- The church as a place where things happen. This, in McNeal’s view, comes from the Reformation heritage. The church is a place where people where certain rites and sacraments are performed. It operates in predominantly Christian cultures. Adherents “go to church” listen to preaching and teaching, engage in worship and then leave.
- The church as a “vendor of religious goods and services.” This view holds that churches exist in order to provide members with a range of services. Music that they like, opportunities for travel, sports leagues and fellowship are all services that the church provides. Naturally, the churches that do a more effective job of this are able to increase their “market share” within the Christian community.
- The church as “a body of people sent on a mission.” With a carefully crafted mission statement, this church goes forth into the world to accomplish that which God has uniquely called them to do. We determine our mission and then ask God to bless it, though sometimes we might miss altogether what God wants us to do.
Of the four, McNeal’s is the most challenging. The entrepreneur in me, educated in a culture of marketing-driven media, has learned how to “do church better than the Baptists.” Increasing membership by “transfer” has always been easier than going out into the highways and byways and compelling sinners to come to faith. Similarly, it is far easier to determine my course and then invite God along for the journey. That God might not want to purchase a ticket to where I am going either doesn’t occur to me or is, sadly, irrelevant in my way of thinking.
Far riskier, exceedingly more frightening is to perceive what God is doing and then join him in it. Do that and I might find myself leaving my nets to go and follow him (how will my family get along without me?). I might be called upon to take up the prophetic mantle and confront kings while my mentor rides a flaming chariot heavenward to his reward. People who join God in what he is doing have a high mortality rate.
Then again, dying is what I am called to do. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me,” wrote the Apostle Paul. He was dead long before he stood before Nero to discover his earthly fate. If I am living (dying) the way that Christ intends, then I will join him in whatever he is doing, wherever he is going. To do any other is hubris at best and treason at worst.
The more I read about the missional church, the more I begin to wonder . . . is there any other kind?