Over the weekend, I divided the students in my seminary class into two groups to debate this question: “Resolved: The most effective way to pursue the missio Dei in the 21st century is outside the institutional church.” If you have ever been involved in a formal debate of this type, you know that debate topics tend to oversimplify issues and attempt to encourage the debaters to take an either/or stance with no ambiguity.
The debate was interesting. The teams spent two hours discussing the pros and cons, defining terms like “the missio Dei” (mission of God), “institutional church,” and “missional church.” They reflected on Scripture, their assigned readings, and personal experiences and then they presented their cases.
Of course, there was no clear cut winner in the debate; the goal was to get the students talking about the topic. They provoked some good thinking on the topic. As a result of this discussion, I came away with some observations.
First, every institutional expression of the church was at one time designed to further the mission of God in the world. Most churches don’t start out to become institutionalized but begin with a vision for being a creative, effective ministry within their culture. Over a period of time, however, a church can become fixated on survival rather than ministry.
Second, too often churches choose survival over mission. Whether it is the small membership church where members want to assure that “there will be somebody here to bury me” or the megachurch that will do anything to assure that its growth momentum does not falter, survival can easily take the place of mission. In this situation, the church is no longer concerned about being part of the mission of God but only about keeping the doors open.
Third, every expression of the body of Christ must be renewed from time to time. If a church becomes fixed in its methodology, structure, or ministry expressions, it is on the road to stagnation and death. The Spirit of God is a dynamic, empowering presence that continues to give new insight and understanding to those who will listen. Is we listen, the Spirit with refresh and renew the people of God for mission.
Every church has the potential to be involved in the mission Dei in the 21st century; the real challenge is the willingness to accept that opportunity.