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Mission Moxy or Paying a Proxy

August 11, 2011

My friend, Kyle Heine, periodically sends me blogs, tweets, and other information he thinks might be relevant to ministry.  A recent tweet he sent me from Thom Rainer says:  “Business-as-usual churches doing missions by proxy will not see and influx of Millennials.” 

 Thanks, Thom, for such a powerful word.  Let me unpack it for you.  One of the ways that churches have distanced themselves culturally from a lost and broken world, but simultaneously have attempted to ease our “missions conscience,” is to support others who are getting their hands dirty with the mission of Jesus.  These others are the proxy who stand in the church’s place and do what the church should be doing.  Churches who do this will not reach a generation of people called “Millennials,” Americans approximately age 20-35 (the age range of Millennials differs between many who try to define this generation). 

Millennials offer Christians a unique mission field.  They don’t accept our Scripture as an authority or our word as true just because “we said so.”  They are spiritually open and searching but will not believe without a reason to believe.  However, they care about the world, its state, and sense a calling to make it a better place.

Thom Rainer is right.  Mark my words.  Every church that doesn’t transition into courageous, bold, and substantial mission work in both word and deed will begin to dwindle.  Really, it’s already started.  This generation will not be happy with emotionally charged worship services and high tech gadgetry.  While transitioning in styles that engage this generation is a move in the right direction, it is clearly not enough.   Churches that don’t get their hands dirty won’t capture the hearts of the Millennials.   

The good news is that we can create a church culture that is bold in love and outward in focus.  We can be driven by the mission to love, help, and teach the world in the name of Jesus.  It isn’t foreign to Christianity, nor is it a new concept.  It is as ancient as the Scripture.  We don’t need a new fad; we need a modern embodiment of the ancient heart of Christ and His mission. 

One of the primary issues churches face in our current culture is the nature of the mission of the church.  Rainer says that “business-as-usual” has been done by “proxy,” thus we have a current phenomenon of para-church organizations.  Let me first say that I am thankful for many para-church organizations.  Heartland partners with many of them, and they allow us to be a part of God’s work that we could not accomplish on our own.  However, I think it must be admitted that the reason we have para-church ministries is that the hard work of ministry is not being done by the church.  We would rather farm this work out.  We would rather sub-contract building relationships with the lost and meeting tangible needs to other groups that we can pay to do work we should be doing.  Once again, I love many of my friends who do para-church work, but if we were honest, we would have to admit that they would be out of a job if the church ever embodied the heart of Jesus; or better said, they would not be out of a job at all but have jobs in churches.  In fact, many para-church ministries have been sparked out of disillusionment from folks who have given up on the church being a mission outpost and have taken things in their own hands.  They often are led by people who have a burning of the heart of Christ in them and a compelling desire to be a part of Jesus’ mission but have found no outlet for such in the church.  Why shouldn’t they do this?  Somebody needs to. 

It is the sickness of the church that has birthed the para-church phenomenon we see today in American Christianity.  The church is willing to pay their proxy, and para-church leaders are excited to do “real” ministry without the boundaries of the church.  It’s a deal made in heaven.  Or is it?

There are several problems with our current para-church situation.  First, it reinforces the lack of urgency of the church.  Second, it gives a false sense of accomplishment to the church.  Third, it places the most profound Christian deeds (and para-church organizations are often doing deeds much more profound than what churches are doing) apart from the vital worshiping and teaching community of the body of Christ that we call church.  

Please hear me correctly.  This is not a word against para-church organizations.  They are needed.  This is a word of rebuke to the church, because these organizations are needed due to the church’s apathy and unwillingness to do hard ministry. 

Mission efforts by the church, in the form of exalting the name of Jesus in word and deed, is the answer to this dilemma.  In one shot, churches driven toward mission engage the need of Millennials to make the world better and gives them evidence that the Word we preach is true.  We will lose the next generation if we do not articulate a profound and meaningful mission effort to transform the world by the power of Jesus.  I believe the church can have a resurgence, and when it does, the mountains will tremble and fall into the sea.  I beleive a remnatn of burning hearts still exists and it is time for leaders to ignite their passions and guide their direction.  We need mission moxy!

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