Missionair en gereformeerd — tien stellingen (translated by R. Sollie-Sleijster for Een in Waarheid)
Tag Archives: outward looking church
Fostering an outward-looking perspective for our Reformed churches is important to me. Doing that while maintaining a Reformed identity is also vital. So, the other day I posted five negative theses about being missional and Reformed. Today, as promised, I’m following up with five positive theses. As before, I offer the thesis and then a little explanation/commentary (asking you to realize that way more could be said).
1. Being missional involves putting Jesus and the gospel at the center of everything
This one is first because it is of primary importance. Since we recognize the pressing urgency of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Reformed churches must be always self-consciously putting the gospel out there. By “gospel” I mean the good news of everything Jesus Christ has done and will do for sinners. That gospel message has to resound not only in our preaching, but in every aspect of church life. We ought to be known as churches that just can’t stop talking about Jesus.
2. Being missional involves intentional discipleship into an outward-looking mindset and practices
It is odd to me that the idea of discipleship is not more strongly emphasized in many of our Reformed churches — because Scripture teaches that one of the key things that defines a Christian is being a disciple of Jesus. Being a disciple means being a student, not only in the sense of learning information from the Master, but learning to follow and imitate the Master’s way of life. Our Teacher’s way of life was always outward-looking — he seeks and saves the lost. So as Reformed churches, we ought to be discipling existing and prospective church members to do likewise. Catechism classes should include discipling our younger members in how to reach out. New member classes should be so bold as to teach new disciples how to start right away at making more disciples — we need to harness their excitement and enthusiasm for the gospel to spread the gospel further!
3. Being missional involves an attitude shift
Sometimes people have the idea that becoming more missional means radically changing everything we do as Reformed churches, dropping some things and adding others. Not so. Instead, at its heart, missionality involves a shift in perspective. We go from having a church which exists as an end unto itself, to being a church oriented outwards and inwards. We beginning thinking about the lost, we talk about the lost, and we pray about the lost. This shift in perspective/attitude, also means adjusting existing programs to incorporate an outward looking perspective. I give one such example here.
4. Being missional involves a cultural shift
Most, if not all, of our Reformed churches are what we call “high-context cultures.” There are many unspoken assumptions embedded in our local church cultures. For example, in the Free Reformed and Canadian Reformed churches, we usually expect everyone to know there is a section of Psalms in the Book of Praise, followed by a section of hymns. In some of our churches, you are expected to look at the church bulletin and know that the women’s society meets at the church at such and such a day and time — no one will tell you, you just ought to know. In other churches, strangely and sadly, you are expected to know that there is assigned seating. Many more examples could be given. Being missional means shifting to a low(-er) context culture where we don’t assume newcomers will automatically understand everything we do and say. An excellent place to begin putting this into practice is the church website. Ask an unbeliever to look at your church website and point out the Reformed jargon or anything unclear. You might be surprised.
5. Being missional involves awareness that on any given Sunday we could have guests worshipping with us
We ought to pray about guests — that God would bring them and that God would bless them. We expect to see guests and when they arrive, we want to be aware that they’re there. For some years, I have greeted our members and guests before the worship service. Part of the reason I do this is to be aware of who is worshipping with us, whether we have guests or not. But congregation members should also be attuned to this. In some of our churches, there are Bibles and Books of Praise in the pew (good missional practice, in my view), in others not. For those who don’t, the members of the church should be observing newcomers and whether they have a Bible and Book of Praise, or not. If they don’t, offer them one of yours, or help them to access the books from the ushers or whatever. When there are guests, warmly welcome them — introduce yourself, offer hospitality, etc. We do this because of who we represent — we represent our King. He has a warm, friendly heart and so should we.
With these five negative and positive theses, I don’t claim to have exhausted what could be said on this topic. I also don’t claim that all of these are implemented in the church I serve or by me personally. However, I believe they are goals for which we ought to strive. I commend them for your serious consideration. The world around us is perishing and the church is the means by which Christ will bring rescue. Therefore, it behooves us to look outward and care deeply about the lost, while at the same time continuing to stand on the biblical teachings and practices which define us as Reformed churches.
One of my passions is mission and evangelism. I suppose this makes sense since I started my ministry as a missionary in 2000. In every church I’ve served as a pastor, I’ve emphasized how important it is for believers to be outward looking. I’ve repeatedly shown how God’s Word teaches us to be people who have a heart for the lost around us. At the same time, I’ve always been convinced that none of this is contrary to our Reformed identity — quite the opposite! In fact, the burden of my doctoral dissertation (For the Cause of the Son of God) was to demonstrate that, far from discouraging an outward looking perspective, the Belgic Confession fosters it. Being missional is integral to being Reformed.
In years gone by, there were those who saw a tension between Reformed identity and being outward looking churches. Sadly, today that phenomenon still exists. To address it, I want to put out a number of theses about being missional and Reformed. I’ll divide them into negative and positive theses. In this post, I’ll lay out the negative theses and in a following post, I’ll do the other ones. I offer the thesis and then a little explanation/commentary (asking you to realize that far more could be said).
1. To be missional, there is no need to give up the Reformed confessions
Our Reformed identity is grounded in what we confess from God’s Word in the Three Forms of Unity. These confessions foster an outward looking, missional perspective. In For the Cause of the Son of God, I pointed out how the Belgic Confession was originally written as “the church’s witness to the world” (to use the brilliant title of P.Y. DeJong’s commentary on the Confession). In a follow-up book, To Win Our Neighbours for Christ, I argued that also the Heidelberg Catechism and Canons of Dort foster a missionary-mindedness in our churches. Our confessional heritage is decidedly NOT a liability when it comes to being outward looking.
2. To be missional, there is no need to give up Reformed worship
Being Reformed means worshipping in a Reformed fashion. By that, I mean that we do not worship God “in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word” (HC QA 96). It’s what we call the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW). Because it is grounded in Scripture, the RPW ought to be non-negotiable for Reformed churches. A Reformed worship service ought always to have the same basic elements — the reading and preaching of Scripture, prayer, singing, offerings, and sacraments. The circumstantial aspects of worship are negotiable and can differ from church to church. A missional Reformed church can and should maintain Reformed worship, but it will often be necessary to provide instruction to visitors and new believers concerning that Reformed worship. Such instruction, offered inside and outside the worship context, will also benefit those who have been longtime members.
3. To be missional, there is no need to give up the Reformed name
It should be obvious that your name is part of your identity. In his book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them, Thom Rainer insists that it is a myth that “the unchurched are turned off by denominational names in the church name” (p.38). In research for this book, Rainer discovered that over 80% of the formerly unchurched people he surveyed said that “the church name had little or no influence upon their joining a particular church” (p.39). Further, Rainer points out that of those who said that the church name did have an influence, nearly two-thirds said that it was a positive influence. There is no reason to believe things would be different with Reformed churches. Giving up your Reformed name serves no missional purpose — so why do it? Moreover, why not be upfront and honest about what kind of church you are?
4. To be missional, there is no need to give up on our Reformed local church community
Sometimes Reformed believers resist efforts to become more outward looking by arguing that our priority has to be the local communion of saints. First we need to work on a stronger bond between brothers and sisters in our church family, and then once we have that, then maybe we can start thinking about (and maybe even doing!) evangelism. This is a false dilemma. The church exists ultimately for the glory of God, but it exists for his glory through human beings. The church exists for God’s glory through human beings loving one another both inside and outside the church. Scripture does not prioritize one over the other and neither should we. We are to love our brothers and sisters in our church family, but also love all those whom God places on our path — and show that love by sharing the gospel with them when God gives the opportunity.
5. To be missional, there is no need to give up on our Reformed connections
Here we’re thinking of the broader Reformed church community, i.e. on the federational level. Here we’re thinking of connections through things like Reformed church polity. Reformed churches differ from one another, even in the same federation. They each have a different history and sometimes even a different church culture. Different is not bad, so long as these differences are within the bounds of what we confess and what we have agreed upon in our church order. Churches that are less missionally-minded need contact with more missionally-minded churches in minor assemblies and other such contexts. All churches, however much missionally-minded, benefit from the accountability and encouragement that comes from living together in a federation.
Reformed churches who hold to the Heidelberg Catechism understand that, when Christ taught us to pray “Your kingdom come,” part of what he was teaching us to ask for is for God “to preserve and increase” his church (HC QA 123). As I’ve explained elsewhere, the word “increase” is definitely referring to numerical increase. Christ teaches us to pray for the numerical growth of the church. If we are going to pray that sincerely, then we had better also be prepared for when God begins to answer such a petition. If we pray for visitors, we also have to be prepared to welcome these visitors in the most God-glorifying and loving way that we can. Let me share ten practical ways in which churches can show a more friendly face to a newcomer.
I should note two things before we begin: first, I’m writing mostly for the benefit of Free Reformed Churches and Canadian Reformed Churches. Others might find some value in what I say here too, but my target audience are the folks I know best. Second, none of this involves doing anything different within the worship service itself. Being a friendly, welcoming church does not mean making changes to the elements of our worship service and the awe and reverence we want to show to God.
TEN WAYS TO A MORE WELCOMING CHURCH
- A Professional and Informative Website. Before most visitors come through the church doors, they are almost always going to check out your website first. This is the face of your church to the world. Because of who we represent, it’s crucial that we put our best foot forward with a clean (uncluttered), easy-to-navigate website with helpful information. I recently saw a church website that didn’t even list an address or service times, let alone contact information — inexcusable!
- Designated Visitor Parking. I have yet to see this done at any Reformed church, but it is a great idea. It’s especially important if your church parking lot is already congested with regular members. The last thing you want is a visitor driving up to your church, seeing a full parking lot, and then deciding to go elsewhere or nowhere at all.
- Clear Signage for the Babysitting (that’s “Creche” for Aussie readers). We want visitors to feel free to bring their children. That’s communicated effectively if you clearly indicate where the babysitting services are to be found. Visitors shouldn’t have to search high and low.
- Attentive and Friendly Greeters and Ushers. Some churches have greeters and ushers, but they may as well not, because they don’t really do anything. They don’t even give eye contact to members, let alone visitors. A welcoming church needs to have friendly faces at the door who will extend a warm welcome to all. A welcoming church needs to have members who will notice if a visitor doesn’t have a Bible or Book of Praise and provide them with what they need. These folks are the front-line of a welcoming church and if they’re not firing on all cylinders, a lot of everything else falls flat.
- Open Seating. Nothing says “You’re not welcome here” more than a church where all the seats are taken by members before they’ve even arrived. “Sorry, you can’t sit there. That’s Mr. so-and-so’s spot.” Ugh. But if your church is going to insist on this habit for whatever reason, at least have ushers who know where to put the visitors. Also, if someone is sitting in “your spot,” please don’t tell them to move elsewhere. No, you welcome them with a smile and you move elsewhere. It just seems like Basic Christian Manners 101 — what would Christ do in your shoes?
- Readily Available Bibles and Books of Praise. I’ve been around enough to know that, in some churches, there is often a lively debate about whether or not to put Bibles and songbooks in the pews. Doing so makes them readily available to visitors. I can see the rationale for doing otherwise, but then the welcoming church has to ensure that the books are going to be easily accessed by visitors. In my current (and previous) church, the ushers were responsible for making sure that visitors had Bibles and Books of Praise. Having enough on hand is another important consideration — especially when there are special events like baptisms and professions of faith.
- Literature — Free Handouts. Some churches have a welcome center which includes literature about the church and what it believes. These are free handouts available for visitors, both pamphlets and books. Regular members and office bearers can get material from there for visitors, as needed. In my previous church, we kept on hand supplies of Welcome to a Reformed Church, Jesus Loves the Little Children, We Believe, and others. We also kept on hand extra copies of Clarion and Reformed Perspective.
- Conscientious Members. The ideal welcoming church will have members who keep their eyes open for visitors — and then act appropriately. During the service, did you see that guy without a Book of Praise looking all confused? Hand him yours and share with your neighbour. While handing it to him, point out to him the song you’re singing or about to sing. After the service, did you see that lady standing around all by herself hoping that someone would talk to her? Go and talk to her. Introduce yourself and welcome her. Offer to introduce her to the pastor or other office bearers. Just pay attention and treat the person who looks out of place like you’d like to be treated if you were in their position.
- Invite Visitors to Coffee Socials. A lot of churches have regular coffee socials. I remember visiting a United Reformed Church in Lynden, WA and the elder who gave the announcements mentioned their coffee social afterwards, and then added, “If you’re visiting with us, please do stay with us for coffee and other refreshments so that we can get to know you.” And they meant it. At another URC in Brantford, Ontario, our family had to leave right after the service, but one of the elders ran after us into the parking lot and asked us to please come back in and join them for coffee. That was a welcoming church!
- Follow Up. This is especially important for office bearers. If you meet a visitor, exchange contact information with them so that you can follow up. Write a note to them or give them a call and see if they have any questions, or give them the opportunity to meet with you for a coffee. The personal touch will communicate that you’re interested and genuinely care about this person.
There are many more things that could be mentioned, but those are the ones that I’ve selected as most helpful. Implementing just two or three of those above will already go a long to making a visit to your church a more welcoming experience — allowing people to see that the love and hospitality of our Saviour Jesus has impressed us and is shaping us.