Yep, that’s right . . . shift happens. And most of the time we didn’t even see it coming – or going for that matter. It just happened slowly over time. It wasn’t intentional. Shift just happened.
Missional shift is so very common in the life of the church. While it is likely common in other organizations, too, because my work is focused on churches, I see it so very often in church ministries. The loss of the ministry being grounded in the church’s mission of making disciples eroded so slowly over time that no one even noticed. One small micro-layer at a time flaked away so it was hard to see. But over days, months, and years, the erosion is measurable if anyone were to really measure or evaluate.
Good people with the best of intentions just get off track. They forget why the church exists. They often don’t remember the distinction of the church’s purpose from any other non-profit organization. When there is no missional accountability in place, no missional evaluation enforced, and churches continue to do the same things from a duty to the historic rhythm of the church, it is no wonder this shift happens.
When shift happens, the church becomes a country club instead of a movement to serve and share Christ. When shift happens, the church members too often write checks or donate food and clothing at arm’s length so they don’t have to engage in relationship with “those” people. They want to feel good about providing for “them,” but they really aren’t about wanting to do life with them or have them in the pew next to them in worship. When shift happens, the church uses tithes and offerings to keep their buildings, stained glass windows, organs, and choir robes in tip-top shape while the number of people in the surrounding neighborhoods who know Christ shrinks dramatically year after year without adjusting the ministry to reach the neighbors. When shift happens, the church builds up their endowments to ensure there will be enough money to sustain a full-time pastor and staff to care for the shrinking congregation while the mission field grows more distrusting of churches because all they care about is money.
Again, none of this shift is intentional. Unfortunately, too often the church has taught its members that good discipleship translates into taking good care of the building, showing up on most Sunday mornings, and throwing a buck in the offering plate. Now that taking care of buildings, amassing large endowments, and placing butts in pews on Sunday mornings is not growing let alone sustaining churches, seasoned church members are frustrated. They are doing everything they’ve been taught to do as a good church member, but the church continues to decline. The real issue is that shift happened in formation. Faith formation (discipleship) has been neglected for several decades and we are now reaping the benefits for this neglect.
Faith formation is developing people to become more Christ-like. When we are growing in our likeness of Christ each and every day, we become less focused on buildings, budgets, butts in pews, donations, and building up our coffers. Instead, we are more focused on living more like Jesus did – being in the world with other sinners, eating with strangers, having conversations with new friends at the well, breaking bread with tax collectors, and investing in friends who are trying to figure out life and be better people.
Yes, shift happens. Some shift needs to happen and some doesn’t. Let’s shift away from those things that Jesus didn’t focus on during his time on Earth. Let’s shift back to our missional focus of making disciples.