Are our Churches on Mission-Mode or Maintenance-Mode?


In his book, The Spirit-Filled Church, Terry Virgo Speaks about the crucial role of leadership.

“If the church is perceived as simply a gathering of people who attend religious services, little leadership is required. Leading the meetings and preaching sermons are all that must be mastered. If, however, the church is seen in a different light, mainly as the focal point of God’s purposes for world evangelisation, and the key centre for discipleship, training, envisioning, and releasing ministry, then leadership takes on a totally new meaning.”

I’ve been thinking about this quote for a few months. I think there is a lot of truth in what Virgo says. A high percentage of church governance, across the denominations, seems to focus on the maintenance of religious services. Less time, and in some cases, no time, is spent educating, envisioning and equipping the church for mission.

I don’t think many churches see the themselves as, “the focal point of God’s purposes for world evangelisation, and the key centre for discipleship, training, envisioning, and releasing ministry”, if churches did see themselves this way – many churches would look and feel different.

Churches are facilitating a culture of passivity, instead of engagement.

Dependence on the minister has created a situation where people do not know that ‘Every Christian is a minister’. That is, whilst a few are called to lead, all are called to ministry. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to the members of the Body of Christ (1 Cor, 12—14). Eph 4 explains that the purpose of leadership is to equip the saints for works of ministry.

Many people come to church out of habit. Some literally sleep through services. Very few are active listeners. Out of the few who are active listeners, very few are equipped to pray publically or contribute vocally either informally or in more formal contexts. If Christians can’t share their faith in church, what chance have they got of sharing their faith in the market-place?

Is change possible? Yes, but it needs to be facilitated. How? Here are some essential priorities.

  1. Education needs to become a priority. Preaching is only one aspect of church life. Education is more holistic than preaching. People in church need help to understand and engage with present cultural, denominational and political changes.
  2. Local mission/evangelism needs to become a priority. We need to develop a culture of evangelism. Event-based evangelism and relational evangelism should be ongoing.
  3. Discipleship needs to become a priority. One-to-one time invested in younger (not just in age) believers by the elders and those who are mature in their faith is essential. Small groups/house groups etc. need to be developed.
  4. Leaders need to be identified, raised up and released. The minister cannot and should not be doing everything in the church. ‘Teams’ are not just some new jargon; it is simply the church catching up with what is biblical. Teams are the biblical norm. There is a wealth of talent in our churches, people need to free to function in their callings and giftings – other-wise church leadership creates a bottleneck. They prevent others fulfilling their callings and growing in their giftings that God has given them.

Terry Virgo is highlighting a problem that Os guinness identified in the 70s. according to Guinness, one of the ‘vital flaws’ of modern Christianity is:

“The modern church is often pathetically feeble in the expression of its focal principle of community. It has become an adult social club, preaching shop, or minister-dominated group.”

In other-words, instead of being a community of disciples, the church has become a gathering of people at a religious service which is directed by a religious specialist. Neither Guinness or Virgo are arguing against pastors, but they are identifying an imbalance within the life of the church.

In the West, a fierce cultural individualism is undermining the true expression of church – which in new testament terms is defined as a family and a fellowship.  Whilst it is important that local churches and missionaries understand the culture they find themselves in – it is important to recognise aspects of the culture which are sinful, idolatrous, fallen and counter-gospel.

Western people guard their privacy zealously. Many people are a private and are not open about their personal lives. Whilst this may be the culture, and may even be the natural temperament of certain people – this is not the kind of lifestyle that the gospel calls us to. The gospel calls us into fellowship. It calls us into a brotherhood – a family. It calls us into relationships, vulnerability and openness. It calls us into honesty – honesty with one another about our fears, failings and sins. It calls us to love each other in truth and action.

Any approach to church leadership which facilitates and strengthens this cultural trait is actually contributing to a culture which is counter-church. True fellowship will never thrive and develop in this environment. Those who are genuine believers in this kind of church fellowship will feel isolated and be forced to find fellowship out-with the existing structures. Only through instruction, example and intentional facilitation of relational Christianity, will a church leadership start to turn the tide.