A Church For The Unchurched and A Church For Children
So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched?’
One of the passages in the Bible that I keep returning to is Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples (and through them of each and every Christian) in Matt 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” These are some of the very last words of Jesus to his followers and so they are really, really important. He could have said anything. He could have said go and pray for four hours a day, or go and fast twice a week, or go and feed the poor. Praying, fasting and giving to the needs of the poor are all vital and important, but Jesus didn’t say any of those as his last words. He said, go and make disciples. NOTE: he said go and make disciples not go and build the church, he also told us to go to ALL nations, that is to every man, woman and child, not just to the people who are already in the church.
The life and ministry of Jesus was an example of just this. In fact Jesus got quite a reputation for who he spent his time with. In Matthew 9:11-13 we read: When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Archbishop William Temple said, “The Church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of its non-members”. Think about that statement, it has a lot to say. The church does not exist for my benefit, it does not exist to provide what I want, when I want it and in the style I prefer. We live in a consumer society, but the church is not a consumer organisation, if anything the church should be profoundly counter cultural in this.
In 2004 the Church of England published a report entitled ‘Mission Shaped Church’ and one of the statements that was at the heart of that book was: “It’s not the church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a church in the world.”
For decades, if not centuries, the church of God has understood that it had a mission in the world, that is, mission was one of the reasons for the existence of the church amongst many others. That isn’t want Matt 29:19 says, rather it is the God of mission who has a church in the world, that is, mission is at the very heart and foundation of the existence of the church, it is not one of the reasons for it’s existence amongst many others, it is THE reason for the existence of the church.
Let me return to the question I asked at the start: what does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched?’
It means that we examine all that we are and do against how it serves God’s mission of making disciples of all nations. Let me take one, possibly controversial, area of the life of many churches and ask what it might mean if we were truly a ‘church for the unchurched.’ At a recent meeting of the PCC our Archdeacon remarked that he was surprised how many churches in the Diocese had communion as their main service almost every Sunday. That wasn’t his experience in other Dioceses that he has been in and the question he raised was should we reduce the number of communion services at St Paul’s to maybe twice monthly and at Whiteley to once monthly. He was clear that this wasn’t because of the lack of priests to celebrate communion, but rather in a mission minded church was it appropriate to have so many communion services?
Why might he suggest this? The reasoning behind this question is that communion can be a barrier for the unchurched. Every Sunday when I administer communion I know how many people receive the bread and wine, how many people I pray a blessing over and how many people are in the building. And every week that are a number who don’t come up for communion or a blessing. Why? I would suggest that it is because communion is a meal for Christians and they don’t feel included. Instead of welcoming and including them communion becomes a barrier.
In a previous church community that I was part of the question of the regularity of communion was raised. The suggestion made was the we should ask the members of the church community how often they felt we should celebrate communion, my strong suspicion was that if we did so the answer would be ‘as often as possible.’ If the church is a ‘church for the unchurched’ perhaps the best people to ask aren’t those who are already part of the church community but those who are on the outside. I wonder what they would say?