Today’s airline travel conditions encourage traveling light–security checks that require disrobing in public and disassembling electronics, increased charges for checked luggage. Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Take no gold or silver, or copper in your belts. No bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or staff . . .” (Matthew 10:9-10) It will only cause the security people to look at you funny.
Frequently when I talk with people about the future mission of the church, we can’t quite seem to get past all of the programs, personnel, building that we collected on previous trips into the small carry on luggage we need for the future. We’re like the people who have taken an endless series of slides and organized them in a library of projector wheels only to discover that few people still have their projectors and the lamps needed to illuminate them are really hard to find. That the pictures have faded and the images dulled does not negate the value of the experiences they reflect. It is simply an indication that the future will look quite different from the past. We need new travel clothes to manage the rugged terrain ahead of us. And this means shedding the old travel clothes and it means leaving behind the souvenirs we’ve stowed away in those pocket.
The Church needs to travel light so that we can offer travel light.
Traveling Light means shedding the clothes of management and adopting the clothes of clothes of disciple-making. The church’s call hasn’t changed. It remains what it always has been—to make disciples of Jesus Christ. When Jesus commissioned the twelve he sent them to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6). Jesus sent the Disciples to people who were like the Disciples. Sometimes the hardest people to communicate the gospel to are the people just like yourself. He said proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of heaven; respond to those things that are not consistent with the kingdom of heaven—cure diseases, cast out demons, strive for meaningful relationships. This is a prelude to the final commissioning in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus said, “Go into all nations, make them my disciples” (Matthew 28:16) Disciple making is the chief end and aim of the church, but it begins with communication to those nearest at hand.
During the Second World War and the economic reconfiguration that followed, Americans perfected the process of mass production. We discovered that efficient factory work requires division of labor, reduction of waste, and a fluid system design. The mentality of the age came into the church as we cultivated sophisticated management procedures for dealing with the call of the church. The church began dividing the work of the church among various committees, a flow of out-put and process was designed, and training programs were developed so that people would be able to function with the institution of the church.
And here’s what we discovered: people who worked in organizations that had compatible management strategies could effectively employ their workplace experience in the church and be productive members of the church. If you think I’m making this up just consider the old wording of a welcome to new members the church I serve used for decades. It said, “We welcome you to work and worship . . . of this church.” What we lost in this process was an awareness that those who are called upon to serve in the church do so not out of professional expertise but out of spiritual empowerment. We created a church system in which you didn’t need to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as much as you needed to know Total Quality management.
A recent Barna survey compared mainline Protestant churches—like ourselves—to non-mainline churches like evangelicals, charismatics, and Baptists. They found that 50% of mainliners are personally active in church vs. 66% of non-mainliners; 77% of mainliners reported wanting a close personal relationship with God vs. 88% of non-mainliners. Among mainline members, 67% said they want to be deeply committed to Christian faith compared to 82% of evangelicals, charismatics, and Baptists. The Barna study also looked at where the priorities are. Mainliners showed a stronger preference for a higher paying job 42% to 25% and they 77% indicated that they want a comfortable lifestyle in comparison to 65% of non-mainline Christians. Surveys don’t tell the whole story but what we see in this is a growing trend among main-line Christians—like Methodists, Presbyterians and us Disciples of Christ—toward a shallow hunger for an intimate walk with God and a greater emphasis on material prosperity.
What that means for our present is that we are ill-equipped for the call of Christ. We have been overly shaped by the market and inattentive to the mission. Our future traveling clothes must be designed to form the disciple—a person who is committed to the daily walk with God, motivated by a desire to obey God, and capable of taking risks for God.
Traveling light means shedding the clothes of megachurch and adopting the clothes of micro-church. Disciple-making is not something that can be done at a distance. It may involve reading books, but it doesn’t come from a book. It may involve media but it doesn’t come from media. The most consistent way for churches to make disciples is by having spiritually new Disciples become intimately involved with spiritually mature Disciples. It takes face to face encounters beyond the level of small-talk. It involves trusting one another, praying with one another and for one another. It involves holding one another accountable in those areas of weakness, and challenging one another to expand areas of strength.
In commissioning the twelve, Jesus emphasized using the hospitality of a single home as the basis of operation. He said, “As you enter the house, greet it.” This greeting of the house is a more warm and fond expression than simply saying hello. It is a statement of warmth and acceptance of welcome. By working from home the Disciples got to work up close and personally with a household of individuals. Those individuals would be the most transformed and would be the lasting influence for Jesus when they left. Jesus disciple evangelism was creating a sustained long-term relationship with people who would in-turn have sustained and long-term relationships with people and allow that spiritual friendship emerge into the work of God.
From the 1980’s forward, the single most dominant question asked in churches has been that of church growth. New churches have been formed in the last 30 years on marketing principles that have exceeded anyone’s expectations. Here in the Metroplex, we are in the center of a Megachurch Mecca. And it causes many people to equate church size with church faithfulness. In an effort to keep up, churches of every shape, size and age, started asking the same question, “How do we attract new members.” The attraction works in creating new customers. It does not work as a model for making Disciples. For several decades we have developed higher and higher expectations on the qualifications of our personnel, more expensive physical plants, and greater dependence on technology but in the end these efforts have not served us in serving God. Because in the end, they only served to crowd God out. The travel of the future must be less about attraction and more about authenticity; less about volume more about vulnerability, less megachurch and more of a mirco-church model.
People say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior expecting a different result. Someone suggested that that describes the church we see before us today. I disagree. We keep repeating the same behavior expecting the same result. Our context has changed, the needs of people have changed, and the mechanism we put in place generations ago are no longer adequate to meet those needs. Specifically, what people need most is a vibrant and growing relationship with God. That will only occur when we put aside the management and marketing models of the past century’s journey and learn to travel lighter, more relationally and more authentically into the future. By traveling light, we can be travel light as Christ intends us to be.