Church hopping and sheep stealing doesn’t have to be inevitable. But it will require doing at least three things differently.
1. Build Community they Don’t Want to Leave
Think of the closest community that you have ever experienced. Maybe it was your traveling basketball team in high school, your best friends from college, or the connections you made on a mission trip. Do you remember that heartwrenching feeling you had when it was time to leave that community?
Hmm, only sort remember things being heartwrenching when a tight-knit community splintered.
-You lived down the street from, or even in the same house, as the other members of your church?
-You saved the money you would spend on buying tools and borrowed your hammers and drills from a member of your church community?
-You were more concerned about the churches shared mission than your own careers?
It’s hard to leave a community that close.
Wenatchee distinctly recalls exactly such a place ... about twelve years ago but it mutated and mushroomed into something completely unrecognizable now.
Engaging people in meaningful mission is includes facilitating church programs, but it is much more. The example of Jesus teaches us that mission is inseparable from incarnation. For a church to be a missional people, they must be engaged in displaying Christ in their unique time and place.
This means developing a vision for representing Jesus in the church’s neighborhood. It also means equipping individuals to represent Jesus in the schools, workplaces, gyms and bars they inhabit every day.
It’s hard to walk away once you’re are a part of a mission
But having a mission is not enough. It has to be a shared mission. This grows out of a process of listening for the Holy Spirit as a community, and engaging the gifts of the entire body of Christ.
It becomes important what the nature of the shared mission is and who gets to define how on mission people are. You see, when you've been part of a community that had a meaningful mission and had the level of closeness that is presented as a thing to aspire to then we get the small-town outcast dynamic. The people who don't fit in really, really don't fit in. It's also possible, of course, that once you're not on mission then you can find yourself, as someone into vision-casting once put it, unemployed.
Let’s stop lamenting when sheep get stolen or people church shop, and focus on being a tight-knit missional body that is really hard to leave.
That's no longer good enough a measure for Wenatchee's observation. Sometimes the missional body that is really hard to leave has to be left, and sometimes its a tight-knight missional body that can make you really regret you were ever in it. After all, it's not that difficult a move from a tight-knit missional body that is really hard to leave to a draconian cult that won't let you leave without impugning you on your way out. Wenatchee didn't actually have that problem ... but knows a few people who did.
That churches can become surrogate families in a highly mobile post-industrial time and place where we find ourselves habitually alineated and physically remote from our own flesh and blood makes it remarkably easy to understand why in the North American continent obsession with spiritual community as a surrogate family or extended family has become so popular. For people who have actually lived in extended family systems through economic and social necessity a great deal of "community" talk can seem unfortunately daft. It's less romantic when it's your only realistic social and economic option though you don't appreciate it less for that. People living in community with shared tools are not the sort to wax poetic about fair-trade coffee as a general rule. :)