This and a recent article by The Baptist Times about church attendance prompted my thoughts again about church and mission.
I have said this before very briefly, but I want to expand on it a bit more now.
One of the issues and challenges I believe the Church faces is its understanding and approach to the person. Year in and year out we are fed statistic after statistic about how many people are going to church compared with previous years. Sometimes the statistics are good, sometimes they are bad, but whatever they are the general voice is that we need to seek ways in which church growth can increase.
Now I have no problem at all with a desire for the Church to grow and to see more and more people hearing and responding to the call of Jesus on their lives. I am a evangelist after all! But what I have noticed is the subtle changes in the way we speak about church growth and in particular the way we speak about people when we are talking about mission and evangelism. And this change in speech is not particular to the church, it is a cultural phenomenon. And I believe this is having a adverse affect upon the way the church is able to engage with the communities they are a part of because our language is often a reflection of what we actually believe.
Church decline in the West over the last 20 years has caused the church to sit up and take notice of why people are leaving and what we can do to reverse the decline. Programmes of evangelism and mission, books, seminars, seeker sensitive, emerging, fresh expressions, cafe church etc etc are all a reaction to this decline a genuine desire to do something positive in order that the church would be relevant and contextual and true to the message that God has called us to proclaim. Some things have worked while some have fallen by the wayside, but they have mostly come from a heartfelt response to the situation.
The problem is however that we have subconsciously turned the people we are seeking to engage with, with the message of Jesus, into targets of mission.
People become a 'thing' that we are trying to target in order that they would become a part of the church. We want to see results, a change to the situation, so we hope to get a lock on the target, engage our gospel guns, and see mission accomplished. We have become obsessed with numbers.
But church is not about numbers, it is about people. Every person has a story to tell, a hurt that needs healing, a joy to be celebrated, a life to be lived. I don't what people to ask how many people are in my church, I want to be asked, 'Are those in your church discovering life?'.
When church is about numbers and targets, people become a 'resource', and this strips people of their God given humanity. Yet this is what society does. We have company departments called 'Human Resources', fashion models, cheap labour and consumerism, all of which reduce humanity into a commodity, a target, a number, a resource. So when the targets are reached in church life, they in turn become a resource that we use to go and reach new targets, and the cycle continues. Yet people do not want to be a resource, they want to realise their God given potential. They want to loved.
So one of our challenges as the Church is to transform our thinking and our actions. To love unconditionally. To 'be' with people and journey with them. To 'incarnate' ourselves in their lives, not because they are a target, but because we want to love them.
And I suspect this is where so many arguments arise from within the life of the church. Clayboy highlights the woman in ministry debate which has many streams to it. But I believe one of these is that conservative thinking on this matter reduces woman to a 'resource' that is not good enough to use. It is absolutely absurd and an offence to the Gospel that some streams of the Christian church do not believe women should teach or be Pastor's/Bishops/Ministers. But when people become a 'thing' (and don't be fooled by 'complementarism' or 'equal but different' speech), then it is always an offence to the Gospel.
So as a Kingdom people, looking to a bright future, seeking to model now what will be, we need to be a people that oozes love, grace and enables people to be people. We must not see numbers and targets, resources and tools, but people with stories to tell, lives to lived, hurts to be healed and hearts to be loved.