Friday, November 9

Conflicting visions

There are two "Christian" visions that compete: 1) that of the traditional church with its structures, programs, and leadership; and 2) the Biblical imperative of Christ to go to the lost, make disciples, baptize those who believer, and teach them to observe Christ's commandments. Two worlds colliding. Maybe to some they are one and the same, but my experience is that they are different cultures. Different world views. We SAY that our churches are about reaching the lost, but when it comes right down to it, they are following a "churchianity" vision where the real goal is to get people to GO TO CHURCH. Christ's mandate and vision is that His Church GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES of the nations.

We work within both worlds, but are clearly focused on the latter. One of my frustrations as a missionary is that most believers are content to dwell within the church environment that has been created for them. It is for the most part a neat, secure world where one knows what is clearly expected: go to church, give your tithe, and participate as actively as time permits in the various programs and ministries of the church.

When someone with an apostolic calling and vision comes around lifting a prophetic voice to literally get out there and make disciples of the nations, there is resistance. Excuses are made...we are too busy...I am not gifted in that kind of thing...God didn't "call me"...I am serving God in my own way...I have plans to get more involved at a later stage in life...etc.

In our church planting training we seldom have any conflicts over the validity of the kinds of materials we are teaching (prayer, serving others, evangelism, follow-up, baptism, discipleship, and church planting). Where the two worlds collide is when those being trained are expected to DO what they have been taught! Carrying out the vision of what Christ actually says in the Great Commission is something that few are willing to take on seriously.

Most of the traditional churches we relate to simply cannot get past the issue of having to live their Christianity outside of the four walls of the church building. I know this sounds like an unfair accusation. But to prove my point just ask yourself these questions:

1) Am I really personally involved in taking the Gospel out of the four walls of our church building?

2) Am I really making true reproducing disciples?

3) How many new believers have I lately been responsible for baptizing?

4) Can I name any new disciples whom I am personally teaching to be obedient followers to all Christ commands?

The answer for most of us is NO or NONE! It is much easier and more convenient to just "go to church."

So, how do we get the two visions aligned? What will it take for us to swap a "going to church" vision, for a Great Commission vision?

I struggle a lot with this, but here are some of my evolving thoughts in progress...

1) The key is NOT so much trying to reform believers who have spent years in traditional church settings. These attempts will usually lead to frustration. The real key is starting with the NEW BELIEVERS who are being won and discipled. They are the future, not those sitting in church pews.

2) Spend 80% of time, energy and attention on the 20% who "get it" and are doing their best to be obedient to what Christ commanded. Spend 20% of our time, energy and attention on the 80% who are content to just come to church.

3) Along the same lines of the four questions above, ask believers to share about a person they are currently discipling. Ask about how many people they are currently praying for salvation. Go around the room and ask for recent witnessing encounters they have participated in of any kind where they sought to share Christ with someone who is not yet a believer. If we are not doing so, why not? What are the obstacles? What can be done to get back on track?

We can "talk the talk" all we want, but few of us actually "walk the walk" and DO what Christ said. There is a conflict of visions in the Church today.

What are some of your thoughts on the conflicting visions that exist within Christianity today?


Cristian said...

Pete Ward in his boook Liquid Church states that “By offering refuge to some, solid [the traditional] church fails to find ways to connect to the liquid [spiritual] search of others. By claiming to be community, it often struggles to find ways to be the kingdom of God in the wider society. Solid [traditional] church, by ignoring the fluid nature of culture, has found itself stranded on a desert island. This island is pleasant; it has a rich supply of fruit and hospitable inhabitants... Yet isolated on its beach, all it can do is try to entice others to join it. The possibility of engaging in mission within the surrounding culture becomes increasingly problematic because in seeking refuge it has been forced to present itself as in some way separated from ordinary life.”

I think you (and Ward) are right in that the traditional church, by its very nature, unknowingly sets itself up to be separate from culture (ie. an island) and thus the ability to "go into all the world" (since so much time and energy is invested in developing the island).


Strider said...

This is a great post Guy. I agree completely and I especially like the 80/20 percent principle. I do much the same here. I relate to the local traditional churches but I spend the vast majority of my time in fresh ministry with the few guys that 'get it'. For several years all I got was raised eyebrows from the traditional folks. But now, after years of fruitless labor in the villages around us the traditional guys are coming to me and saying, 'How can we do what you do.' Ministry is getting fun around here! Keep up the great work Guy.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the post and have forwarded it to several people. I think so often in the structured church, the structure takes the place of a real, faith-based, living relationship with Jesus. In the structured church – be it traditional or contemporary, we normally have a group of people whose belief in God is more a wish than a knowing. They don’t have a relationship with Jesus such that they talk about Him at work as a real person – like they would speak of a spouse or children. My personal observation is that when Jesus is real to people, they take Him outside the church walls.

My wife’s take on the structured church is that the burden is hard and the yoke heavy – not what Jesus promised for His followers.


Unknown said...

This is a great post! I know for me, my preoccupation was with getting the "church structure" right. I believed that if I could just get the church thing right, disciples would be made. How foolish on my part.

Isn't interesting that Hybels and the Willowcreek people recently confessed that after 30 years and hundreds of millions of dollars trying to get people to attend events, programs and services (tens of thousands of which who do), they have not really made any disciples out of those hugh crowds. They now admit they were wrong! I wonder if they will refund all those conference fees they have charged other churches selling them a system that does not work?? I'm not holding my breath.

I find it insightful that Jesus does not spend much time talking about church or church structures...almost none on the former and certainly none on the later. Yet, that is what professional clergy types spend all their time talking about?? Why, if Jesus is our model??

What did Jesus tell us to do? Wasn't it to love God and each other and to teach others to do the same? What did Jesus say he would do? Wasn't it that he would be with us always and the HE WOULD BUILD HIS CHURCH?

I have come to the conclusion that we make a mistake when we focus on "church". Why do we spend so much time trying to "start, "plant", "grow", "multiply", "build", etc. churches? I don't see that Jesus ever told us to do this. He told us to make disciples and he would build the church. We have got it backwards.

When we focus on "church", we focus on "systems", "styles", "structures"...all the dreaded, life-draining, distracting, S-words. When we focus on disciple-making, we focus on people and our relationship with them.

Let's make disciples and let Jesus build his Church.

Your Brother,

J. Guy Muse said...


You keep quoting all these great books that I'd like to get my hands on! I had never thought of church in terms of solid and liquid forms, but I like the idea.


The 80/20 idea was shared with me by our Strategy Associate. I have found it to be a helpful concept in that our time is so limited with so many demands coming our direction. It helps when setting priorities. We too are beginning to get a lot more interest by the traditional churches in what we are doing. This past weekend we were invited to give a report to the annual meeting of the Ecuador Baptist Convention. We were also asked to man an IMB booth for the first time in history! So things are slowly changing.

Jeff W.,

Good point that you bring out in your comment, "My personal observation is that when Jesus is real to people, they take Him outside the church walls." When Jesus is our "religion" then we practice our religion. When He is our Lord we obey Him.


It has indeed been interesting to read the Willowcreek reports. What will be interesting now is to see what gets changed in their system to accommodate their findings. We have often said, if we will do our part of going, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching...He will do his part and BUILD HIS CHURCH! We stay busy doing the very thing He said HE would do. And the part that He gave us to do is essentially ignored. Therefore in 2000+ years we have yet to complete the mission He gave us. Is it any wonder with our not doing what He said to do?

Wes and Ellen said...

Thanks a lot Brent. I really appreciate that word.

Michael said...

Good day Guy,
Great post, but...what about the traditional church that can say yes to the four questions. Can the church (traditional)be structured in such a way that it is accomplishing the great commision? other than the simple church concept. Just a thought and a queastion.

Michael said...

Sorry for the last few misspelled words....

TKB said...

Great post, Guy. It is one thing to struggle with the worldly culture and then there is the churchianity culture that is a struggle.

To reply to Michael, I would say yes it is possible. However, for the most part, the traditional structure seems to hinge upon a paid/professional clergy that does the ministry and often this is the case. The pastor and sometimes a few leaders in the church can answer those 4 questions, but not the church as a whole. This has been my limited observation and experience in the traditional structure.

J. Guy Muse said...

Michael and Travis,

Good of you both to stop by. I always enjoy both of your blogs and have them in my OMEA blog reader. As for your questions/thoughts Michael on traditional churches, I think Travis answered the same as I would have said. It's not so much of whether they COULD be obedient, as if they actually ARE obeying what Christ commanded. It seems simple church structures are more open and willing to do what Christ commanded than most of the traditional churches we have been related to in the past. That is not to say we don't struggle with these same issues, but there is far less religion and churchianity in simple churches than in Chris Irwin's "solid" churches he mentions above.

Cahleen @ The Alt Story said...

I feel very convicted after reading this article. I call myself a missionary, and all too often I fall into the "talk the talk but don't walk the walk" camp. Thanks for giving me (and many other people) this wake up call!

J. Guy Muse said...


You're not the only one calling themselves "missionary" and feeling convicted. All of us have been given the commission and yet few of us are actually engaged. My prayer is that we would all feel convicted and then do something about it!

Michael said...

Totally agree with Guy on that one...
Cahleen we all struggle not feeling like we are doing what we were called to do. I'm just thankful that we all are searching ways to do it the God wants it done...

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post, Guy. I guess sometimes it takes getting away from church as you know it to figure these things out.

J. Guy Muse said...

Bryan and Michael,

Thanks for the comments, glad you stopped by.

Darrell said...

I love the way you tell it like it really is Guy...and this is the way it REALLY is! More then ever my energies are directed to the darkness. I am so thankful the King has seen fit to awaken me to the real battle and ordered my life toward the things that matter most! I am so thankful voices like yours that encourage me!

Blessing my Brother...Rock ON!

J. Guy Muse said...


Thanks for the kind words. I believe more and more are being awakened to the reality that you speak of. But in our eagerness to point out the way things "ought to be" we need to be careful that we are living that which we are quick to talk about!

Chris L said...

Right on, Guy! What you describe is exactly the tension we have been dealing with in our ministry here in Mexico. Our understanding of Church has been radically changing, and we are coming to many of the same conclusions you are.

One question: Do you allow trackbacks on your blog? If so, I haven't been able to figure out how to do it (I'm pretty new at blogging). I wanted to point to this post on my blog, but I wanted to do it "properly" if possible.

J. Guy Muse said...


Thanks for stopping by and for the comments. I have never been able to figure out the "trackbacks" feature, so can't be of much help there. Play around with it and see what happens. Once you figure it out, let me know so I can begin to use the feature myself.