As I was doing the stair climber at the gym this morning, one hand hanging onto the rail for dear life and the other with Roxburgh’s latest book in hand, a lightbulb went on in the dusty recesses of my mind. I realized that churches are sometimes like gas stations. Now, don’t ask me how I made this correlation, but it seems to work. Imagine a gas station in the desert of Nevada that is old and run down. It barely sees any business because since the interstate was built decades ago, very little traffic passes by this establishment. The owner cannot figure out why he is not making any money and so he gets the bright idea to fix the place up. He figures that if the place is more appealing, then people will surely come. So, he gets new lighting, a fresh coat of paint, some arcade games inside, a nice clean bathroom, and some spiffy pumps where you can pay without going inside.
So, what happens? The same few people who used to come are still the ones who show up. They are the ones who like to stick with the back roads and don’t like the interstate. The only difference now is that since paying at the pump is possible, there is less community because few go inside for conversation anymore. The handful who hate the idea of sliding their credit card in this new-fangled device still go inside, however. Eventually the man has all but given up and decides to give away his gas. He finds cars that have broken down or run out of gas along the roads and highways and he stops to help people and bring them gas. Does he suddenly get a huge influx of business because people see his compassion? We would like to think so, but maybe not. He will, however, be able to say that he is doing the right thing and serving those around him.
Sound familiar? Lately we have been talking about the idea that our view of Christ – who he is/was, what his purpose is/was, etc. influences our view of mission (since we now know that the church IS the mission of God and not that the church has a mission) and subsequently our view of what the church is and should be. If this is all good and true, then where do we start with the questions? In other words, if we want to know how to be relevant in the community, questions about the church come LAST, instead of FIRST. The first question is not, then, “What can we do as a church to get people in the door?”, but instead needs to be “What is God doing in the community that we need to be involved in?”
This brings us to the concept of exegeting the community. When we read the Bible, we have to interpret the words we read and then apply the meaning to our current context. For example, washing each others’ feet is not so much the message today as showing humility and hospitality toward one another. If we are to know what kind of church we need to be for the community, we have to go out into that community, get our feet wet and hands dirty, and find out what our role is. In many ways we do this at the food pantry and other places.
What are some other ways we can do this? Feel free to use this blog as an open forum for the missional discussion at IUCC.