The Difference Between Being "In" Mission and "For" Mission and the Homogenous Unit Principle
You'll forgive me, I hope, for sharing some thoughts that may not be fully formed. These thoughts have dominated what clear thoughts I've been able to have lately and it's time to submit them to public scrutiny.
When we left our former denomination and joined LCMC, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, which is more a movement than a denomination, I told people that now, out of the denominational bubble we had lived in, we would have to "do mission or die."
I'd like to amend that phrase. I think that based on what we see at Zion Church these days, it must be said that we have learned that we must "do mission and die." To be fully devoted to mission means the death of self. To be fully devoted to mission is the summation of what Jesus said about following him, "You must deny yourself daily (die to self), pick up your cross, and follow me." To live in mission is to everyday give up your life for the sake of making disciples.
What does this mean for a church? It means a daily dying by everyone in the church to comfort, stability, preferences, procedures, etc. I means living in a state of risk, maybe even danger (emotional or physical) for the sake of the mission. It means learning to love and be patient with others, even and especially those who may be different than yourself.
This is a great challenge. Imagine that all your life you've gone to church with your friends. They are people who look like you, talk like you, have similar incomes and schooling. Now, suddenly, we're doing mission and here come people and their kids who have a different education, perhaps a different language, perhaps different child raising philosophies, perhaps a different skin color and for certain, a different life experience. It's scary. It's risky. It's messy. Mission is messy. Following Jesus is messy. You have to leave things, even comforts, in order to "go" and follow.
It occurs to me that there is an enormous different between being a congregation "for" mission and "in" mission. Here's what I mean. A lot of churches have great mission programs. You go as a group and fly in to some place and then after ten days or two weeks you fly home again. You are changed by the experience and you begin to see that the world is a bigger place and that God has plans and is busy all over the planet. But at the end of the day you get to come home. To safety. To the "normal." To comfort.
It's like my favorite police dramas on TV. Here are guys who, because they are public servants, don't make much money. They work hard, are consumed by their profession and catching the bad guy. But at the end of the show, they go home to this gorgeous house and drive an amazing car. It just isn't that way in the real world. Work follows you home and if you're serving full time plus, you probably have a small place that hardly ever get's cleaned and a beater car.
When my family and I were abroad as missionaries, we were full time in mission. We were always watched. We stood out. We knew that we were always on stage for Jesus. We lived in a culture that was very much different from our own. There wasn't any going home.
When you're "in" mission, you are continually on stage for Jesus. We aren't asking our church to go and fly in for a while and do great ministry, we're asking the church to be "in" ministry 24/7. We're saying, "Look, our neighbors need Jesus, move over, let them sit in the pew next to you, let them eat your food, share your space. Let's do life together with our neighborhood so that, as our Master says, ‘People will see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.'" We're not asking you to fly in and fly out. We're asking you to live mission. To be missionaries. We're asking you to give up your seat, perhaps pay for someone else's kid's dinner, volunteer for some extra hours, and agree to go through life with people who are different than you are.
Most successful churches in the US are built on a subtle idea that is so normal for us we don't even think about it. It's called the Homogenous Unit Principle. The idea behind HUP is simply this: to grow a church big and fast, get people who are the same together. It works. The trouble is, it leads to a church that is more than likely to be "for," rather than "in," mission. Because everyone is similar in the church (education, income, race, experience), it's hard for "different" people to come and feel comfortable. So in order to do mission, the church has to fly in and fly out, either around the world or across town.
Our situation is different, therefore our call from the Lord is different. We must be "in" mission. We must find a way to welcome our changing neighborhood into our building and we must, because of the Great Commission, find a way to meet people who are different form ourselves with the Gospel. It's an amazing, beautiful, exciting, thrilling adventure. But it requires of us to be "in" mission. All the time. 24/7. There is no leaving and flying back home. We live here already.
No doubt all this change is very hard. For generations, we had a common understanding about how church was done in our society. Church is where you went to hear the Gospel. You heard it and then you went home to hopefully live it. Because of the death of mainline Protestantism, Globalization, and other factors, we have to do church differently than before. One of the biggest changes must be that in church you don't just hear the Gospel, you also have to live it out right there, because the church, the local congregation, is the frontline of mission in our society.
People like mission "neat." They like to go do it and then go home to what they think is reality. We're asking you to change your reality. We're asking you to live mission, be "in mission," to let mission be our new reality together. There is no going home, we're already there.
What would Jesus have us do? What would he say? When we see the hundreds of kids hungry for a meal and for the Gospel, how can we not change everything? And the amazing thing is that as we change for their sake, our Master will change us for His sake. We will grow in spiritual maturity, in wisdom and in Christlikeness. What more could you ask from your church?
Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ