This morning my youngest son and I had the opportunity to give a presentation on our recent trip to Indonesia. We talked about some of the cultural and church similarities/differences we experienced. Even though there are many cultural differences in customs, language, food and dress style, we also saw many similarities: friendships, family, and a yearning for purpose and meaning. Likewise, we witnessed many church differences such as worship and dress styles, structures, facilities, plans, and programs. But we also saw many similarities: hospitality, the love of Christ, the Gospel, and the same mission—to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20).
One of the most challenging lessons we learned, however, was something many of the Indonesian churches had that we should share in common, but, unfortunately, we rarely do. My conviction is that if American churches do not recapture this element found in these Indonesian churches, our churches will continue to face stagnation, decline and, eventually, death.
What my son and I saw in the Indonesian churches was the concept of MISSION OUTPOST versus FORTRESS. A fortress is a place to keep all the good people in and keep all the bad people out. A mission outpost is a place to train people in order to send them out. A fortress is a place with high walls. A mission outpost doesn’t have any walls. A fortress focuses more on what’s going on inside the walls. A mission outpost focuses more on what’s going on outside the perimeter. A fortress is a place where people complain about the food and how their needs (i.e. wants) are not being met. People in a mission outpost don’t have time to complain about the food and their preferences, because they are being sent out on mission.
The churches we visited in Indonesia are poor. Many of their preachers are uneducated farmers who have been discipled, equipped and empowered to use their gifts and lead (Acts 4:13). The churches reach into their communities, not as much by programs they offer in their small buildings, but by engaging people in the fields and marketplaces. Thus, many of the churches we visited are less concerned about what they’re doing in their buildings than what they’re doing outside their buildings. The building simply becomes a mission outpost as a worship and training hub for their people. But the “real church” exists as people love, serve, reach, disciple, and care for others in their villages.
My prayer for the Indonesian Church is not that it gets more money or better church programs or padded pews or higher quality musical instruments. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit continues to fan into flame their passion to serve as a mission outpost and not develop a fortress mentality.
Guess what my prayer is for the American Church? You got it. Not that we get more money or better church programs or nicer padded pews or higher quality musical instruments. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit fans into flame our passion to serve as a mission outpost and forsake our fortress mentality.
Brian McLaren once wrote, “We don’t recruit people to be customers of our products or consumers of our religious programs; we recruit them to be colleagues in our mission. The church doesn’t exist to satisfy the consumer demands of believers; the church exists to equip and mobilize men and women for God’s mission in the world.”
Fortresses may offer security, but that security is temporal. Fortresses may offer safety, but that safety is temporal. One day we will have an eternal fortress with streets of gold and pearly gates. But for now, we don’t have a fortress; we have a mission, and that mission is to equip and mobilize men and women to make disciples of Jesus. Then one day, we will all gather in our heavenly fortress where the “gates will never be shut by day” (Revelation 21:25) and where no one will be found complaining about the food (Luke 14:15).