By Ray Wheeler, DMin
We manufacture church chairs and we do it well. And from where we sit building chairs for churches across the denominational and theological spectrum today’s missional reflection needs a dose of historical perspective. The emergence of missional thinking and the struggle with how to describe the church as a missional entity is a predictable continuation of the reformation’s understanding of ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda (the church is always reformed and always reforming).
In our conversations with church boards, administrators, secretaries, facility committees and pastors we occasionally run across two assumptions inhibit the Reformation’s vision of consistent reform. The first is a bifurcation between the secular and sacred. If we approached business as a discrete or distinct action separated from faith then our view of missional activity would de facto assume that the mission of God is sometimes on-again off-again depending on the location of the activity (i.e., at work or at worship). This limitation to the experience of God in the affairs of human kind is way too subjective and boring.
The second is a form of elitism that assumes that the perspective of what it means to be a missional church is new. Some proponents make missional thinking out to be a new form of gnosticism in which those initated in the language are fundamentally neater, smarter or more spiritual than those who are not.
Today’s conversation on the missional church is needed, it is promising, and it is pregnant with potential for true reformation of the church. But, it is not new. It is a continuation of the work that commenced in the Garden, was exhibited and focused on Christ and continues to today. As Mark so pointedly infers in his gospel “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God” recognizes that the continuation of the ministry of Christ is reflected in the actions of the church. (Mark 1:1)
Alan Hirsch is fond of reminding us chair guys that the discussion around the missional church is really a summons to things forgotten, things that have been lost to experience but have always been a vital and vibrant part of the outworking of the church of Christ in history. Why is this important? History has so much to teach us – things to emulate and things to avoid. The conversation God has with human kind is always a fiercely honest one – one that reveals the majestic as well as the disappointing. The current conversation is no different and all of us do well to remain students as well as teachers in the midst of the conversation. If we fail to retain a long historical horizon (i.e., to pay attention to the lessons of history) we walk with one eye shut and the other dim. Historically speaking, we stand on the shoulders of others. We should leverage that perspective.
So why does a church chair manufacturer want to be part of the discussion? Because we are serious about how well we serve the church. We build chairs with a pride in our workmanship. We sell chairs with a joy in the relationship. We steward our resources with a commitment to improve customer experience, provide for our employees and their families, and make a difference in our community. Do we always succeed? No, but we are committed to ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda. From our seat reformation and innovation includes our own growth as people as well as changes in our product. We are learning from history.
Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global Church Chair sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California