What Does the Missional Church Look Like?
*This is part 6 of the Laity Leadership Institute Missional series with Senior Fellow Darrell Guder, who is the Princeton Theological Seminary Henry Winters Luce Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7
Christian Andrews was in his sixth year of studies at Princeton Theological Seminary when he walked away from those studies to help a small group of Christians reach out to youth in his home town of Red Bank, New Jersey.
“This group over time began to sense that God had called them together to do ministry with high school students. They sensed that in the joy they received from doing it, in the effectiveness of their work, and in the way it brought them to life,” said Andrews.
“They wanted someone to live in this town and facilitate their doing the work they felt called to—not someone to come and do ministry for them, but to equip them to do ministry,” he explained.
Andrews began to live in Red Bank “with eyes that were formed by this idea that what God had done in Christ was done for all people and that the difference between me and another person might just be that they haven’t come to know it yet and I’ve been given to know it and that I should live in such a way that maybe God would use me to help them see,” he said.
Many teenagers hung out in a local park, so Andrews spent a lot of time there getting to know them. Initially they thought he was a police informant. When he told them he was a Christian, they were intrigued rather than turned off. He taught them the Bible, but didn’t pressure anyone to convert.
“God’s love is not withheld until someone meets a certain set of criteria, but is extended even—in Paul’s words—while we were enemies,” he said.
His friends did the same kind of thing in town, going to teenagers’ events, sharing life with them, meeting with them one on one, and challenging them to be more than they were.
When Andrews left Princeton in 2002 to begin the work that would eventually become ORB Community Church, Laity Leadership Institute Senior Fellow Darrell Guder had just taken a position at there as Henry Winters Luce Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology. Andrews’ seminary mentor thought the Red Bank work correlated with Guder’s interests and introduced them. Guder asked Andrews to read and provide feedback on his book The Continuing Conversion of the Church. They began meeting monthly and eventually taught a course together at the seminary called Missional Theology in Practice.
“The Orb is one expression that fits Guder’s understanding of what the church is,” said Andrews. “It wasn’t that I or any other folks read his material and said, ‘Oh, this is how we ought to do it.’ It’s not to say people can’t do that, but it would be wrong to represent our group like that,” he said.
“When I read the book and he talks about how the church ought to be formed around the gospel, it sounded like he was describing the people who called me to work with them in Red Bank. It was uncanny,” Andrews explained.
“It was a group that was what it did, and what it did was it tried to share the gospel with people who didn’t know it, and it was built up as a group in order to do it. This is what I’ve since come to see that the church is. It’s not a building where people come to receive religious services for themselves that may or may not meet their felt needs, and one of the programs might be mission. It is a group that might be built up as Jesus gathers it so that he can send it. That takes many different forms. The form it was taking for us was to make relationships with high school students and share what we knew about Christ,” he said.
When Andrews left seminary, he had no intention of forming a church. But he and Guder began to see together as years went on that God was building a church as he was gathering this group to hear and believe the gospel and then building that group up so that it could share the message with others.
The high school students that Andrews and his friends made relationships with nearly a decade ago are now youth leaders in the church. They form the same kinds of relationships with area youth that were formed with them.
For example, one woman who is interested in anime meets with a group of teens to watch and talk about the cartoons. Two college students who restore used bicycles offered to teach this skill to some teenagers who expressed interest in what they were doing. Through their shared passions, relationships are formed and commitments to the youth are made, regardless of the response to the gospel message that is inevitably shared with them.
“It’s not a leader who says, “How can I get kids?” We’re not called to strategize in that way,” said Andrews. “The message of their worth is embodied in the time and energy that we give to them.”
And the church continues to grow, both spiritually and relationally.
What do you think of this way of living out the mission of the church? Does it sound innovative or like a different way of talking about what Christians have always done?