Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Becoming the church as Christ intended

I’m busy reading Scot McKnight’s book, Embracing Grace. I’m still busy with chapter 1, but I think it’s going to be a great book. Actually, he set me thinking after reading a remark that he made about the church of today. On the one hand he says that people who are sick, cold, dying, etc are looking for something more in the church than they found in the past. He writes on page 7: “… this generation doesn’t want something that tells them that everything is good. It wants something more and won’t settle for anything less…. This generation doesn’t want to attend church in nice clothes, drop some small-numbered bills into the collection plate, sing ‘When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there,’ and go home… this generation is challenging the Church to perform what it proclaims.”
While reading this I wanted to confirm everything that he says. Except for one thing. It’s not the way this generation feels. This is the way that some of the people within this generation feel. I still see, in my visits to other churches and congregations, that probably the majority of most churches are more than satisfied to do exactly what Scot says they do not want to do: Attend church in nice clothes, drop something in the collection plate and go home. This is wrong. Of course it’s wrong! Church is so much more than this! But most church-going people still seem to be satisfied to continue in this way.
I do agree that we are getting a generation that is not satisfied with the old way of worship. But I’m not convinced that they are really willing to change. My feeling is that many of the people complaining about the outdated church will be equally unwilling to become the church that God wants them to be. Most probably they will just stay away.
About a year ago a group of young people from South Africa, fresh out of university, contacted me to arrange for a visit to Swaziland. They had the typical attitude that Scot McKnight refers to: They felt that their church was making things too comfortable for them. They wanted to be there where the action was taking place and they wanted to make a difference in the world. And so we arranged for a visit to two of our churches in Swaziland and we also arranged for a visit to two homesteads where we are taking care of a number of sick people.
The group came. We drove out to the different places we wanted to visit. They were very quiet, shocked by what they saw in these homesteads. And they returned home, after promising that they would come again. However, up to now I never heard from them again. I still see them individually from time to time. But they seem to have lost all their eagerness to change things in the world.
And this is where I think that Scot McKnight may be wrong (although I still have a long way to go with his book): Through the ages people have not changed much – we are still selfish, more focussed on what we can get than what we can give, extremely materialistic (probably more so today than in the past), more concerned about the type of vehicle we are driving than about the millions of people starving of starvation, malaria, AIDS and other diseases.
What Scot McKnight is saying is what we need in the church. We need people who are so frustrated with just sitting in the pew every Sunday, that they want to change things to become what God intended the church to be. But to say that this is happening in general, is far from the truth. Most people I know will gladly sacrifice an hour on a Sunday sitting in church, rather than going out and being Christ for people.
Or am I missing something?


Wednesday, April 2, 2008 - Posted by | Alternative Society, Church, Comfort Zone, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology


  1. It’s all about the rubber and the road. There are lots of buzzwords right now, and the church is latching on to them across many demographics. But missions (or whatever hip label we feel inclined to give it) is exhaustingly counter-cultural. Most don’t have the follow-through: there’s more to making a difference than a single impulse. The world is soberingly immense, and it takes a long, concerted effort by a large team to make one small difference.

    This is of course unattractive to impetuous youth (of whatever age), especially in a world that demands ever quicker instant gratification. Establishing clear vision, and managing expectations are critical, right from the starting blocks. My experience has been that the current thrust of books makes lofty declarations about what the church doesn’t want, but is rather unclear (or in this case, incorrect) about what the church does want. They are also usually quite short on pragmatics. Effectively, what that means is that taking on manageable projects and accomplishing them with excellence isn’t nearly as ‘sexy’ as taking on the grand vision…even if the grand vision is destined to collapse under its own weight.

    I think we need to start where inspiration starts, and work forward (slowly) from there.

    Comment by brad | Wednesday, April 9, 2008 | Reply

  2. Hi Brad, thanks for this remark. I couldn’t have summarised it better myself. I experienced exactly this feeling that you describe when reading Ron Martoia’s book, Static (my review which can be accessed here), that the old way of mission is wrong but that there isn’t really a new way that works better on the long run. What we need to do is to return to true Biblical principles and do what the early Christians did, getting involved with the people and their needs (physical, spiritual, emotional, etc) with total commitment.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, April 9, 2008 | Reply

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