I was asked a key question several years ago that really puts this dilemma into perspective. It was by one of the leaders of my church who wasn’t with me. And I first realized it, not by his distance or lack of smiling, lack of tithing, or lack of attending, but by the subtle difference he exposed in his thinking to this question. Here it is.
In consideration of opening a satellite north of town, while casting the vision to all of the leadership, this one leader asked this question. “I’m confused. Are you trying to reach people, or build a church?”
It sounds like an innocent question, but it exposed a real crack in the foundation of his understanding.
At the time, something in me told me that this was a foundational question, that this was a radically different view of values. And I responded this way. “Would you rather breathe in, or breathe out? It seems to me, one is worthless without the other.”
This is the very point I’m making. You can’t build a church without reaching people. And you can’t reach people without wanting to build up the one organization that Jesus Christ died for love of, and that is his church. To say that you want to build a church for the people you have and ignore everyone else is blasphemy. I said it – blasphemy. It dishonors God and it cuts you off from the flow of His grace, without question.
But to want to reach people without teaching them to be the church, teaching them how to gather, to grow, and to give back to a hurting world is equally narrow-minded and short-sighted.
So which do we want to do? Build a church, or reach people? We want to do both. But you have to reach people before you can build a church because the church is people. That should go without saying.
I know this has been a long rant on this subject, but I beg you to be a both/and, not an either/or thinker. Let’s not fall into the same old ruts of our fundamentalist, evangelical, seeker, purpose-driven, missional, or emerging church past and present. Let’s just be the church and trust that God’s promise still prevails. You remember it don’t you? “I will build my church.” Yea God, what a joy to be on the winning side!