Blog - Supporting Believers
Church-from-Scratch: Centrifugal (Part 1)Tuesday, November 20, 2012
After reading my last blog on living out faith in the workplace, a reader emailed me with the following challenge: "If you could create it from scratch, what would a church look like that fully embodied a proper theology of work and really empowered its members to be ministers in the workplace? What would it do? Would it even resemble the traditional church and its meetings, practices, etc.?”
In this and several future blogs, I’ll respond to those questions. As you read, please keep in mind that the question asks about a church-from-scratch. Incorporating these practices into the DNA of a church with years or decades of history would be far more difficult, though not impossible.
To begin, I recognize that life is more than work. So the theology of work should not suck all the air out of a church agenda. Eph. 4:11-12 directs church leaders to prepare God’s people for the work of serving. Believers do such serving in their marriages, with their children, in their neighborhoods, and in their relationships with believers and unbelievers. Over the years, churches have offered many training opportunities for marriage, parenting, finances, and so on.
Daily work, paid or unpaid, is one major service arena for which believers need to be equipped. Although Christians spend a great percentage of their time working, church leaders have typically done little or nothing to equip them for it. This void has created the need to focus extra attention on how to incorporate the theology of work into the DNA of church life. As Darrell Cosden puts it in The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, "if we are actually to get beyond seeing work or the marketplace as a platform for ‘real’ spiritual ministry, we will probably have to overdo this for a while” (p. 137).
A church-from-scratch should settle the purpose question before launching. The purpose question asks, Will we be a centripetal or a centrifugal church? Is it our goal to pull people out of the world into our church meetings? Or will we equip and release believers into the world to do the work of Christ and his Kingdom? One recent slogan used in churches aims to get people "From the street to the seat.” That’s a valid objective if you’re aiming to create an audience. But as Tim Keller says in Center Church, "Since churches always migrate toward institutionalism, they often must be brought back to a movement dynamic” (p. 352).
NASA’s astronaut training program is centrifugal. Yes, the preparation phase involves a certain amount of centripetal force—classroom learning that takes place "in here.” But even these activities are oriented toward preparing the trainees for the work they’ll do "out there.” If selected after basic training, candidates are linked with veteran astronauts who offer their knowledge and experience.
Astro- means star and -naut refers to sailing. So astronauts are star-sailors. When Jesus, speaking to his Father, said, "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:18), the Greek word for world is "cosmos.” From the outset, a from-scratch-church should aim to equip cosmos-nauts, believers who are prepared to serve King Jesus as world-sailors. A major part of that world is the work world. Like NASA’s astronauts, they need to be thoroughly readied to navigate "out there”—not merely to survive but to carry out the missions for which they have been sent. The from-scratch church should operate from a centrifugal purpose.