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I stood there amazed as I heard these people with little to no Christian experience articulate an amazingly healthy theology of Christian community.
The problem is this. All too often we want to save ourselves, even from the very mission of God. All too easily our churches become human-centered organizations that are ill equipped for the eternal assignment of being salt and light. And should a church find itself functioning in this miserable state defined mostly by pragmatic, human-centered, strategic planning, it is in exceedingly dangerous territory.

What is the right decision for any church to consider: self-preservation or to extend the kingdom of God? If saving our lives means losing our lives, then what does it mean to save our institutions instead of seeking to expand God’s kingdom?

Spiritually healthy churches exist as a temporal tool that has the kingdom of God as its eternal goal. So when we choose to save our church instead of allowing God to use it how He pleases, our churches are reduced to sacred spaces dedicated to the dark arts of self-worship. Dead-end links on the great commission chain.

No doubt some would say that seasons of self absorbed entrenchment are necessary for long-term sustainability. But what does it say of our ecclesiology? Is the greater good the survival of the institution?

As a church do we have seasons where we walk with God building His kingdom, but from time to time we take breaks to recover?

If Jesus is the Head of the body charged with the sole task of kingdom building, isn’t He capable of sustaining His body while marching on His mission? I hope so.

This brings me back to the story that began around plates of lasagna in an Oakville community center that has since turned into a spiritual community that knows its kingdom identity.

Most recently, the church adopted a socially disadvantaged area filled with single moms and newly arrived immigrants. Our people have learned to look for the “social fault lines” of an area, and in this case it was the future of children. Many couldn’t read with any proficiency and were bound for a life of frustration and perpetual poverty.

What started as summer children’s camps has turned into year-round Children’s Theatre where kids rehearse lines to dramas and perform those dramas several times a year. This has brought the people of The Sanctuary in contact with people who would never think of attending any church. The good news had authentic relational rails to travel on.

But to get to this point, we first have to wrestle with some key questions: Is our church looking for the social fault lines where felt needs can be met through gospel activity? Is our leadership seeing these as opportunities for internal church growth or as occasions for outward expansion and reproduction according to the needs of the community? If I drew a circle around where our church is located, who in that circle would be the least predisposed to ever darken the doors of our church? How could I best bring the good news to them in a way that they would understand and receive it? What would it require of us?

If The Sanctuary had started as a church that saw its own success and growth as the highest good, we would have squarely missed the point of why Jesus originated His church. We would, in essence, have planted a self-seeking organization that saw its interests as a superior value to Jesus’ kingdom itself.

As far as I am concerned, the temporal backslapping “atta-boys” will never sound as sweet as an eternal “well done” from my King. OM

Jeff Christopherson is a Canadian church planter and NAMB’s regional vice president for Canada and the Northeast.

ON MISSION • Summer 2012 17

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