Sitting at the Nexus of the Missional Discussion

By Ray Wheeler, DMin

“It is odd,” the pastor noted, “that your company is investing time in a concept that will make your company obsolete.”

“The reverse is true,” I countered, “when the church thrives we thrive for two reasons.  First, we have to respond to new directions innovatively. Second, we are part of the church in action – at work.”

“Wow,” he said, “I would love to come talk with you guys and see how you have bridged faith and work.”

This pastor is a leader of a movement of congregations known for its missional approach to being the church.  The affiliation of congregations he represents make a deliberate effort to be Christocentric rather than ecclesiocentric in their practice.

What do I mean by a Christocentric view of mission?  By this I mean that the confession that Jesus is Lord becomes the functional center of the life of the church. When lived out this confession does not recognize a distinction between secular and sacred realms – Jesus is Lord of all of life.  If Jesus is Lord of all then work as well as worship is the context of God’s mission.  Consider the ramifications of starting the definition of mission with the church instead (i.e., an ecclesiocentric perspective of mission). If mission starts with the church then people tend to experience God as a church-based deity disconnected from their work-a-day worlds.  God and faith become relegated to private life and offer nothing of substance to work life and relationships.

So a shift in perspective from an ecclesiocentric to Christocentric view of mission is not just a nice academic exercise it is a refocusing exercise that leads congregations to see the working of God’s mission in all their community and thus avoid the pit fall of being the frozen chosen (becoming irrelevant) or suffering self imposed isolation from their community that causes people to feel as though the church is elitist (thinking we are better than others because of grace rather than simply being vessels of God’s grace to the world). Yet for all the vibrancy exhibited in these fledgling movements they still sometimes exhibit remnants of a historical and local myopia as is evident in this leader’s opening statement.  Aren’t Christians supposed to thrive at work?

My surprise at the pastor’s first statement emanated from the fact we met in a gathering sponsored by our partner companies who work primarily with churches across the United States and who work together to leverage each others’ strengths.  In our case we manufacture church chairs serving both a domestic and global market.  Sitting where we do at the nexus of commerce and the church we all enjoy a fascinating perspective of the church in action.  It is conversations just like the one above that help us know the work we do to produce quality seating is just one piece of a much larger purpose.

Why would a church chair company be involved in contributing to this kind of theological and practical discussion about the nature of the church?  Because we (like our strategic partners) are the church in the market place and we care deeply about its health and vibrancy. We see the need to bring together pastors and consultants from across the United States to share their insights and experience in leading missional congregations. We see how helpful it is to interact with some of the leading authors writing on the concept of the missional church.  We don’t just sell chairs we contribute to a grass roots movement of thinkers and practitioners who contribute to the revitalization of how the church acts and thinks.

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.