Choose your paradigm: Membership or Missional. (Part 1)


February 15, 2015.

I have been listening to a lot of sermons and podcasts recently that have dealt with the mission of the church and how we need to relight our fire. Of particular note was the distinction between two different paradigms in Christianity that we need to be aware of to choose the one that Jesus set forth. These two paradigms are the membership paradigm and the missional paradigm. In this post and the next, I would like to lay out some of what I see as the characteristics of each paradigm in order to honestly evaluate ourselves to see which one we fall into. There is only one that was set forth by Jesus. David Livingston has a famous quote that reads “God only had one Son, and He was a missionary.” Charles Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” But more importantly than any quote are the words of Jesus. Before He left this world physically, He gave His disciples one mission: “Go make disciples.” He called them to be missionaries. He calls us to be missionaries.

Which paradigm do you fit into?

Membership Paradigm

1. Defines spirituality by what you do in the church building. “I am at church every time the doors are open.” Have you ever heard someone say that? I think I have been guilty of using this phrase in the past to describe my Christianity. Even if we never use this phrase, this concept is deeply rooted in so many us. The membership paradigm defines spirituality by what you do in the four walls during services.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
(Romans 12:1-2)

Is it important to meet together? Yes. Is it important that worship spring forth from those meetings? Absolutely. But Christianity is so much more than that. Church services account for about 2.4% of your week (assuming you go to 3 hours on Sunday and 1 hour on Wednesday). What do you do with the other 97.6%? Your spirituality should be defined by your life, not how many services you attend, how many songs you lead or how often you are called on to say a prayer at church. If you are not defining your spiritual walk by each step you take daily, then can you really say you are walking in the light (see I John 1:5-10)? Are you presenting your body as a living sacrifice apart from the period of time between the opening and closing prayer?

We are not called to be people who go to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. We are called to be the church every day.

2. Is mostly concerned about the rules. It’s hard to hear this statement without thinking about the Pharisees. They are the prime examples when it comes to rule keeping. But here’s the thing about the Pharisees- when it came to the law (with a few notable exceptions), they had it down. They had whittled the law down to a science, and they knew it. However, in their keeping of the letter of the law, they had missed the concepts that the law was trying to teach them. Hear the words of Christ.

 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
(Matthew 23:23)

Did you hear His message? They had missed the point by neglecting justice, mercy and forgiveness. They were so concerned with the rules and making sure everyone was doing everything exactly right that they themselves had misread the law! Sometimes we think that if we can just get worship services right (in which our personal preferences often become ‘law’, just like the Pharisees), then we will have done what we need to in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven. In doing so, the Pharisees missed the Messiah. Have we missed Him too?

The Pharisees were not the only ones with this mindset. Do you remember Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well? When she perceived that Jesus was a prophet, what is the first question that she asked?

“The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
(John 4:19-24)

She realizes that she is talking with at least a prophet, so the most pressing question she asks is about who is right about worship! It should also be noted that this question comes immediately after Jesus addresses sin in her life. She seems to avoid addressing her sin by trying to justify her worship. “Well, at least we are worshipping correctly!” Notice that Jesus doesn’t answer her question with what she was looking for; He tells her that the day is coming when true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth.

How often do we fall into the same thinking. In our culture today, we often get so caught up in arguments between our different fellowships (or even within our own fellowship) that this becomes our view of the mission field. We feel like we must win the arguments, and thus the people who we seek to teach the most are those in other churches as opposed to those in no church at all. Perhaps this is too simplified, but it would seem to me that people who are in other churches, even if they are in error, have a better chance of learning the truth than those who are not a part of the church at all.

We consider it a victory if we can just keep the church exactly the way it was 50 years ago, even if we haven’t seen a lost soul come to Christ in a year. This, my friends, is a membership paradigm. It is more concerned about being right inside the church building than reaching those outside.

If we are doing everything exactly right inside the building, but ignoring the great commission (see below), then we have forfeited our calling.

3. Cares more about keeping church members happy than reaching the outside world. Perhaps this point should actually be number one, for it is one of the biggest indicators to test to see if your church operates under a mission paradigm or a membership paradigm. It seems that today we are more and more concerned with keeping our members happy, even at the cost of losing influence with the outside world. We have become inwardly focused instead of outward. We have lost the singular mission set by Jesus Himself:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:18-20)

Of course I wasn’t going to get through a post about missions without using this passage. It should be who we are. We are not called to be comfortable. We are called to seek and to save the lost. Let’s go back to the story of the woman at the well. What did Jesus tell the disciples when they came back and were shocked that he was talking to the Samaritan?

“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”
(John 4:35)

We have one mission in life, and that is to bring the gospel to the world. When I hear phrases like “our children are the future of the church,” it usually makes me cringe. Two reasons. First, it is likely that our children are already the church. But secondly, and more importantly, when we say this, it shows how focused we are inwardly. We should not rely on our children being the ‘future of the church.’ Our churches shouldn’t grow solely by our members having children. The future of the church relies on how effectively we are spreading the gospel currently. We should see the future of the church when we lift up our eyes and see the fields are white for harvest. I believe we are so focused on keeping our children in the church that we neglect to do the one thing that would be most impactful- showing our children what it means to go into all the world and teach the gospel. You won’t have to worry so much about teaching your child the importance of Christianity if they see you demonstrate the importance in your daily life. Spread the gospel to the lost, and you will teach your children in the process.

So, the next time your church has a decision to make, ask the question: “Are we making this decision to make our members more comfortable, or are we making this decision because it will spread the gospel to those outside of Christ more effectively?”

4. Tends towards complacency and apathy. The membership paradigm says that if all things are going as usual, then everything is fine. In fact, it often says that this is the mark of being rich in Christ. If we continue to congregate in our walls, do the same things and maintain our own people, then times are good. There was a church like this in the first century that was in need of a wake up call:

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
(Revelation 3:14-17)

I see the the Laodicean church in the American church vividly. We claim to be spiritually rich, when so often we are on the point of bankruptcy. We think everything is going smoothly and we get complacent. When is the last time you talked about Jesus to a friend or coworker? When is the last time you had a bible study with someone? When is the last time you looked at someone who was outside of Christ and actually saw them as a soul bound for destruction?

Christianity is not about going to church on Sundays. Our mission is not to only make sure that we are saved. We are called to be missionaries, regardless of location or occupation. This is what I fear that so many christians truly don’t understand. We see mission work as something that some people do in foreign lands, or even domestically. We see evangelism as something that is the preacher’s or elders’ job to do. But this is not what Jesus said. If you have surrendered to the will of Christ, you will seek to do His will; Jesus will is that all people be saved (see I Timothy 2:1-4 and II Peter 3:9). As christians, we have all been specifically and individually called to seek and save the lost (see Matthew 28:18-20).

Churches are dying left and right, across this country. Why? I believe it is because we have shifted the mission of Jesus. Instead of reaching out, we have turned to reaching in; under this paradigm, your church will more than likely die. Remember what the Lord told the church at Ephesus who had left their first love: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” The Spirit does not uphold churches that have forfeited on the singular mission of Christ.

This change, if it is to happen, needs to happen at an individual level. We are the church, thus to see a change in the church, we must ourselves change. So let’s ask the question. Are you the missionary, or the mission field?

Suggested Reading: Matthew 28, I Corinthians 9.

Be the light of the world.



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