This is the first of a three-part series offering metaphors for a missional church. Find part 2 and part 3 here.
Somewhere along the way, our culture changed. In Resident Aliens, William Willimon claims that it happened in 1963 when the Fox Theater moved into his small town and opened on Sunday. All of a sudden, there was a choice about what to do on Sunday—whether to go to church or attend the movies. Church was no longer king on Sunday. Slowly, over the past several decades, church and the Christian faith have moved from the center of society to the margin of society.
The challenge for the church today becomes, how do we respond to this reality? We can get mad, hold onto the past, hunker down, or assimilate into the secular culture. Or we can learn to engage our culture missionally. This series of blog posts offers a few metaphors that may be helpful for churches trying to engage their neighborhood for the sake of the mission of God.
One person described the missional shift through the lens of the difference between a frog and a lizard. A frog gathers his food simply by waiting. He sits back and waits for a fly to come close and then he sticks out his big tongue and slurps it right in. A lizard on the other hand cannot do this. He must go to where the food is in order to gather it. For many decades, the church has been like a frog. We sat back and waited for people to come to us. We assumed that our effective advertising and marketing efforts had communicated adequately where to find us and we could just wait for people to come in the front door. Once they did, we stuck out our long tongue to slurp them up through our effective hospitality, excellent programs, and engaging worship service.
However, now is the time for the church to become like a lizard in order to engage our culture missionally. She cannot expect people to come to her; rather, the church needs to go to the people. We need to find ways to engage people where they are and in their environments. After all, this is the essence of the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19). We must get out of our buildings and Christian communities to rub shoulders with those who do not know Christ if the gospel is going to encounter them.
This hit me a few years ago when the urban school that my children attend was having career day. I signed up to give a presentation and they gave me all the pre-K and kindergarten students (including the bilingual classroom). I had around 100 four- and five-year-old students—some of whom were learning English – that rotated through my presentations throughout the day. Talk about a rough crowd! During my presentation, I explained that as a minister, I do mainly two things: teach people about God and help people. I showed pictures of our food ministry and explained if people need food, they can come to our church and we will help them. I showed pictures of our clothing ministry and explained if people need clothes, they can come to our church and we will help them. Then, I showed pictures of our children’s ministry and I explained that if a child needs help, they can come to our church and we can help them through our Bible classes and tutoring program. At this point, one little five-year old girl raised her hand and asked, “But what if the child does not know how to get to the church?”
I realized right then, this is the dilemma that the church faces in this culture. Too many children do not know how to get to the church. Too many teenagers and college students do not know how to get to the church. Too many single parents, homeless, and the addicted do not know how to get to the church. We must go to them. We cannot be the frog any longer. Rather, we must be the church of the lizard!