From time to time I get asked the question: How's your church going? It gets asked by quite a range of people from all parts of our work and social life. To me it remains a somewhat odd question. Understandable –I know what they mean–but odd all the same.
Those of us who know about these things know that the church isn't really an organisation or a gathering of like-minded people with a shared interest. It is community. So asking, "How's church?" is like asking, "How's London?" or "How's the village?" We are so conditioned to thing institutionally that it's difficult to figure out how to ask and what to ask, and that's okay because I really do understand what I'm being asked.
So how is the church? Well nationally it's pretty much as it's been for a long time. It works for those who understand it and who fill the buildings it owns or occupies, but it doesn't work that well for the rest. It still uses language in a way that separates rather than includes and it is too often perceived int rems of what it appears to stand against rather than the things for which it truly stands. Church continues to struggle with its identity and its place in God's mission. This came home to me again in recent conversation where once again I found myself asking the question: For what purpose does the church primarily exist?
If your answer to that question is primarily about worship, that will shape your understanding about what it first on the list of priorities and what is not just as answering the question by putting mission as the focus will do too.
I belong firmly to the camp that understands mission to be the prerogative of God, its in his nature, and he calls people to himself to share with him in his mission. This can only be truly achieved through relationship and any relationship with God will naturally involve worship, discipleship, obedience and all the other things that go along with that. But they are not the primary focus, the mission of God remans the main thing.
Over the last couple of years, as we've moved out of the legacy model of church life and deeper into the missional model, we've learnt a lot. We've learnt that discerning what God is doing in our community is far harder than planning a programme and executing it. We've learnt that no matter how we explain what we are doing, there are still a lot of people who think the end result will be gathering a group of people together on a Sunday morning to sing songs and listen to a talk. We've also learnt he truth behind the old saying that God moves in mysterious ways!
At the outset of our journey, (which for the sake of argument we'll stick at the time we left the legacy model, although it started well before that), we had hopes and dreams and ideas about what we did and didn't want it to become. We were no so arrogant as to believe that we had it all sorted and that we knew exclusively what God wanted us to do. In fact far from it.
There have been times when we would love to have started a small bible study group at home or in someone's house and to be able to tell stories of people coming to faith and something tangibly church-like to show for it. That would have made it easier to show people that we'd done what we set out to do, provided of course that that was what we actually set out to do in the first place. We did not!
What we have, 30 months down the line, are some emerging relationships and opportunities to connect with our community. We still don't know where and to what it might lead. In some ways we don't really care. We're just trying to follow God in what he's doing, making ourselves as available as we can, learning to be explorers and pioneers.