I’m told that when Elvis finished his concerts (back when he was even bigger than Hannah Montana) organizers would announce that he had left the building, presumably so everyone would stop screaming and leave themselves. This past Sunday the members of First Baptist Church of McKinney left the building. We decided not to go to church but to be the church. It’s all part of seismic shift that’s taking place in the church. Thousands of people across McKinney, Collin County, and the metroplex decided to be the very presence of Jesus among the least, lost, and forgotten. We joined such partners as the Samaritan Inn (the only homeless shelter in Collin County), Relay for Life, Children and Community Healthcare, McKinney Housing Authority, Habitat for Humanity, Seed Sowers Prison Ministry, Kiwanis, Union Gospel Mission, and countless others. Hundreds of projects were established that resulted in a wild and wonderful display of the radical grace of God.
Not long ago I heard pastor/author Rick Warren say, “The Body of Christ has had its hands and feet amputated and all that’s left is a big mouth.” Ouch. His words broke my heart because I’ve sensed this truth for a long time. As church attendance continues to decline across America many emerging leaders recognize that something’s wrong and we need to change (the biblical word is repent).
How did the apostolic (early) Church grow from as few as 25,000 in AD 100 to as many as 20,000,000 by AD 310? Consider the odds: They were an illegal religion throughout most of this time. They had no church buildings, no professional leadership, no worship bands, Power Point, children’s programs, or sound systems. They didn’t even have the Scriptures as we know them. Essentially they little of what we’ve made church out to be.
What did they have? They had a passion for Jesus and His restorative agenda in the world. In partnership with God they were committed to bring hope, life, and healing to everyone around them. They were willing to wade into the cultural, economic, financial, and social issues of the day and get their hands and feet dirty. Simply put, they loved God and others. How do we recapture this same missional heartbeat? Clearly by doing the same. Our love for Jesus must be made manifest in our love for others. We must serve the most forsaken people, places, and issues in our world without fear, regardless of how messy, painful, or costly it may become.
It seems that Jesus has been lost in an institution that bears His name. The Church must rediscover its missional imperative and incarnational initiative in our world. I’m critical of institutionalism not because it’s evil but because the greatest Jesus movements have always been when the Church had little of anything that looked like an institution. What happens when the church leaves the building? The poor are blessed, the hungry are fed, the homeless and the imprisoned are given hope. God’s people realize that simply going to church will never bring the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
I’ve never been more excited about the Church than I am today because I’m seeing a host of emerging leaders who get it. An amazing shift is taking place among us as we’ve discovered that the Gospel is bigger than any of us imagined and a loving engagement of all people is evidence of it. Jesus did not come to simply save us from sin but to set us free from ourselves so that we might serve others. Maybe then they’ll listen to what we have to say or maybe Jesus will speak for us.