Justin Hiebert

Catalyzing Change

Insulated Christianity

Posted on 10 Mar 2014 in Ministry, missional theology | 3 comments

I enjoy camping. I like the long hours of hiking, spending time out doors, the smell of a campfire, and a night under the stars. I’ve also become somewhat of an avid camping gear collector. I like buying new things and trying them out, trying to see what works and what’s just a gimmick.

In testing different gear, I’ve discovered one small thing that makes a huge difference when the temperature plummets: a hooded style sleeping bag (mummy bag). Crawling in one of these, as opposed to the traditional style rectangle bag makes all the difference on a cold night. Your head is covered, and the cord can be pulled tight keeping you completely free from the oppressing cold outside. I’ve spent the night next to someone that didn’t have this feature on their sleeping bag and the difference was a miserably long and cold night for them, and a warm comfortable night for me, all because my head was covered in addition to my body.

The difference of that hooded insulation makes all the difference on long wintery nights while the snow is falling.

Sometimes, I think the church is like the hooded mummy bag. We try our hardest to insulate ourselves from the world around us. We say we care about the community, we claim to care about reaching our neighbors, but most of the time our lives are filled with things that protect us from them.

And there’s a fairly easy well to tell.

Take a second before reading on, and grab a pen and a piece of paper and divide the paper into two columns.

Love-Thy-Neighbor-Sign-K-9538On the left side of the paper, list all of the activities that your church does for the church members. It’s probably a fairly lengthy list, isn’t it? Bible studies, worship services, small groups, and gender specific activities like a men’s breakfast or a women’s prayer group. Are non-members welcome at these events? Sure. But they aren’t (if were honest) the primary target. We design, whether we know it intentionally or not, the worship service for the Christian and the same is true of most ministries. Bible studies seek to grow church members, not evangelize or disciple new people in faith.

Now take the right side of your paper and list the activities that your church does solely for nonmembers.

[pullquote]Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”[/pullquote]

The list is much shorter isn’t it? Your church may have a meal that caters to non church people, a homeless ministry, a canned food drive for the local food bank, or a push to volunteer at the crisis center during the holiday season, but the reality is that much of the assets in our church are tied up ministering and catering to the already Christian. These outreach exclusive ministries (if our churches even has one) usually takes a minimal amount time and/or money and don’t affect a large percentage of our churches.

In contrast to this, many churches spend a lot of time, money, and resources for members of the church. Bible studies meet, prayer groups gather, amps get turned up, and sermons are written primarily for the already convinced and believing.

Are any of these things bad? Certainly not, they are just out of proportion.

The average church spends roughly 85% of it’s resources looking inward (church members), leaving only 15% to serve the community and neighborhood around the church; and as Alan Hirsch has noted the current church model is only capable of reaching somewhere between 12% and 30% of the population, meaning that the services our traditional churches currently offer are only capable of reaching a minority of the population with the majority of the budget.

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So how does the church proceed?

 

  1. We need to embrace the centrality of mission. It is clear throughout Scripture that the God of the Bible is a God who sends. From Genesis through Revelation, God calls his people to go and to share the Good News. The church at its core should be about equipping and sending our missionaries into the local community.
  2. We need to rethink our concept of church. First and foremost, the church is not a place we go, it is who we are. Second, the church stands unique in it’s calling in that it exists for the sake of othersThe church fails when it sees itself as an institution or building and not as a living, breathing organism.
  3. We need to examine how our budgets, ministries, and activities balance and reflect our desire to reach our neighbors. If we claim to love our neighbors and have a desire to reach them, but our lives and monetary expenditures don’t reflect that, its resounds like a clanging symbol and is void of true love. A balanced budget is about more than just ending the year ‘in the black’, instead it is about making sure our actions and giving match our words.
  4. We need to embrace a community model of church and function, not a position or leader based model. The truth, is that I’ve never once had someone come up to me and complain that I wasn’t doing a good enough job equipping them to make disciples, but I have had people come up and tell me they were leaving the church because I wasn’t doing a good enough job of feeding them. Spiritual growth and maturity is not the responsibility of a sole individual (the pastor) but of personal ownership and life in the community.

I’m reminded of the Apostle John who once penned, “Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

For the church, we must not only claim to love our neighbors, we must really live like it. Our actions must match our words, our budgets must reflect our desires.

May our churches be found faithful.

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Got some thoughts? Were you challenged? Have something to add? Chime in below and let me know!

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Justin Hiebert

Leadership Catalyst - Entrepreneur - Coach at JSHiebert Leadership Coaching
I am a Business and Life Coach in both non-profit and for profit settings. I coach leaders, executives, and pastors in areas of vision, clarity, and values. In relationship coaching I focus on healthy and sustainable relationships, and in leadership development roles I catalyze change for individuals and groups to thrive. I also consult churches and organizations on how to train new leaders and create a healthy culture. In addition to that, I am an Anabaptist pastor in the Denver metro area. I specialize on topics that include: missional theology, discipleship, culture and the church in today’s society. I am married to my wonderful wife Elise and we have three kids. I grew up and now work in the United States Mennonite Brethren Church (USMB) and love the people and history of the Mennonite Brethren faith. I am a graduate of Tabor College with a dual degree in Youth Ministry and Christian Leadership, a graduate of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary with a Masters of Divinity, and a Doctoral Student and Bethel Seminary. I also teach college classes in areas of Bible, Communication, and Business.

Latest posts by Justin Hiebert (see all)

  • “Insulated” is a great descriptor for many local churches right now. The suburban church that is set off by itself, surrounded only by parking lots comes to mind. I think a challenge for churches physically positioned in this way will be to find a way to live missionally at all. Sure, individual members (and groups) can engage their neighborhoods and places, but the leadership of these churches will have to cast a vision that can sustain the engagement of their communities.

    The church I attend is positioned in this way and they have planned a ten year commitment to serve neighborhood in another part of town. It’s not perfect but it’s a step. In more urban settings the places and ways to serve may be more obvious, but I think suburban churches will need that vision (with concrete steps) provided to make this (needed) paradigm shift.

    • Great word Josh, and glad to hear the steps your church is making. It’s a tough balance, and one that we should try to walk with integrity. While related concepts, I think it looks different (as you point out) to mobilize individuals or groups for mission than it does a church or organization. Tough work, but necessary.

  • Crescibene’s Lilac Farm

    To quote you. “For the church, we must not only claim to love our neighbors, we must really live like it. Our actions must match our words, our budgets must reflect our desires.”…..AMEN

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