Simply put, I am not interested in a "missional conversation" that does not involve men and women being redeemed, changed, and transformed by the gospel. Yes, it is more than that (and I will write on that in depth over the coming week), but it must include a heart for those far from Christ. We are called to share and show the love of Christ and the beauty of the gospel – both matter.
Here is a re-post of a blog post and an article I wrote for Catalyst Monthly. It begins by recounting a conversation I had with someone in the missional church conversation.
"We worry too much about reaching people," explained a recent "missional" convert. He explained that he had read my book and a few others and he wanted to be more about the mission of God and less about nickels, noses, and numbers. "We have to show the love of Jesus, not just tell people about him." He was a convert to missional but was not as focused on seeing converts to Christ. And he is not alone.
Converts to a Cause
I continue to see movements gaining traction among Christians that do not seem to have many converts. In other words, they have recruits to their cause, but few converts to Christ. And I am concerned. I am concerned that in the name of "fixing the Church" we are not proclaiming the Church's gospel.
You've seen it, too, among others--the emerging church wants to rethink structures; the missional folks want more social justice; the charismatic folks want more of the Spirit; Baptists want to convert the Presbyterians; the house church people want more authentic community; and the Reformed folks just want, well, I am not sure since they never seem happy.
I must confess I have an affinity with some of these groups. But, a change movement that does not produce converts is as useless as a systematic theology text at Joel Osteen's church. Even if and when the cause is important, that is not enough for the church and its mission. Central to our task is to display the glory of God through His redemptive work through the redemption of those far from Christ.
An argument of sorts has arisen among some friends of mine that helps illustrate the point. Mark Driscoll, in his oh-so-subtle way, said that many in the emerging church "don't have any converts." Dan Kimball has expressed his missional misgivings about missional churches without conversions. Several defenders have responded to the critics. But, the conversation can and should be much broader than "emerging" or "missional" conversations: I have heard it in charismatic, Calvinist, Baptist, and other settings. And, there are always defenders.
But, I believe defending is not the answer. It is never a good thing to be defending our lack of converts to Christ while we are busy converting people to our cause. To me, it is the difference between complaining and creating a new (and better) way.
For example, I have been identified with the missional conversation. I believe the church can and must identify with the missio dei and refocus its agenda around the purpose of God. Yet, I don't want missional to mean attacks on mega and fast growing churches who are reaching people "wrongly," while missional churches are reaching few "rightly." (Now, take that last sentence and replace the word "missional" with the word "reformed"--still works. Now do it with "Baptist"--yep that's 3 for 3. Need I go on?)
Now, I am not willing to say that a lack of converts is a sign of unfaithfulness. But, I am willing to say that too many change movements are not seeing lost people's lives changed. And I think that is the wrong kind of change.
So, my Reformed friends, let's not only read 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John (that is, John Calvin, John MacArthur, and John Piper), let's go plant some more churches. My emerging church friends, let's take a pause from the theological rethink and head into the neighborhood and to tell someone about Jesus. My missional friends, let's speak of justice, but always tell others how God can be both "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." My house church friends, let's have community, but let's be sure it is focused on redemption. My Baptist friends, let's focus more on convincing pagans than Presbyterians. And, my charismatic friends, let's focus less on getting existing believers to speak in tongues and more on using our tongue to tell others about Jesus.
Now, I know the preceding paragraph will tick some of you off--and, I am trying to be a bit edgy while making a point. But, let me suggest you be less offended at my words and more focused on Jesus' words: Go therefore and make disciples of nations.
If you are passionate about what you believe you will naturally want others to "get it" as you have. For example, you would not be a very good charismatic if you did not want me to be baptized in the Spirit. However, I think it is unhelpful that so many Reformed, emerging, missional, denominational, Baptist, house church, charismatic, and every other kind of Christian spends more energy persuading other believers than they do reaching non-believers.
So, let's continue conversations about being "missional" or whatever, but let's not do so if it distracts us from the mission. Instead let's talk about these issues but not let them distract us from our main focus--showing and sharing the love of Jesus to a desperately lost world that needs a message of hope.
Showing a Better Way
If you want to convince me (and the body of Christ) to your cause, you must show me it is a better way. You must tell and show something different. You must not just protest what is, but you must show me what should be.
Ivan Illich was once asked if the way to societal change was best through revolution or through reform. He explained it was neither--at least if you wanted long term change. Instead, he said we need to tell an "alternative story" that is so compelling it draws others to the story.
So, tell your alternative story. Show me a way that is passionate about the cause and filled with new converts to Christ. If all you have are criticisms, concerns, or new ideas, but no new converts, that hardly seems a better path or an "alternative story."
So, don't defend your lack of converts, repent of it, weep over it, and resolve to change it.
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Ed is Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Ed blogs daily at EdStetzer.com.