The pioneer movement in the Church of England has been accused of being too critical of traditional church-going, especially that churches are not really concerned about the church’s mission. Traditional churches have protested that they can be missional too, and that many of them are.
So what does it mean to be ‘missional’ – that new word that has crept into Christian vocabulary? Is it just about meeting in schools or pubs, being less traditional, more modern, less formal, more friendly, less organ, more guitar, less robes, more technology?
I’d like to suggest it’s none of those things, in themselves. Instead, it’s about being less of a club and more of a journey.
C.S. Lewis wrote that God is the easiest person in the world to please, but the hardest person in the world to satisfy. I like that. Whenever we do a really good or kind thing – even giving a glass of water to a stranger or vulnerable person, as Jesus once remarked – God takes pleasure in it. But God also has great aspirations for us. He will never be satisfied until we are everything we can be, doing every good thing we could possibly do, being fully the people we were created to be. He would fail us if he became satisfied with less. So we can easily please God, but he will always invite us, even challenge us, to be more than we are now. (It’s a great model for parenting, by the way, but that’s another matter.)
Perhaps a missional church just reflects this characteristic of God. It should be the easiest group in the world to join. But once you’re part of it, it should constantly encourage and challenge you to become more than you are already, always changing, always moving on. So it should be easy to join and hard to hang in there as the journey gets tougher. Jesus himself lost disciples when the ministry and the message got harder, and we should expect to as well. But it’s uncomfortable for churches to be like this.
Some churches make themselves easy to join – come as you are, do what you like, even believe what you like – we’re just happy you are coming at all. But they have made themselves so accommodating, they never really help people forward in their spiritual journey.
Other churches are serious about the spiritual journey, and disciplines of life that can draw us closer to God – church attendance, personal prayer and bible study, and such. But they are tough to join because as a beginner you feel out of it, you hardly understand the language and what people are talking about, and sometimes you feel like an alien.
Sadly, some churches are both hard to join and don’t really help you forward on the journey. They are more like clubs where initially you need to learn a shed-load of stuff in order to belong – service books, liturgical colours, tunes you’ve never heard in your life. But once you have got into it and become like the others, no-one suggests that there is anything more to it.
No matter how traditional or ‘modern’ or ‘fresh expression’ our particular church is, our calling is to be missional – instrumental in God’s mission in the world. Perhaps we can achieve this by fostering an ‘easy join but on the journey’ culture. We need to lower the bar for entry, and raise the bar for discipleship. A missional church should be easy to join, but hard to feel satisfied in.