Have we Lost
Our Sense of Mission?
The Problem With Comfortable Christianity
Look at the guy in the scene above. He looks so serene, so peaceful. Ahhh! Close your eyes and you can almost imagine yourself floating in that water, not a care in the world, while others pamper you with scented oils, massage therapy, soothing music and more. No doubt, this man is enjoying a refreshing, healing experience. Sign me up! We all need days like this — sabbaths for body and soul. We all need God-ordained periods of rest. In fact, as followers of Jesus, we are meant to live everyday within the sabbath of God, who is Christ. Ultimately, our rest is in Him alone.
But there is a problem. Spiritual rest is set amidst earthly labor, and the challenge of that labor is increasing. In fact, “labor” has a dual meaning here: work (calling, toil, occupation, responsibility), and eschatological birth pangs. A second problem: as time advances, and the birth pangs of the Return of Christ intensify, the Body of Christ has becoming increasingly organized mentally and emotionally around the pursuit of comfort in disproportionate measure to our mission.
What is the answer? Shift our identity, shift our mindset.
Medicating our mission
Relative to the intensity of our mission, both corporately and individually, the modern Christian is not so different than any other person. We easily stress out. In fact, let’s be honest: people seem to always feel stressed these days. If there is true pandemic, it’s likely stress. As Millennials and Gen Z’ers are fond of saying, adulting is hard. Life is so dang busy and people seem more fragile than ever. How do we get some relief?
Pondering these various dynamics, a recent headline in The New York Post caught my eye:
NOW A EUROPEAN-
It almost hit me in the face. As if the letters themselves rearranged before me, encapsulating the issues briefly described above, I saw in one simple, single headline . . .
C H U R C H
The article went on to explain that an abandoned Army barracks on Governors Island in New York City had recently been renovated and turned into a luxury spa. Honestly, the variety of services they offered all sounded wonderful: luxury foot baths, sauna treatments, a Vichy shower (whatever that is), and various massages with both spiritual and physical goals. Relaxation rooms, fireplace rooms, food and drink service focused on health, wellness, and relaxation. Under normal circumstances, that sounds like a little, restful slice of heaven!
But not this time. This time, reading that story, I was agitated. No matter how luxurious the experience sounded, I couldn’t vicariously enjoy an imagined spa treatment in that place. Instead, the more I read the article, the more my stomach sank. I’ve felt this divine agitation for years now, deep in my gut. Rather than fading over time, it’s grown. In truth, I’m a happy person. I love God and I cherish the people of God. I love the rich history of faith in the earth. Furthermore, I planted and pastored a church for eleven years, so I’ve seen the church at its worst and I love what it can be at its best. Nevertheless, having worked in some form of ministry for 30+ years, I’ve become increasingly aware of, and unsettled with, the trajectory we’re on. It is the same trajectory we’ve been on for 500 years or more, which means we are that much more on target . . . or that much less.
“We need to quit playing games and finally be the church!” a well-meaning reformer will often say. Wait a second, after 500 years of Protestant reformation, we’re still trying to be the church? Is that the answer? If it’s the answer, why hasn’t it worked? What will magically change next time we even more become the church? I used to say pretty much the same thing, but I’ve come to realize (with shock!) how much of a circular argument that actually is. It is like a snake eating its own tail, devouring its own logic, begging a question it refuses to actually ask, i.e. is CHURCH actually the thing Jesus promised to build, and therefore the thing that needs reformation? If not, then becoming the problem is certainly not going to present us with answers!
Jesus promised to build . . . X?
In point of fact, I assure you, Jesus promised to build His EKKLESIA, not the church. These two words are not equal, nor do they produce the same reality. The English word church is a widely acknowledged mistranslation required by King James in the famous Authorized Version of 1611. Read that again and be as shocked as you need to be, but James had personal, theological, and political reasons for requiring this. (I won’t belabor that point here; if you’re interested in the details, see my book, Ekklesia Rising). Furthermore, the King James Bible was such a beautiful, important, history-shifting work that we’ve accepted the translation itself as divine, not just its source material. As a result, for five centuries our seminaries have openly claimed that the root word of church is ekklesia, even though it is not and they knew it (look up ‘church’ in any English dictionary, you’ll see). Those who admitted the error said the two words were “close enough.”
But they aren’t.
Mind you, Jesus said exactly what He meant. Who are we to substitute our word for His? Furthermore, if at its best the church is not the mission of Jesus, how can we truly find our mission within the wrong identity?
In light of that, I have a bold thesis, which I will state as a question: is “church” something we need to reform, or is it a mindset we need to abandon — a paradigm of language, functionality, mission, priority, revelation and tradition — that actually prevents us from ever truly reforming?
Stated another way: are we truly trying to become the church, or are we meant to finally become the ekklesia? What if nostalgia for our best and brightest moments is keeping us from the glory of our true calling?
Make it or break it time
Time is interesting in its duality. Time can mature a thing, but it can also wear it out, break it down. Something can ripen, or something can rot. How a thing starts can end up fulfilling its purpose, or deviating from it. In this we have the conundrum of what a thing is created to be, and what it becomes over time.
Exhibit A: “Army barracks becomes spa.”
I found myself wondering if any living servicemen who trained in those barracks were to visit — men who might have lost buddies in the war — what mixture of feelings would they feel to see their history turned so? Their blood and sweat, their labor. A training ground for war, camaraderie, discipline, and the grim mission of victory, over time, had transformed itself into an escapist place of wealth and luxury . . . because that’s what the people wanted.
Are you getting my point?
Yes, I’m talking about the deeply spiritual realities of personal rest vs. corporate mission, but I’m also talking about original intent — divine intent — and the charter of our assembling. Why do we assemble? Where and for what purpose? Consider that sabbath day is only 1/7th of the week. The rest of the week involves labor, purpose, accomplishment. That’s why they call it a “work week.” Vacation is the exception to that rule, not the rule itself. By focusing on the sheep and the day, we’ve made sabbath the entire church experience.
I don’t deny that life is hard. So in our hectic, stressful modern culture (also add entitled, immediate and narcissistic), how can churches rally people to the mission of Christ in the earth? Simply put, they can’t, and nearly every Barna Group Report released for the last ten years proves it. In fact, churches aren’t built for mission. Kingdom-expanding, governmental authority and Christological purpose are simply not intrinsic to the word we chose in place of the word Jesus chose: ekklesia. So for churches to succeed in this environment, they have to provide more and more programs and need-based services while simultaneously asking less and less of their people to satisfy the true, unstated mission: attendance. As a result, busyness replaces significance. Churches are often filled to the brim with the equivalent of busy-work in junior high, and people are more empty than ever. That’s because it’s not about activity, it’s about 1) resolve, 2) focus, and 3) mission.
Resolve, Focus, Mission
Think about politely asking a militia man in the American Revolution whether he felt like showing up to battle on a cold, wet early morning. Think about what we expect from firemen, police officers, or senators. We expect them to show up with a sense of mission and resolve in spite of the challenge or danger. Show up for the blazing inferno, show up to cast your vote on that crucial legislation. The militia man doesn’t ask for comfort, he asks: Where is my post? Now consider how we have infantilized the Body of Christ to the point that they resent any request that inconveniences them. What makes the difference?
Identity + Mindset
The Minutemen (militia of the Revolutionary War) were made up of farmers, blacksmiths and candlemakers. Ordinary people, not warriors. But once they joined the militia, by accepting a different corporate identity with a different mission, it shifted the way they viewed demands placed upon their time and resources They joined a war tribe with a mission (securing the independence of our nation). Thus, hardship wasn’t an impediment, it was an expected fact. The mission became greater than their lives. This is how a war tribe thinks.
Mind you, if there is no war, a war tribe isn’t necessary. But there’s one big problem with that: the Bible is filled with war. Scripture begins with a serpent who was already an active rebel agent by the time Eve encountered it in the garden. The same story progresses on a continuum toward a conclusion filled with visions of war against that same “ancient serpent” (Rev. 12:9). As Revelation 12:7 succinctly states, “Now war arose in heaven.” Spiritual, cosmic conflict frames our existence as humans. For six millennia, everything and everyone between Genesis and Revelation has been caught in that struggle, which is why Paul goes to pains to clarify who our enemy is: “We do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but principalities and powers” (ESV).
“We are not fighting
enemies, but against
evil rulers and authorities
of the unseen world”
– Eph. 6:12, NLT
Question: when was the last time your church wrestled or fought in unseen realms?
No, “church culture” isn’t a war tribe, nor will it ever be. More than ever, it’s a spa day, and Sunday is our big day. We have increasingly shifted from a mobilizing force to a medicating one, continually trying to reassure people, destress them, boost their confidence, fix their families, etc.
Church is Tony Robbins + Jesus. Ouch, I don’t even like writing that! But to a degree, it’s true. (Don’t get me wrong, people need to be trained, healed, equipped, and connected. But that is unto something).
If we could compare the thing man has built to alternate organizations and stack those together to form a composite illustration, I would suggest that church looks like this:
- CHURCH = Hospital, School, Concert, Spa, Community Center
Meanwhile, properly understood, the ekklesia looks more like this:
- EKKLESIA = Parliament, Supreme Court, Army, Embassy, Air Force, SEAL team, militia
These outcomes (or expressions) are not accidental, but fundamental to the meaning and intent of the two words that form them. Words contain ideas, and language creates culture. So the origin and meaning of church has produced exactly the culture of the word itself. Meanwhile, ekklesia is waiting to be realized. This is the Mindset Shift. This is the Identity Shift.
“Words create ideas.
Language creates culture.”
Thankfully, I believe this shift has already begun. So here I am, prophesying: the vital, necessary reformation of “church culture” and “church thinking” is unfolding before our eyes. The question is: will you join?
The Next Reformation
The shift is happening as you read, and it’s growing fast. It will eventually be known as one of the biggest reformations of all time. The Holy Spirit is radically upgrading our true sense of mission and purpose far beyond our Sunday morning routine.
In short, we are finally beginning to become the ekklesia of Christ.
Before I close, let me come at this from a different angle. While there is no formula for the Christian life — it’s a relationship, not a rule — the famous Westminster Shorter Catechism is a good place to start: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
That is a classic phrase, and I love it, but I want to attempt my own formulation: Delight in God, rest in Christ, but labor on Earth. Not any labor mind you. Do what you were born to do. Discover that thing in the design of God and then do it as an individual with your whole heart. Similarly, our corporate labor must come out of the design of God, as well, or it will be a frustrated, frustrating labor with much effort and little impact. The psalmist said, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain.” I suggest that we have labored to build the house of God with a misguided blueprint called church. Church has done many good and valuable things, many Biblical things, and those things must continue. However, when it comes to our core mission, I would say we have not yet begun to operate as ekklesia. Let us commit to building the Kingdom, and Jesus promises to build His ekklesia.
“Delight in God
Rest in Christ
Labor on Earth”
Adam’s mission is no less ours. Can we accept that? Could we begin to surge forward, filled with the Holy Spirit, filled with mission and purpose? My friend, if you are reading this, I don’t have an axe to grind, but I do have a vision of what we could be. I have a revelation I can’t ignore. So I carry this burden, this hope, and in the end utterly confident in the leadership of Jesus to bring forth that which He desires.
Covid course corrections
If any good came from the Covid pandemic, it was the splash of cold water thrown in the face of the church, helping us realize we are practically useless outside of Sunday mornings. For generations, everything has been built around those precious 90 minutes. We plan, prepare, and program, then say we’ve accomplished what Jesus wants. Meanwhile, the other 166 hours of culture remain mostly untouched, untransformed. Our priorities (time, money, energy) often do not reflect the hell-busting charter we were given.
But God is moving! Out of the bones of church-thinking, an ekklesia-minded company is rising, composed of living epistles, maturing sons and daughters who serve and love others while actively governing their territories as faith-filled watchmen and intercessors who are preparing the earth for the return of the King.