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The State of Mission Today

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series

"Missional Worship"

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Missional authors argue that the church today has failed to recognize that the Christendom era has ended. It no longer enjoys the level of influence and status it once did, but its structures, ministries, philosophies, and methods nevertheless remain the same. Mead notes,

We are surrounded by the relics of the Christendom Paradigm, a paradigm that has largely ceased to work. [These] relics hold us hostage to the past and make it difficult to create a new paradigm that can be as compelling for the next age as the Christendom Paradigm has been for the past age.1

Furthermore, the church also fails to recognize how much its methods have been shaped first by a Christendom mode of cultural engagement and second by subtle influences of post-Enlightenment thinking. In one sense, the church continues to expect the world to come to it as it did during Christendom, and it has been scrambling for new methods to help it attract unbelievers into its four walls. With the fall of Christendom, the church found itself increasingly irrelevant; so now, desiring to maintain the same kind of power it once enjoyed, the church is constantly seeking after new ways to compete for the attention of the masses. Hirsch explains the problem with this posture:

The problem for the church in this situation is that it is now forced to compete with all the other ideologies and –isms in the marketplace of religions and products for the allegiance of people, and it must do this in a way that mirrors the dynamics of the marketplace—because that is precisely the basis of how people make the countless daily choices in their lives. In the modern and the postmodern situation, the church is forced into the role of being little more than a vender of religious goods and services.2

This is exactly why Hirsch and other missional leaders are so critical of the church growth models that make use of “attractional” methods—they are buying into consumerism—something Hirsch would argue was nurtured in Christendom:

Church growth exponents have explicitly taught us how to market and tailor the product to suit target audiences. They told us to mimic the shopping mall, apply it to the church, and create a one-stop religious shopping experience catering to our every need. . . . Christendom, operating as it does in the attractional mode and run by professionals, was already susceptible to consumerism, but under the influence of contemporary church growth practice, consumerism has actually become the driving ideology of the church’s ministry.3

Missional exponents argue that the church growth movement attracts only older generations that still manifest remnants of a Christendom mindset or people who have grown up in Christianity. For example, Van Gelder suggests,

The continued drift toward the development of large, independent community churches, with their focus on user-friendly, needs oriented, market-driven models described by George Barna in User Friendly Churches, is in need of careful critique. While celebrating their contextual relevance, we need to be careful that we are committed in using these approaches to maintaining the integrity of both the gospel and the Christian community. These churches may just be the last version of the Christian success story within the collapsing paradigm of modernity and Christian-shaped culture.4

Therefore, because of its Christendom inheritance, the church, according to missional exponents, considers missions to be one of its many tasks rather than understanding its purpose to be found within the greater mission of God. Guder argues,

One needs only to visit North American congregations to find that the church-centered approach to mission is alive and well. Congregations still tend to view missions as one of several programs of the church. Evangelism, when present, is usually defined as member recruitment at the local level and as church planting at the regional level. The sending-receiving mentality is still strong as churches collect funds and send them off to genuine mission enterprises elsewhere. Indeed, the main business of many mission committees is to determine how to spend the mission budget rather than view the entire congregational budget as an exercise in mission.5

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Loren Mead, The Once And Future Church: Reinventing The Congregation For A New Mission Frontier(Washington D.C.: Alban Institute, 1991), 18. []
  2. Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 110. Emphasis original. []
  3. Ibid. []
  4. Craig Van Gelder, “Defining the Center—Finding the Boundaries,” in The Church Between Gospel and Culture: the Emerging Mission in North America (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1996), 45. []
  5. Guder, Missional Church, 6. []