In the passing era of substantial institutional churches, being a ‘church member’ was considered a commendable commitment, and churches recruited members by producing multiple church activities for their membership. Many churches hardly mentioned discipleship at all. Churches were places of social contact, and clergy were often evaluated on how fruitfully they were able to attract and recruit participants to engage in their congregational activities.

The very idea of worship services and congregational activities having as their purpose to equip to Christian maturity (discipleship) for their ministry outside the church gatherings, i.e., in the 24/7 world: home, neighborhood, school, workplace, civic life, recreation and sports, etc. was hardly on the chart.

So, then, what developed was a church-i-fied laity, whose Christian expression was almost totally in the ‘church gathered’ and who were always somewhat ill-at-ease outside of that safe enclave. There were refreshing exceptions. Some congregations sought pastors and equippers to see their 24/7 world as the primary mission to which God had called them, and worship services at that weekly time of equipping, re-evangelizing, learning to diagnose the culture in which they operated and how to be true salt and light where-ever they were, how to have ‘coffee-cup conversations with those outside the church.

Such churches understood that God had called them to be the communal dimension of God’s new humanity, God’s new creation. The members of these communities who were advocates of the ministry of the laity in the workplace renounced the church-i-fied laity concept as a perversion of the mission of God for his church. Resources began to emerge. Dynamic equipping churches saw themselves as ‘the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity. The equipping ministry of the church became formative from youth groups all the way up. Community groups and house churches became dynamic factors in giving support, encouragement, mutual teaching and sharing to one another.

The mission of God for the church also determined the church’s self-understanding and its very real role in the missionary calling to God to be a transforming, salt and light community in very real neighborhoods and communities. For a few years, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship conducted a very fruitful resource in its Marketplace Ministry. One of the significant contributors to that was William Diehl (executive with Bethlehem Steel), whose book Thank God, It’s Monday is quite helpful and still available, along with other writings (Amazon).

Formal church institutions of the old sort are a dying breed. Equipping churches are pragmatic and contagious and motivated. Stay tuned. We are in a cultural whitewater where change is inevitable, and where every Christian community needs to be equipping all its members for their 24/7 role in the mission of God, and every meeting of the church gathered needs to have this goal in view. No more church-i-fied laity.

Hang on! It’s a great calling.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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