It often seems the case that in reacting against one problem we swing to another.
There is a very helpful and legitimate critique of what I guess you could call ‘church-centric mission’. This is the thinking that imagines that the only way to do mission is by bringing people to the formal church event on Sundays. For those that embrace this thinking, the key to mission is to pour huge resource into getting people to come to church where the professional minister preaches the gospel and people are converted. The prime responsibility of a congregation member is to service the public event and work as a promoter of it.
The alternative in recent years has been small house church style communities which place high priority on walking the talk within every social network and the community group a believer lives within. They then become personally responsible for bringing the gospel to people where they are.
Surely to choose an either/or in our mission approach is to cut off one wing of an airplane. The people of God gathered around the word of God is powerful. This is a clear theological principle – Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 expects the outsider to come in to that setting and be struck by the presence of God. We ought therefore embrace this reality and seek to make our gatherings as accessible as possible to outsiders without compromising their essential purpose which is the edification of believers. If the Bible is taught faithfully among a group of believers who have a living and Spirit-inspired faith in that word then that community will be inherently attractive! It will have a massive power to bring others to faith.
And within that church context there ought also to be a powerful driver outward. A proper ministry of the word will always direct people back out into the world to be salt and light. Healthy church will create missionaries in every situation and context. If that is happenging properly it will then create a powerful momentum back to the public assembly! I live in the world as salt and light, speaking to others of the hope I have found in the gospel and I long for them to know this same hope and experience: the transforming power of the community of God’ people gathered around the word. So I invite them back to a church service where they sit under the life-giving and transforming word among the people of God gathered.
And so the movement goes on compelled out, only to drawn back in (with my friends and family this time!), and then back out again.
Noting this is important because it keeps before us a critical ministry priority: the revitalizing of the local assembly of believers. Perhaps this concern reflects the context within which I do ministry. I’ve never been in a church that hasn’t urged believers to live missionally. Within the world of churches I move in this has never been the problem. We certainly need to work harder at doing the missional lifestyle better. But as a priority it has always existed.
In addition to keeping the missional priority front and centre, we need to make sure we don’t let ourselves off the hook of constantly revising the forms and styles of our public assemblies so that the power of Christian fellowship around the word isn’t muted by archaic or culturally irrelevant forms and practices that are far from essential to the gospel.
In my view it is important to not lose the both/and on this issue. Keep pushing people out to the world to live as Christ’ people in whatever context they find themselves in and recognize the power of the local assembly for impacting unbelievers and so keep sharpening what we do there.
Obviously in start up phase it is important to build in these principles from beginning.