I have written in numerous contexts that the church needs to rethink its mission as soon as possible. Sadly, most churches are not doing this.

We must grasp anew the way to do church in the twenty-first century. The message of the gospel does not change but the way we make disciples is changing and must change even more than most people are ready to acknowledge. The complexities of the modern cultural context are unique. The way we gain real access to people's minds and hearts is being altered so quickly that only those who are doing evangelism in the trenches seem to recognize the real significance and power of this hyper-change.

The recently retired U. S. President of the Navigators, Alan Andrews, succinctly sums up what I see when he says:

In my opinion the time has come to do church differently. I am convinced that we must shift our focus from highly programmed ministry to developing Missional/Transformational Communities that are formed as a seamless organic whole. These types of communities are rare and difficult to visualize because we have moved so forcefully to programmatic ministry in the last half of the previous century. . . . Now the climate in America has begun to shift. Much of the culture is beginning to look for integrity and wholeness. Many people are coming from broken backgrounds with deep wounds in their souls. They long for something that provides real relationships, something that provides integration for their lives, and something that fills the longings of their soul. In short, though they are not aware of it, they seek the whole Gospel for their whole lives.

I believe Andrews has stated what is very obvious with unique insight and clarity. Read his statement once again. Just when the church felt that it had mastered the programmatic approach to evangelism and mission the whole game was changed. "The climate in American has begun to shift." Yes, but it has more than begun, it has shifted. And it is not going back to the old way anytime soon. An entire generation has been reared in broken homes and by parents with little or no moral anchor. A whole generation has been raised in a context where they know almost nothing about God or how to think about eternal values and choices. What this generation longs for is relationships, not answers. The answers we have will only matter when there is a real relationship. My generation does not understand this and continues to do church the way we always did it. We cannot "visualize" this, as Andrews says, because we have no reference point for it in our collective experience. I think we learn best by doing and this will be something we must do in order to learn. It will require real faith to do it, something few have these days. But those that do have such faith need to be equipped and encouraged. This is why ACT 3 exists: "To equip leaders in unity for Christ's mission."

I think our present cultural context is far more like the culture the earliest Christians faced than that which my grandparents, or even my parents, faced. This mega-shift is truly remarkable. Let those with eyes to see grasp this powerfully and then begin to ask the truly missional questions that this moment requires of us if we are to be faithful to our own time with the good news of Christ's gospel.

While you are at it pray for ACT 3. This is what my vision is all about. I need both your prayer and financial support it I am to get this message to leaders all across America. I also need your personal support so I can help those leaders who see this way of "doing church differently." It is not easy to communicate this message to my generation since they do not have eyes to see it.

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  1. j edward ladenburger August 2, 2009 at 7:01 am

    As someone in your generation, I too “see it” and have been wrestling within my vestry to intentionally reform our structure/the way we function … thank you for your clear and articulate contribution to rethinking how we spread the Gospel message!

  2. George C August 2, 2009 at 9:03 am

    I think that there is a very good argument that “highly programmed ministry” is a very stunted/retarded version of doing church and that it has been one of the bigger contributing factors to many of the problems within the church, but it is a lot easier than the genuine article, so it will likely not stop anytime soon.
    Fortunately many have been living out the gospel relationally despite what the church inc. that they are part of has been doing.

  3. Wes Wetherell August 2, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Interesting thinking; I long to see this too (and I’m just about in your generation!) Are you seeing this successfully in practice anywhere?

  4. John Mitchell August 3, 2009 at 11:45 am

    I just re-posted (and retitled) the article I wrote for ACT 3 – Footprints in the Sand at Omaha Beach – The Missional Ecclesiology of Jesus. I remain convinced with you John that we the Church must regain our bearings as those who follow Jesus together and liberate this generation to follow Him with us. This is the mission statement of Poiema Church and we are watching God capture unchurched people who then light their culture on fire for Jesus and the gospel. What else is there? thanks John
    – John Mitchell

  5. John H. Armstrong August 3, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    I am seeing this happen and I believe we will see more in the coming decade. The evidence abounds. I am committed to teaching this and spreading this vision in the years that I have to teach and write.

  6. Anthony August 3, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    At risk of oversimplification, it seems Church history supports your position. During the changes, and upheavals of the 5th and 6th centuries, it was monasticism, particularly of the cenobitic variety, that provided the stability that was needed for the emergence of Europe as a distinct civilization in the aftermath of Rome’s disintegration.
    This said, I have a hard time with the idea of “doing church differently.” I realize that what I am objecting to is likely just a matter of phraseology, insofar as your post is actually calling people to a different way of doing ministry. However, sometimes the way we word things orients us to the world in particular ways, and so, I want to cast a critical light on the idea of “doing church.” I will admit that this is a gut level response I am having, and so I will just say that it doesn’t seem right to think of the Church, which is the body and bride of Christ, as something we do. Perhaps this is too mystical, but it is a reality we are incorporated into, it is certainly present within our lives and is in some ways substantiated through our human agency, but it also transcends us both individually and collectively. The Church is an entity established by God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. And so, the idea of “doing” doesn’t seem to do it justice.

  7. John H. Armstrong August 3, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    I agree with you point Anthony but I am not talking about the essence of the church, rather its well-being. I thought that was clear in the way I used the word “do.” I am sure I could improve my communication here and thus I will seek to learn from this comment how to communicate this point better in the future.

  8. John Mitchell August 3, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    In the spirit of over simplification, I think the issue is largely a function of our starting point. If we begin with ecclesiology, we are inevitably driven toward pragmatism, “structure” and, I believe, cultural bias in our expressions as the Body of Christ. But if you begin with Christology and conform your ecclesiology to the missiology of Jesus (a subset of Christology?), you end up with a more Christ-like (missional) approach to being the Church in culture. Does this make sense?

  9. Anthony August 3, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    John A – I think you were clear enough on how you were using the phrase “do(ing) church” regarding your overall point. I am perhaps too sensitive and perhaps overly nuanced about certain shades of meaning.
    John M – I certainly agree that our Ecclesiology should emerge from our Christology. And regarding “being Church in culture,” this conforms nicely with the implication of the incarnation: that God meets us where we are.

  10. Dave Moorhead August 4, 2009 at 1:27 am

    Here is one of the reasons I am so happy to be a church planter! We have no traditions in our local congregation that have to be served and no one can say, “We’ve never done it that way before!” I long to be able to plant a seed that will put missional and transformational DNA in our new fellowship! The problem is, I was raised with the progammatic way of doing church and I’m having to work this all out in my own mind and in my own life! It’s a worthwhile exercise and it’s teaching me to listen carefully to the new believers in our group! John, you have been a great help to me here and I hope you will continue to help me as we move ahead!

  11. Gene Redlin August 5, 2009 at 9:00 am

    I’m with Dave. Being part of 3 church plants tells me that true do overs are the only way out of the box.
    I believe (I know this is controversial) that we are at the beginning of a new reformation. I have sensed it for 15 years. Asked Father to let me be part of it. He did, he is.
    Thanks for this topic. We must break the back of ineffective irrelevant religion in our culture or lose our culture all together. We are close to that today.
    I believe Father would say, “My vision for what you would be in the earth is much different from what you are today…”
    Let’s figure out what God is Doing and follow him…

  12. bill August 9, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    While I haven’t been engaged in the church conversation in some time, I find it hard to believe you’re just getting around to making this point. Granted, the Boomers are lagging behind a bit on this one but I suppose that’s always to be expected. Let’s hope that more of that generation comes to the same conclusion soon.

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