A Missional Worldview

As you know, I have been thinking a great deal lately about the problem of the declining church in America and what the solution is. Just the other night KFVS news aired a short report about the decline of Christianity in America. They reported that here in Illinois, the average church attendance is down 8% from what it was ten years ago. Nearly every denomination is experiencing decline. For years, this decline was limited to the liberal mainline denominations but now the trend has carried over to the more conservative groups, including our own Southern Baptist Convention, which has reported three straight years of decline. So what is the problem and how do we fix it?

At least part of the problem stems from the fact that most churches in America are living in a by-gone era and are simply not equipped to reach their communities. In a recent article that appeared in The Tennesean, Ed Stetzer, points out that many denominations simply grew complacent thinking that what they had always been doing would continue to work. In the past churches faced little competition and could count on a culture that was still marginally Christian. He states, “We had home-field advantage. We had gotten used to being the place where people went when they had spiritual needs. And now we are like bears fed by tourists, and the tourists are gone.” I like his analogy of bears that have been consistently fed by tourists. I remember as a kid driving through the Smoky Mountains and seeing all kinds of bears standing around the trash bins and pull offs along the road. A couple of years ago, we took a vacation to the mountains and I was surprised that I did not see one single bear. I remember asking a part ranger why that was and he told me that the bears had forgotten how to fend for themselves because the tourists kept feeding them. This reminds me of the church. The church is declining in America by-and-large because we have forgotten how to go out and reach people with the gospel. Gone are the days when a church can simply hang up a sign or hand out some flyers and draw a crowd. The culture that we live in, even in Metropolis, has lost its Christian grounding and memory. The church cannot sit and wait for people to come to us, we must go to them. We must regain a missional world view.

A missional world view believes that God is on a mission to redeem a people for Himself out of very tribe, nation and tongue (Rev. 5:9). We see this mission unfold from the beginning of the Bible all the way to the end. Throughout the Old Testament God prepared the way for the coming of His Son. In the Gospels we see God accomplishing the work of redemption through the life and death of His Son, Jesus. In Acts and the Epistles, we see that God has invited every believer and every local church to be a part of that mission. This missional view of the world should fundamentally change the way we think about ourselves and the church.

First, God’s invitation to be on mission should cause us to change the way we think about the church. A missional world view sees the church as being God’s instrument for reaching the world. In other words, the local church has a missional purpose. Most Christian agree with that statement in principle but fail to carry it out in practice. The old saying says “the church is the only institution that exists entirely for the benefit of those outside its membership” yet in practice most churches have lost this focus. Far too often we are more concerned about keeping things the way they have always been than adjusting them in order to reach the lost. Obviously, you all know that I am not talking about compromising on the gospel or on the fundamental doctrines of the faith. Churches usually do not divide over those issues anyways, but they will divide when personal preferences become more important than the mission of reaching the lost. Some would divide the church over the style of architecture, or dress, or music, or order of service, or programs. They would rather hold on to what they have always done than to adjust in order to reach the lost. A church that adopts a missional world view, however, will be willing to change how it does things in order to reach people for Jesus. It will be willing to sacrifice personal preference for the purpose of reaching the lost.

Second, God’s invitation to be on mission should cause us to change the way we think about ourselves. A missional world view sees every local church as a missionary in its community and every Christian as a missionary to his or her sphere of influence. The New Testament shows us that the gospel moves along relational lines. For instance, when James was converted he went and told Peter (John 1:35-42) and the woman at the well went and told the men in her village (John 4:27-38). Everyone has a sphere of influence, a group of friends, family members, co-workers, and acquaintances that they influence. To be missional means to see yourself as a missionary to that group of people. You are God’s ambassador to your friends, co-workers, neighbors, and family. This means it is your responsibility to live like Jesus in front of them and to find opportunities to share the good news with them.

The decline of the American church cannot be stopped in a day nor will it be easy. The 1950’s are not coming back and the church, like it has always done, will adapt to the new cultural climate we find ourselves in. Churches that refuse to become missional in their thinking in ministry will slowly die and disappear. Churches that accept the missional mandate laid out in the New Testament will engage their culture and reach their communities with gospel. As your Pastor, my prayer is that we will become a missional church. The only way for that to happen, however, is for each of you to adopt a missional way of looking at and engaging the world.

2 thoughts on “A Missional Worldview

  1. First of all, Joe, you need to change your poll question!!!

    So, here is my response to all that God is teaching me and our church. It is the lyrics to Sara Groves’ song “Conversations”. It is my response to those who don’t know Christ:

    I don’t know how to say this,
    I don’t know where to stand,
    I don’t know where to put my feet,
    Or where to put my hands.
    I’ve got them in my pockets,
    My fingers are freezing cold,
    They’re wrapped around a ticket stub
    That’s four weeks old,
    And I don’t know how to say this.

    I think we’ve figured out
    This world is bigger than you and I.
    We’ve exhausted our wealth of knowledge
    And have no more answers for mankind.

    We’ve had every conversation in the world
    About what is right and what has all gone bad,
    But have I mentioned to you that this is all I am,
    This is all that I have.

    I’m not trying to judge you.
    No that’s not my job.
    I am just a seeker too,
    In search of God.

    Somewhere somehow this subject became taboo.
    I have no other way to communicate to you.
    This is all that I am.
    This is all that I have.

    And we’ve had every conversation in the world
    About what is right and what has all gone bad,
    But have I mentioned to you that this is all I am,
    This is all that I have.

    I would like to share with you
    What makes me complete.
    I don’t claim to have found the Truth,
    But I know it has found me.

    The only thing that isn’t meaningless to me
    Is Jesus Christ and the way he set me free.
    This is all that I have. This is all that I am.
    It’s all that I have, and it’s all

    The only thing that isn’t meaningless to me
    Is Jesus Christ and the way he set me free.
    And this is all that I have. This is all that I am
    It’s all that I have, and it’s all that I am
    It’s all that I have, and it’s all

    I don’t know how to say this
    I don’t know where to start
    Just know that I care for you
    And I’m speaking from my heart

  2. I was watching HGTV the other night and they were remodeling a Victorian style home, it was built in the 1950’s. Guess what, it was out of date, egad the colors were awful and nothing was up to code (electrical, plumbing etc.) This 1950’s house was not only out of date, it was DANGEROUS. The old tactics you mentioned Pastor will not only not reach people, they are dangerous for the Church (Big C, not just FBC metro)

    I’ve seen and heard some similar statistics for the decline of those who claim to be Christian. Yes the missionality (is that a word?) of the Church must adapt and contextualize and it must also disciple. Since the 1950’s the Church has told people to pray a prayer, be baptized and join the local church. This, IMHO, grossly inflated the numbers of churches. Add to this the fact that they left these new “converts” to fend for themselves. Then we get people who called themselves evangelical, but were they truly Christian? When times get tough, that’s when the wheat and the chaff begin to separate themselves. We often point to the fact that the Apsotles were willing to, and did, suffer and die for the cause of Christ, as evidence to their faith. Well if a person has said a prayer, but hasn’t been converted, they’ll be quick to cut and run when times aint so rosey. (Mr. Haley would make me write sentences for using “aint”). So here we are and the Church hasn’t made itself relevant, and many of the churches who have, have forsaken the Gospel, and we have a great number in our midst who have built a house on sand and they are being swept away.

    Amy, thank you for the lyrics, I’ve never heard that song but will look it up. I would add another song that might be an apt description of the modern Church.

    ” Asleep in the Light” – Keith Green

    Do you see, do you see
    All the people sinking down
    Dont you care, dont you care
    Are you gonna let them drown

    How can you be so numb
    Not to care if they come
    You close your eyes
    And pretend the job’s done

    Oh bless me lord, bless me lord
    You know its all I ever hear
    No one aches, no one hurts
    No one even sheds one tear

    But he cries, he weeps, he bleeds
    And he cares for your needs
    And you just lay back
    And keep soaking it in
    Oh cant you see its such a sin

    cause he brings people to you door
    And you turn them away
    As you smile and say
    God bless you, be at peace
    And all heaven just weeps
    cause Jesus came to your door
    You’ve left him out on the streets

    Open up open up
    And give yourself away
    You see the need, you hear the cries
    So how can you delay

    Gods calling and you’re the one
    But like Jonah you run
    He’s told you to speak
    But you keep holding it in
    Of cant you see its such a sin

    The world is sleeping in the dark
    But the church just cant fight
    cause its asleep in the light
    How can you be so dead
    When you’ve been so well fed
    Jesus rose from the grave
    And you, you cant even get out of bed

    Oh, Jesus rose from the dead
    Come on get out of your bed

    How can you be so numb
    Not to care if they come
    You close your eyes
    And pretend the jobs done
    You close your eyes
    And pretend the jobs done

    Don’t close your eyes
    Don’t pretend the jobs done
    Come away, come away, come away with me my love
    Come away, come away, come away with me my love
    Come away from this mess, come away with me my love……

    After going back over my post, it seems all I did was pile on the Church rather than figure out how to become missional. I figure that my first step. Wednesday night’s message made me realize how I have failed as an individual, and that being missional is much more than just giving to and praying for missions.

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