“Out Of Business”…!?

A couple of days ago I posted a blog about our experience at “Poetry Reading Night”. If you haven’t read it you might want to do so before continuing with this post.

A dear friend of mine and Morgan’s, Jackie, posted the below comment in response to the above (linked) post. Before you read it: Jackie spent a summer with our Intentional Gatherings Ft. Worth crew a couple years ago, and then went back to Austin to start doing some rad stuff. She ended up on staff at The Austin Stone, where the Lord provided her with an incredible opportunity to bring some of what she learned about living in community ON MISSION to the church. She has a heart for true church planting movements, and from what I know of The Stone, they do as well. It may shock you that a staff member of an institutional mega-church would post a comment like this. I can assure you that The Stone knows her heart, and most likely shares the same heart…

Posted by Jackie:

“Man brother, your heart is so encouraging to me, and always seems to speak about what I’ve been wrestling with. Crazy.

This is my question I’m going through…if the institutional church/mega church/whatever is really there for the Kingdom, shouldn’t it’s goal be to put itself out of business? I.E., shouldn’t churches seek to keep the doors swinging so that believers come in, only to be released out into the harvest, where essentially they spend their time and therefore DON’T have time for church as a service and programming. I realize this is a dangerous question, but I just can’t get it out of my head.”

Jackie’s a thinker, and she’s passionate. She GETS movements, and making disciples. Maybe you guys can wrestle through this question with her. What are your thoughts?

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21 thoughts on ““Out Of Business”…!?

  1. I’m going to so no (SHOCKER!), but not for the reasons you think.

    There are 2 types of missionaries:
    – local (reaches lost people where there already is a church presence)
    – pioneer (goes to where there is no church presence and starts lost communities)

    Obviously there are varying degrees of these two. IG’s are pioneering, but not in the sense of starting a church in a Muslim country in which the area you are at hasn’t ever heard of Jesus.

    “shouldn’t churches seek to keep the doors swinging so that believers come in, only to be released out into the harvest.”

    Maybe, but Paul took 3 years before he was ready to be sent out. Do we presume to put time restrictions on the time it takes people to heal and repent of their sinful past? Do we do so by urging them to go, when what they really need is to stay and be healed? Do we do this especially with young leaders even though Paul specifically warns us not to (1 Tim. 3:6).

    We do need to facilitate Christ-centered communities that bleed for the “GO” mission of the kingdom – but we need not put restrictions on what “GO” means.

    If people really are jacked, and our churches are open doors (a term I like better) – then the focus in any area is creating a healthy environment in which to engage with Christ and each other. We need to trust that as we live authentically, GOd will raise up people for the furtherance of his kingdom.

    I think the question is mostly dangerous if we push people out of communities they desperately need to heal in. Being a pioneer tales great spiritual maturity and the willingness to go without community for a while. This should be done with great wisdom, shrewdness and caution. But only because we care as much about the spiritual health of those we are sending, as we do those we are sending them to.

    • I love it Matt. I always cherish our discussion, and am sharpened by your responses. I responded to some of this in an earlier comment to Marsha. (not that you are necessarily seeking a response from me on this=) I do not at all think, and don’t think Jackie would think either, that there is a time limit on sending people out. That if they need to heal that they should do so. However, part of their healing would be engaging in mission (Which can be done within the local context, AND without LEAVING a particular community) Again, like I was saying to Marsha-we’re all called to be “GO” and be “Sent”. We can be a part of the same community FOREVER and still be equipped and sent all throughout the process-which plays a part in our “healing” and sanctification.

      ***Disclaimer*** (For everyone who’s participated above) – I do not necessarily have a “side” i’m on in this issue. Please remember that the words posted in the above blog are not mine, but a friends – haha. I don’t think that Jackie, or myself would actually think for a second that it would be productive or beneficial to close up shop, and shut down every community that operates as an institution and has a big building. Just a question to spark good discussion and provoke thought. From the above comments I think that goal was accomplished. Thank you all for participating! =)

  2. Nice train of thought. When you visit other countries that are not so friendly to religion, there are zero to few corporate churches. The believers meet in homes in small groups and invite those in that are seeking. To answer part of your question, yes, you can do without the huge buildings that we have. To answer another part of the question, I think we are all called to mission-blog coming soon-and that part is well represented in your discussion One of the purposes of the fellowship part of church is the sharpening of our minds and knowledge. For example, if you want to sharpen an axe, you need to grind it with a harder substance. To further the example, for us to expand our knowledge and our faith and to focus our actions on mission, we should possibly meet with others to tool up for the trip.
    That is a life long pursuit. I will never know it all…but I am trying.
    To further your case on mission, it is not only important to know what is in the book, but to do what is in the book. That is the mission part you refer to I think.
    Lastly, we are reminded that when two or more are gathered in My name, there I am also. I do not believe that the only time Jesus shows up is when we are with another believer, but I do believe He is saying it is important to gather together as believers.
    If you believe one of your prime things in life is to Glorify God, one of the ways for me to do that is in corporate worship with other believers worshiping our Father and gearing up for the battle outside and in the mission field.
    I like your thought. I can think of several church buildings that are in the 30 million dollar range that had small groups been the choice as in foreign countries, that could have bought a lot of bibles and plane tickets to put people on field.
    I will close with this note. I have a friend, Barry, who is on mission in Africa. For a few thousand dollars, he builds a tin covered arbor that allows the small villages he tends to gather as new believers and be taught who God is and what we, as Christians are called to do. They continue to bring new converts in and continue to go out seeking more. They have praise and worship and training. They are being sharpened much as you said. When that crop of harvested fruit is ready, they go forth and join in the harvest outside. I hope and pray for a day when they have their area completely saturated. Should they stop coming then because the work is done? I think not because that time will be a great time and the rest of the world awaits!!!!
    Build your faith and share it because if we don’t go, how will they know? Peace to you all, my brothers and sisters. I look forward to the great day.

  3. Wow Aaron! I am so with Jackie’s thought process in so many ways and also echo some of Matt’s comments above…

    This year I have committed to seek God about what the church is and what He means for it to be sans American 21st century cultural tradition. I am continuing to see that the great commission lives on. The church is not a building; it is people. The small group/team ministry/cell meeting/kinship…whatever you want to call it…is where you will find the life of Christ. I have tried to “do away” with organized church in my mind but have simply not been able to as of yet. Here is my rationale thus far as a work in progress….

    The goal of any church should not be to make a name for themselves but to make the name of Jesus famous. As people come to know the Lord through their members, the goal should be to immediately help plug them into small groups similar to IG (i.e. community). The church remains as a training ground. A place to learn scripture. A place to be grounded in truth. A place to be trained in operating in spiritual gifts. A place to worship in larger (sometimes called corporate) community. A place for some to be trained to lead other small groups (communities) or become missionaries to other cities, state, nations. The community that the person is involved in is their spiritual family and the safe place where they find full expression for everything they are learning and grow into full maturity in Christ.

    The church provides a theological safety net and an authority backing for leaders of the smaller communities. Without accountability from a reputable man or woman of God, there is no leader I would feel comfortable submitting under. That being said, the community group does not necessarily need to be comprised of people from the same “church.”

    One final thought is that of pioneers and settlers. Some people are called to be pioneers. They are the Pauls of our generation. They are our missionaries. They have fresh insight and having heard the Holy Spirit are not afraid to run into third world countries or start new movements like IG. Some people are meant to be settlers. They are the people who invest time and energy into the Pauls (Aaron and Jackie) and train them, love them, encourage them to run after their dreams.

    I believe the Kingdom needs both.

    • Thanks Marsha! Very good stuff. One thing I think we must be careful of, however, is to not interchange the words “church” and “institution”. They are not the same thing. To say that “the church” provides something for the smaller communities accidentally makes the two words synonimous when they are not. It’s saying that the institution is the church when it is not. The people that make up the institution are CERTAINLY THE CHURCH. Small communities should not be dependent upon large communities just like large communities aren’t and shouldn’t be dependent upon smaller ones for any of those things. WE ALL ARE, however, in need of one another as the Body of Christ, THE Church-the people of God. We def need accoutability, spiritual covering, etc. (All of these needed things are VERY attainable/possible, if not MORE possible WITHOUT the institution.)

      I also agree about the pioneers and settlers. Not everyone is apostolic and called to “GO” in terms of leaving a particular community. We all are obviously called to “GO”, it just may look very different for each of us with where/how we “GO”. Settlers are still called to be equipped and “GO”, but can still remain a part of a particular community. Again, you can have both settlers and pioneers without the institution…

  4. Matt has some excellent thoughts above that are particularly insightful.

    I’d add that the mega-church, especially in our context, can do a great job of resourcing and equipping many sent people for a broad diversity of mission opportunities, and has the potential to see a greater overall scope in a city/region for how the Gospel can move forward. Some would probably argue that the resources of the mega church could be more efficiently used in a house church context, but my rebuttal would be that the resources were mobilized because of the mega church, and would have remained dormant otherwise.

    Thirdly, in America there is a broad spectrum of Gospel exposure, and we desperately need small expressions of missional community focused on reaching our post-Christian culture, but there is a significant portion of the population locked in Christless-Christianity that the megachurch is doing a vastly more effective job of reaching. Where the megachurch fails in its mission is when it loses sight of the “sent” nature of their people, and calling them to missional engagement (as Jackie talks about). There was some great discussion along these lines at my blog here: http://toddengstrom.com/2009/02/21/attractional-and-missional-theresurgence/.

    Lastly, I believe there is definitive power in large corporate gatherings of believers on mission. The large, attractional gathering is used by God throughout scripture to advance His mission. There are two articles that have been helpful in understanding the interaction of apostolic ministry and local church ministry: http://wciu.edu/foundationsonline/Foundations%20Reader.html/f27_twostructures.pdf (an article by Ralph Winter) and http://toddengstrom.wordpress.com/files/2009/04/bosch_witnesstothe.pdf (the aside by Jonathan Lewis called “Two Forces”).

    Thanks for having this discussion, it’s a great one to chew through!

  5. I know Jackie, and in a lot of ways I would agree. At least if you were to ask me a week ago I would be all down for that. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose of the ‘mega-church’, why God let it happen, and what its impact can be for the Kingdom. Im part of the Austin Stone as well, so much of my examples are pulled straight from there.

    Reasons for the Mega-Church
    There isn’t much that the ‘mega-church’ can do that the ‘organic-church’ can’t do. In fact, I had a good phone conversation the other day with Matt Carter, who God used to start the Austin Stone. He said himself that the ‘mega-church’ isn’t necessary, or we wouldn’t see the incredible church planting movements that we see in places like China. But what IS beautiful about the mega-church are its resources and its ability to mass-mobilize. The Austin Stone has mobilized hundreds of people to volunteer at a local high school that is being threatened with closure due to its poor performance… something that would be hard to do without such a large network of believers. Something else we see from the mega-church are its resources. The ability to be trained by people who have been stretched by God over a lifetime, and who have tried and failed. The resources I have access to through the Stone are endless!

    But here lays the ‘problem’ with a ‘mega-church’ like the Austin Stone. We have 5,000 people coming in regularly on Sundays and less than 10% of them are actually on mission with The Stone. There is an inability somewhere in there to send these mass amounts of people into the harvest. But say we did, and say that ALL went into the harvest. Would the mega-church die because people are busy in the harvest? I don’t think so because I don’t think we’ll ever reach that end where people are no longer needing to be fed by The Stone. I think God has His hand on it and I think it has a place in Austin to equip and send out as long as it exists. But as long as it realizes its ability to be the Church as Christ has called it only operates in full through relational contexts.

    The Way it Came About
    Matt Carter himself told me he didn’t set out to plant a massive church, its just the way God brought it into fruition. Matt also didn’t know a lick about ‘organic church’ or any of that cool stuff. So what we ended up with were masses of people showing up for something, hopefully the Spirit, and from there having to figure out what it looks like to get these masses OUT. Wouldn’t it have been cool if it went from bottom up instead of top-down? What if hundreds of little ‘churches’ began and then we figured out how to move them into a network of churches? Connections at the Austin Stone have a little thing that says, The Austin Stone is a network of missional communities. I like it and I hope it becomes truer and truer everyday. Like I’ve said before, I think God uses the mega-church and I think there is a place for it, but I strongly believe (Matt agrees) that the majority of the American Church CANNOT consist of mega-churches due to a couple of reasons:
    1. Most Americans wouldn’t set foot in one. How can we expect the lost to come find us?
    2. The mega-church itself does a poor job reducing the ‘lostness’ of a city. To what extent are 5,000 who are pouring into the Stone lost persons? Most of them are believers from other congregations. When the cool, new, mega-churches come around, everyone just pours into that.

    The country needs authentic church planting that is rooted in disciple-making. Something I’ve said before and that Im sticking to: I’m convinced that not until we can suck all of our own glory out of church planting and have the smallest part in it to allow the Spirit to move in the biggest ways, will we know what church planting is really about… which is disciple making. And we have not glory in disciple making, because its all the Lords.

  6. “It may shock you that a staff member of an institutional mega-church would post a comment like this.”

    Yes despite what some of you think, we are not all from the spawn of Satan.

    • Haha! Jordan you crack me up. Hope that comment didn’t come across negative to you guys. =) The fact is that I starting hearing comments like this while at Northwood, so I know we all share a very similar heart. Look forward to seeing you guys in a couple weeks.

  7. Wow, that’s an awesome question and really provides a new perspective on the role of the institutional church. I think that would be a real good role for it to have. It’s interesting though because many people in the institutional church think you should be getting more involved in the church and programming as you grow closer to God but this is the exact opposite and in my opinion, this sounds much better.

    Kudos!

    • Wow! Good point Jon, I hadn’t thought about it like that. You’re so right-typically we get “more involved” in a particular church by volunteering a lot, joining the classes/programs/etc., which may be opposite of “equipping & sending”. Good stuff.

  8. Kay, already tons has been said here, so just gonna throw one little thought in….

    Aaron, we’re just thinking about two seperate things you said, and if there is really a compability between them…

    First:

    “One thing I think we must be careful of, however, is to not interchange the words “church” and “institution”. They are not the same thing. To say that “the church” provides something for the smaller communities accidentally makes the two words synonimous when they are not. It’s saying that the institution is the church when it is not. The people that make up the institution are CERTAINLY THE CHURCH.”

    and then:

    “I don’t think that Jackie, or myself would actually think for a second that it would be productive or beneficial to close up shop, and shut down every community that operates as an institution and has a big building.”

    We are super in agreement with the first statement, in that the Body of Christ exists in some measure within the confines of the Institutions. From the outside looking in, this is plain to see, if we only take an honest look… But, it would also seem that our ability to understand that the Body of Christ isn’t bound by those artificial boundaries, is typically only able to be understood, once we have allowed ourselves to step outside of them…

    Now, we’re not saying we ever expect them all (the mega-churches) to close up shop, but it seems that as long as there are people operating within them, their ability to grasp the true nature of the Body of Christ is severely limited, if not made altogether impossible…

    • Very good guys. I completely agree, and think we are saying something similar. I DO feel that it is very difficult/nearly impossible to “grasp the true nature of the Body of Christ” while inside those artificial boundaries….but at the same time feel that there’s a better/more productive way to handle our current situation than to simply shut em’ down overnight…like some of the “what if?” questions we all used to post on Twitter: prob one of my favorites is: “What if we transformed all of our church buildings into community centers that focused on serving the cities/neighborhoods they’re in?” Etc. Thanks for the input! I was anxiously waiting when i’d see you guys’ names in the comments box!

  9. Pingback: Out of Business | A Holy Discontent « Ethereal Thought Train

  10. cool… yeah, I think we are coming from the same perspective here… it’s like what it boils down to is not compromising what is taught in scripture, while at the same time recognizing the reality of the times in which we live. God’s grace extends to us all, and He certainly doesn’t turn His back on anyone simply because there are layers of tradition that are there… God’s love surpasses all of those obstacles, they don’t slow Him down! Blessings to you guys, (baby’s almost here, isn’t it?) D & H

    P.S. We like the community center idea too….

  11. Hey there Snow,

    Some really good thoughts have already been posted. Great thinking, y’all.

    I don’t think this is necessarily a “model” thing–mega, simple, or everything in between. This is a discipleship thing.

    It seems as if we compartmentalized discipleship to several events or activities (reading the Bible, attending a service, involvement in a small group, volunteering, praying) when in fact discipleship must be holistic–involving all of life. Discipleship happens just as much when we’re feeding the poor in Jesus’ name as when we’re reading the Bible, or when we’re serving our co-workers as when we’re praying. No matter what model or expression of church we’re in, we’ve got to face facts–overall, we’re not doing a good job of making disciples.

    Disciples of Jesus are agents, not simply citizens, of the kingdom. Yes, there are some who will be apostolically gifted (and thus more pioneering), but those of us who are apostolically and pastorally gifted are to equip the rest of the church to operate as agents of the kingdom–to go and be Jesus in every aspect of life at all times, not just “during church.”

    This won’t happen until we repent of the consumerism that has such a tight grip on many in the church. It also won’t happen until we take a raw, hard, painful look at our churches and determine in what environment disciples are made best… and then making that environment our priority. Finally, we need to get over ourselves–our “hip” factor, our technology, our innovative services (those things aren’t necessarily bad, but in many churches, these things have taken priority). Jesus said that they’ll know we’re his disciples, not by our services or technology or hip-ness, but by our love for each other–real, sacrificial, incarnational, active love. When we do that in real life, where those outside of Christ can experience it, Jesus will become famous because we’ll be on mission with Him.

  12. And…she speaks!!! 🙂

    First of all, I really LOVE this discussion, both Aaron and I think it is incredibly healthy, and I have learned so much from it already…beautiful. I am a firm believer that the “wrestle” with all these questions is sometimes exactly where God wants us to be. When the “wrestle” is to continue seeking how we can most fully glorify God and be his hands and feet, then it is a very good thing.

    I also think this is a lot of the way Jesus lived out his ministry. He preached in parables that his audience didn’t understand at first. Instead, he forced them to go out and think about what the Kingdom of God really is…in the same way, I believe that’s what conversations like this do. And I love it, did I say that already?

    I would try to answer to everyone’s comments, but that would be too much, so kuddos to Aaron for taking care of that, I echo many of his comments.

    I completely agree that mega church is there for a purpose, and as someone recently pointed out to me, churches are run by sinful, nasty people, so naturally we screw it up a lot. I have been on staff with Austin Stone for over a year, so closing up shop right now would put me out of a job (not to mention incredible relationships and major spiritual growth), but more importantly I believe it would leave a hole in the St. John community (of which I also live), more on this further down. I should also mention that one of my bosses, Todd Engstrom, also posted on here, and I believe that shows how mega church can be a healthy part of this larger conversation too. Todd and I, as well as others on staff, have these conversations often, and I’ve been blessed to be in an environment which allows and supports me to do such, as long as I’m seeking Christ FIRST in all of it.

    The community center part mentioned is where I believe mega church can serve perhaps its greatest purpose. Churches should be so anchored in their communities that if you took them out, they would leave a gapping hole. Think about it! If you shut the doors today, how many people in the community would only notice because traffic isn’t as bad on Sundays…Part of my job at Stone has been mobilizing the body to get involved in various opportunities in St. John’s (the poorest neighborhood in East Austin). I could NOT have done that without access to such a ready and willing body of people. So I absolutely see its value and place, and praise Christ for it.

    And yet I still question…is it a bad thing? I think not. I see myself as a hybrid between both worlds, on staff at a mega church with a simple church planter’s heart-beat. I question because church planting isn’t commanded by Jesus, making disciples is. And when only 10% of your church congregation were non-believers coming in, that HAS to keep you up at night. At least it does me.

    Whew! Keep em coming people…

  13. Pingback: Out of Business | A Holy Discontent « Ethereal Thought Train

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