During my four years as Formission Director, I was given the mandate to notice and the gift of a broad perspective on how God is working in our province as I travelled to preach and plan with churches and leaders. I got to celebrate and promote some of those churches and leaders through the Reframed series. Of all of my learnings, there was one that took me completely off guard: Thriving churches live in the tension of multiple apparent healthy paradoxes. They were both/and churches in an increasingly either/or world. Here are a few that I noticed:
Missional AND Attractional
I had always assumed that to be a church that lived out its calling well on Monday, you had to think less about Sunday. The thriving churches I noticed pushed both extremes. Sunday was very well thought out, exciting and engaging. It had follow-up systems. But these churches also provided opportunities for the congregation to engage with the mission of God in the community, provincially, and globally throughout the week and in their day-to-day lives.
Spirit-Filled AND Seeker Sensitive
Thriving, disciple-making churches didn’t sacrifice the work of the Spirit, or the experience of a first-time church goer. The worship was vibrant, with congregational participation encouraged and the gifts of the Spirit in operation. At the same time, great care was taken to make it accessible and understandable to people unfamiliar with church. Explanations were given for manifestation gifts of the Spirit. Sermons were packaged for unchurched, and the gospel presented simply.
Inward AND Outward
This might be the strangest tension of all, but I noticed that thriving churches placed a strong emphasis both on building real relationships between members of the congregation, and having ministries that pushed outside of the walls. They had life groups, but also Alpha. They had age-specific ministries, but also furniture and meal ministries. The people evidently really enjoyed being together, and also (maybe because) they were on mission together.
Evangelistic AND Justice-Oriented
I’ve heard the false dichotomy argued too many times: “It’s fine to bless people, but don’t forget to share the gospel,” or “hungry bellies make for deaf ears.” Thriving churches didn’t seem to see an issue with blessing the community and pursuing social justice without ulterior motive, or with doing events that were explicitly evangelistic. Evidently, one did not detract from the other. More importantly, they were known as churches that were “for” their communities. Unchurched people were open to their church, and were given the opportunity to make a commitment to Christ when they came.
Prayerful AND Strategic
Augustine famously said that we should pray as if it all depended on God, and work as if it all depended on us. Thriving churches stretched this tension to its limits. They didn’t just have prayer meetings, though. They thought through strategic prayer initiatives, and pushed their congregations to pray in unconventional ways. They had interactive prayer rooms. They prayed for and during events. They had seasons of fasting. They spent more time praying for lost people than for themselves. At the same time, they lived out the fruit of their prayer and listening by strategically planning for Sundays, seasons, years, and terms.
Sacred AND Common
Thriving churches saw their buildings as “sacred tools for the kingdom.” God was showing up in a powerful way when the people of God gathered to worship. The same presence filled the space when it was being used for a meal, or as a pre-school, or a clothing room. Instead of protesting the use of sacred space for “useful” activities, the congregations rejoiced that the world was sharing a “common” space where heaven seemed a little closer to earth. They prayed often that people would still feel the presence of God there throughout the week.
What is the common message in all of these? I think the Spirit is saying that in this new era we need to lay down our arms and arguments a little bit, and to be open to being surprised. We need to learn to live in the tensions. Being less strategic will never make us more prayerful. Being less open to the Spirit’s work will never make us more “sensitive” to a world that’s longing for an experience of God. Caring less about justice will never make us more evangelistic. Let’s learn from these thriving churches in our beautiful province, and be willing to push the tension of these healthy paradoxes to their limits. After all, Jesus is fully God and fully man. He is the Lion and the Lamb. He is the Suffering Saviour. He is the Master Servant. Let’s fully pursue every good endeavour as we serve until His return.
Here to serve,
P.S. I got this idea of healthy paradoxes from a Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast series on healthy paradoxes in LEADERS, and I applied this concept to the churches I had visited over the years. It is well worth the watch.