Today I was reading Leadership magazine. It came as a preview with hopes that I will subscribe. As I paged through I found an interesting article titled, “Showtime! No More.” In it the pastor of a mega-church in Phoenix (one with which I’ve been familiar for years, and to which I have friends who are connected) told a bit about his journey from believing that “entertainment evangelism” was a legitimate way of reaching people to the position he is now embracing.
After suffering a heart attack in 2002 he began a lengthy recovery and the opportunity to visit other churches during his ensuing sabbatical. When he returned to his own congregation he was appalled to see what he had labored to build. It was a place built on the Sunday “show.” A pastor-friend visited their new site shortly thereafter and said to him, “You must die as a church [in your current state] and be born as a mission.”
Soon he asked himself this question: “Could it be that our acreage, buildings, and budgets were interfering with the mission instead of accomplishing it? Why weren’t we producing empowered disciples? What were we missing?"
After months of reflection he came to this:
"Instead of just counting the people and the offerings, now we [will] look for evidence that people are breaking out of their private, cocooned lives and are fully engaged with God and serving him. We want them to do more than grab a cup of coffee in the lobby or meet someone new during the worship gatherings. We want them to go deep with one another. To be 3:00 a.m. friends--the kind of people others could call if they had an emergency. We [will] encourage them to have a mentor and to be a mentor."
I have to say at this point, that this is exactly the conviction that has been driving me and Eric since day one when we landed in Vegas. We know that if this city, or any place, is going to be transformed by the gospel it is going to have to be filled with people who have repented from every false idol and who have become fully committed to serving and honoring the Redeemer and King of the universe in every area of their lives. Building a church of 20,000 in a city of 2,000,000 won't do anything if the extent of our impact would be that a certain 1% of the population disappeared from their neighborhood for 1 1/2 hours every Sunday morning.
Our calling as pastors is to equip God's people for the work of ministry as they become transforming agents in His world.
The pastor highlighted in the article said the same thing in his own words, words that I think are quite helpful:
"In the old days, we protected people's anonymity; today we thrust them into community, doing life together. We used to invite them to attend church; now we invite them to be the church. I used to ask, 'What can we do to get more people to attend our church?' Now I ask, 'How can [we] best equip and empower [God's] people to go be the church in the marketplace where God has called them to serve?'"
He's hit it on the head. What if we were inviting our non-believing friends to other opportunities where they would witness gospel impact in the world. Why wouldn't inviting them to dinner be just as wonderful an opportunity to expose them to God's rich grace as inviting them to a service of worship? Why wouldn't grabbing them to go hiking, or to volunteer at the food bank, or to help tutor at the local school be just as wonderful an opportunity to expose them to God's rich grace?
We want to invite people to see the richness of God's grace in and through his church. To what are we inviting them? Is it to an extra 1 1/2 hour commitment to feel like they are fulfilling their religious duty, or is it to experience and participate in what God is doing to bring light into all dark places? Those two invitations are a world apart. I am convinced that people won't feel like they have anything more to invite others into than a service of worship until they themselves know that they are a part of something much grander in scope and community impact. I wonder how this vibrant kind of Christianity will impact the way our services of worship may look.