feed my sheep,” says the master.  And so we struggle in a narcissistic culture, and feeling that we need to have more of a purpose than “feed me,” we start talking about becoming more missional.

Have you heard this term being bandied about, “missional churches”?  There’s a book out called The Missional Leader.  It is subtitled, Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World.  Goodness knows our churches need a greater connection to their original intended purpose – so we have to recognize that this conversation about purpose is a good thing.

I have two questions to ask in light of this trend.  The first: What other kind of leader is there than a missional one?  If you don’t have a mission, some kind of purpose and destination, then do you really need a leader?  If your mission is “make me feel better,” then I submit you don’t really need a leader, but some kind of spiritual masseuse. 

The second question is: What is the purpose of organized religion?  Here we have a clear statement from Scripture to fall back on. Pure religion, we’re told in James 1:27 is “to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”  That’s certainly a foundational part of your mission. Our churches need to be engaged in kingdom outreach that addresses God’s heart for the poor.
Want to organize your religion? There are different metrics you can apply to help organize it.  One is to count up the number of orphans and widows you’re looking after. Make it your mission to care for more of them and to care for them better.
For more on this subject, here’s a great article by Alan Hirsch.

Comments (7)

  • There you have it. James 1:27. The head of the hammer just struck the proverbial nail. Well-stated, Seth. It isn’t really hard to see how we are doing when we narrow down the focus, is it?

    Thanks for the insight.

  • I find myself in agreement with Brian here. Yes James 1:27 is spot on and should be a part of the church’s focus, but that isn’t the full picture. Furthering the Kingdom of God where you are can also include spurring believers on into being disciples. There is a difference between feeding His sheep and seeking after the lost and the strays. Both perfectly valid and both jobs the heart of the Shepherd is involved in. Neither should be neglected at the expense of the other. Put them both together and you have a flock that draws in strays and the ones outside needing care alongside keeping the established flock healthy. Mission is great for building disciples but it isn’t the only thing that achieves that end.

  • More people than ever are “on mission” I am told…lots of $’s spent in Mercy Ministries….which James encourages us is “true religion”. Jesus tells us to GO make disciples, Paul proclaims that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved, but wonders how they can call on one in whom they have not believed and how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard…and how can they hear unless we preach to them.

    Jesus calls us to pray for “workers in the Harvest” for the harvest is plenty but the workers are few…

    While we could all add even more verses, my question simply is: While Mercy ministry and clearly proclaiming the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus should go hand-in-hand…why does the US church often focus on Mercy ministry to the exclusion of proclaiming the Gospel?

    Jesus said that the Gospel will be spread to the ends of the Earth, and then the end will come. Poverty and the poor will always be with us…but Jesus will be sent for us when the Gospel goes to the ends of the Earth…completing the Great Commission. Thoughts?

  • Jeff – great comment here and good questions. My response: the best orphan ministry is not primarily mercy ministry, but discipleship. 70% of one Indian ministry’s orphans go into full-time ministry because they are discipled. The key to the Great Commission may actually be fulfilling James 1:27! Orphans need to be brought into families and raised as sons and daughters.

    Discipleship always precedes evangelism and missions. If you do a good job of discipleship, you’ll see Matt. 24:14 fulfilled.

    We’re not called to understand God and his ways, just to be obedient to what he asks of us.

  • Hey Seth,

    Great answer to Jeff. I couldn’t agree more. Whatever the ministry. Solid discipleship is the answer. It seems in the missions world that dependency tends to win the day over disciplined discipleship. Mercy is often expressed in Christ’s Name, but without discipleship as an anchor the gravitational pull most often seems to gravitate toward dependency. Any thoughts toward how to make discipleship preeminent in our mercy endeavors?

    P.S. Seth, it has been a while. Hope all is well with AIM! You might want to check out a new website e3 Partners launched at http://www.iamsecond.com

  • While we need to have a heart for widows and orphans, not everyone will have a ministry of that focus. We are no less missional if we find ourselves in ministry to people outside of that important James 1:27 group. Being missional is intentionally furthering the kingdom of God right where you are at, in the midst of the people that God has placed in your life for this season.

  • There’s certainly a time and place for both “mercy” ministries and raw gospel preaching; it’s not a either/or deal. Jesus did both, did he not? Yet, I think Jeff is correct that we tend to focus more on ministry instead of gospel. Better to go to heaven hungry than to hell with a full stomach.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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