Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Does The Church Care?

About a year ago I met with a young Christian professional who works in Mumbai (Bombay). I’m not a business guy, I’m a culture guy, but I am interested in encouraging the member s of the Body of Christ where God has gifted them...in the workplace. Moving away from the emphasis on the institution of Christianity and more to the incarnational face of a follower of Christ, we need to think of ways we can support those outside the professional role of ministry. It is my belief that the incarnational church is made up of those who do not draw their “daily bread” from the coffers of the non-profits, but instead their salaries are derived from the marketplace.

I want to restate my position; I am neither against the institutional church nor the role of career pastors or missionaries as they play an important role in God’s Divine purpose. It has been vocational pastors, teachers and missionaries of the past that is responsible for many fine churches and schools established throughout the world, provided social programs for the poorest of the poor and made Bible study and theology truly the queen of the sciences. I have a hard time thinking of what the world would be like today if it were not for those who gave up lucrative careers to serve others, many with meager means. However, increasingly the professional clergy and ministries are becoming a part of the problem in putting the emphasis of the local church (ecclesiocentric) rather than the Great Commission of reaching the community with the message of Christ.

One role of the local body is to equip the saints for ministry. The other functions of the local assembly are worship and instruction in God’s word. The institutional church does a good job, generally, in the latter two areas of function but usually not very strong on outreach or equipping. The equipping of the saints has given way to equipping the church staff to do the work of evangelism and the theory is if we can pour enough resources into making the local church attractive, the not yet followers of Jesus will be drawn in. At least that’s the theory.

Meanwhile, the saints (I’d call him Joe six pack, but the saints are to be teetotalers), feels he has no place in God’s grand scheme except to show up for church, volunteer for the church focused activities and underwrite programs with their tithes and offerings. Saint Joe is seldom guided, coached or equipped to do ministry in his community, workplace, and school. In my reading I came across a quote, made by a businessman thirty years ago. His comments are profound as well as convicting. William Diehl, sales manager of a major overseas steel corporation writes:

In the almost thirty years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never once offered to improve those skills which could make me a better minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate the faith to my coworkers. I have e never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career. In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn’t have the least interest whether or how I minister in my daily work (1976: Christianity and Real Life).

I believe Diehl would be pleased with the emerging churches that are addressing the need of workplace ministry today. Through small group interest groups believers are encouraged to be involved in non-Christian workplace functions and organizations, not necessarily to convert, but to be salt and light in places where people interact on every level of life. Through special interest grouping the topics the institutional assembly never addressed for Diehl’s ministry needs are dealt with as “real life,” issues.

My Mumbai friend and I have created a network of Christian professionals throughout India. What is interesting to me is that some career pastors have joined the group, but the network is steering the discussion away from institutional topics (theology, outreach programs, etc.), to workplace subjects, such as ethics and how to be a relevant witness of Christ as a member of a minority religion. It’s my belief the institutional church does care about the needs of their membership including equipping them to be functional in the world, it’s just they don’t know how to do it. Stuck in a 1,700 year model that focuses on how to be separated apart from the world, they have forgotten how to be holy within the world. How to change directions will not be easy and probably not widely accepted.

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