A Journal Review of
THE LOCAL CHURCH IN MISSION:
BECOMING A MISSIONAL CONGREGATION IN THE TWENTY-FIRST
CENTURY GLOBAL CONTEXT AND THE
OPPORTUNITIES OFFERED THROUGH TENTMAKING MINISTRY
Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 39
By Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization
The missional church is something I have long lamented as lacking in America. As the member of a large church with membership around 2,000 people, it concerned me deeply that this forty year old church had never planted another church. Only in the last five or six years has this church supported the sending of a short-term missions team overseas. With such financial blessings, this former church instead sought to acquire more land and build yet more buildings to house the dear saints who would gather to worship there. Regrettably this church clings to a Constantinian model of church life (p. 8-9) where relationships with others outside the church were tolerated rather encouraged.
This is rather common in my limited experience with Christianity. As an American Christian who has not travelled extensively abroad, I see the lack of holistic structures (p. 12-13) that would have empowered our congregations to go and do Kingdom work. In fact, many question the need to even do so! It comes as a surprise to see countries that were once the ripe mission fields in the minds of American Christianity are now sending nations targeting the United States and Western Europe. Times have certainly changed.
As one might expect in churches that cling to their Constantinian model of church life, there is now a professionalization of the clergy in most American churches. To even obtain a position as a Children’s minister almost requires an advanced seminary degree. This problem, created by our own congregations, seems to cross denominational lines and is quite common. By not allowing lay leadership to develop, many local churches unwittingly limit their own growth and therefore their own effectiveness in reaching their communities with the gospel.
On occasion a sermon on engaging the entire body of Christ in mission is preached and at times there is a noticeable difference for a short while yet this soon passes. The focus is on the church, especially in recent years, as more of a business entity rather than a fellowship of connected people striving to share the gospel message (p. 14). Especially true of Southern Baptists is the strong affirmation of the priesthood of all believers yet often this is more lip service than way of living and “doing” church. The notion that sheep give birth to sheep is more often than not lost on our modern ears. With a professionalization of the clergy has come the expectation that shepherds beget sheep and the burden of evangelism belongs to them. Clearly this is not so!
What I find desperately wanting is in the area of discipleship training. The Christian life is far more than simply worrying about the eternal destiny of the soul of the believer (p. 15-16) though no doubt that is important. To truly be a Christian is nothing less than to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:17-18). To become a disciple is to become obedient to the Master and His words and truly know the freedom from this world. Sadly, our congregations that cling to the Constantinian model of church life do not even realize they are missing this joy. More concerned about numbers, property, and buildings, there is precious little time for other concerns.
So what is missing in the congregations which have been described? Missional leadership! Missional leaders love God, love the gospel, love their people, love the lost, and love to see others come to saving faith in Christ (p. 16). Missional leaders have a proper understanding of the priesthood of all believers and make no distinction between clergy and laity. Understanding that the gifting of the saints is different, missional leaders share leadership (p. 16-17) or as I prefer to say, give leadership away. This sharing or giving away creates accountability and also provides an opportunity for many people in the congregation to have a voice. Missional leaders also model right Christian living. It is not enough to tell their people how they ought to live; missional leaders show our people how to live daily.
Giving leadership away provides opportunities for different leadership styles to benefit the church. Some are visionary while others are cultivators or prophets (p. 17-18). Many missional leaders are more like apostles who cast a vision in such a way as to inspire the congregation to become God’s messengers in a new context. The reality which has not been considered by this seminarian until having read it in black and white here is that all of the preparation that is put into discipleship training is for the purpose of preparing God’s people to serve elsewhere. Train them and send them out! It is also critical to keep the vision on the minds of the congregation with some regularity.
It is important to be connected with other congregations. Fortunately this is something our Southern Baptist churches manage to do rather well in most instances. As a convention though, perhaps a better understanding of other denominations would be beneficial. Rather than focusing on the theological differences we have, finding common ground with other Christians where we can impact the lives of the lost around us and across the world should carry the day. Alas, our Constantinian model of church life impairs this as well. It would see this stumbling block in our path hinders far more than most in Western Christendom realizes. If this is so, the point could certainly be made more strongly in the journal under review.
Tentmaking, on the other hand, is a tremendous challenge for American churches. Time and time again discussion of cross cultural ministry would inspire little more than a few well-heeled people to write a check and consider their work done. Make no mistake; funding is an important aspect of missions but the notion of actually using one’s secular talents to support oneself in a faraway country is just about the farthest thing from the minds of the average Christian in America today. Yet still, the ranks of the tentmakers are growing.
As leaders, we must continue to encourage our people to consider ministry in different contexts. At times this involves a personal challenge to those in a position to engage a different culture with the gospel through a job or business opportunity. All types of professions can and should be considered for Tentmaking (p. 27). The local church in our own culture has a responsibility to encourage and train tentmakers. Among other things this means that tentmakers need to be prepared to share the gospel with the receiving culture. Resourcing tentmakers through mentoring, and model tentmaker team leaders is a huge benefit to this important aspect of Christian outreach.
All people are called to be conformed to the image of Christ and make disciples of all nations. Unlike other belief systems, Christianity is based on love and does not win people to the faith by the sword. Instead, one by one, we must share the gospel with people. Planting, nurturing, and eventually harvesting the seeds of faith placed in the hearts of God’s people all over the world. There are other sheep not of this fold (John 10:16) and it is our responsibility to share the good news with them. To do anything less is to disobey the very God we claim to love and serve.