In the early 1990s, I was a part of an experimental missional church. Of course, we did not call it “missional” as the word was not yet part of church vernacular. However, we were experiencing missional community, just as the current books on the topic describe.
During that time, some other people from our church and I were visiting with some friends from college. We shared about our church. We told them about how we met in homes, how we shared in life together on a day-by-day basis, and how we ministered in our neighborhoods through relational connections. Then our conversations steered toward a deconstruction of the traditional church. We attacked the use of church buildings, the practice of sitting in rows and listening to sermons, and the clergy/laity divide.
After they patiently listened to our attack on the church that they knew and loved, they simply said, “God still works in church buildings.”
At that time, I dismissed the comment by saying that they just didn’t understand what missional community is all about. Since then, there have been many other missional writers who have made the same arguments that we laid out that day with our friends. In order to promote the experience of community and mission, they have attacked what we have received from previous generations. And while our inherited structures are not above critique, too often we act as if there is no value to things like preaching the Word, corporate worship or public leadership. I remember having a conversation with one leader who bluntly said, “Sunday morning is what stands in the way of what God wants.” We act as if anything that happens outside of a circle in a home is not of God.
If that were the case, those who promote the anti-traditional church message would have no audience because there would be no need for any corporate preaching, including conferences. There would be no need for blog posts, except by leaders who are speaking directly to the people within their little church. And those promoting this message would not write books; they would just invest in their organic house groups.
Now, I’m not naive enough to miss the fact that those who are promoting the idea of missional community are challenging the abuses of the status quo. They are confronting things like scradotalism, turning the church building into a form of an Old Testament temple, and limiting God to a special time of the week. As I’ve written elsewhere, we tend to limit church to a special activity, performed at a special building, at a special time, led by special people. We should challenge these “specials,” but the either/or mentality that is commonly promoted does not hold water.
Years ago, one of the primary promoters of this anti-traditional message proclaimed at a conference something like, “Church buildings are the poison of Satan.” Of course, he then referenced the adoption of religious buildings by the church after Constantine made Christainity the official religion of Rome in the 4th century. Here’s the thing: He proclaimed this message from the stage in a church building. And he failed to tell his audience that his own church met corporately on Sundays in a building that they rented. While his building did not fit traditional forms and his Sunday gatherings were unique, he saw the value of public teaching. The people he led grew from the experience of gathering with others that met in other homes. And they all recognized the importance of corporate worship.
Do we need to attack church buildings and Sunday services in order to catch the vision for missional community? Might church buildings still play a role in God’s mission?