The Alton Mission Gathering is coming in less than two weeks:
Sunday, September 9, at 10:30 am in the Riverbender.com Community Center.
The Community Center is located at 200 W 3rd Street in downtown Alton. They have a parking lot between 4th and 5th streets, but there’s also plenty of street parking and small public lots in the area. (More information on location, directions, parking, etc. can be found at http://www.riverbender.com/communitycenter/directions.cfm.)
For the typical church plant in our country these days, this would mark the launching of the church. Not so for us. Our church is already launched–the people of God have been sent into Alton to make disciples. Churches have already been planted in the form of Restore Communities. We’re not really a church plant, but maybe more of a network of house churches.
What are we doing, again?
As difficult as it can be to adopt new rhythms and to change our perspective on what it means to be the church, remember that what we’re doing isn’t actually that difficult to understand or to communicate. We’ve used the words “missional” and “incarnational” a lot, so let’s pause for a reminder on what they mean.
Our Calling: Incarnational Mission in Alton
‘Incarnational’ means “presence of Jesus”
‘Mission’ means “sent”
So, without jargon: “We are sent to be the presence of Jesus in Alton.”
Now that’s not so difficult to wrap your mind around! The hard part is answering the question, “Yes, but how?” First of all, each one of us has to live like a missionary. If the call to “Go be Jesus to them!” does not permeate every day, every decision, every relationship, then no amount of restructuring a church will matter. Are you letting the gospel fill your life? Are you making the most of every opportunity? Are you taking the gospel to every nook and cranny of our city?
The second step is to adopt a church structure that equips and encourages this missionary activity. The structure seems new to us, but in fact it is closer to the original structure of the church in the New Testament. The household of faith, which we call a Restore Community, was the primary expression of what it means to be the church. Within a city, several households were connected together loosely as the church in that city. Although they did not usually have the opportunity to meet all together, there was still a common identity they shared.
So where does the Alton Mission Gathering fit in?
Because incarnational mission is our calling, the message of the Alton Mission Gathering is, “Go be Jesus to them,” not, “Come think about Jesus like us.” So, again, we are not beginning the Alton Mission Gathering to attract new people, but to celebrate, develop, and extend the ministry happening in the Restore Communities.
The worship gathering will equip us for incarnational mission. On the incarnational side, we’ll be formed again into Christ’s body by the grace that operates through the word of God and the Lord’s table. This is a work God does as his people participate actively in worship. On the mission side, we’ll be sent back into Alton with a clear commission each week to participate in the work God is doing to restore our city. The specifics of what we’ll do at each gathering will be the subject of a post later this week.
So is this location our “church home”?
The community center we’re renting can reasonably hold about 75-85 people (we’re told). Since we’re likely going to gather 40-50 people, this is more than sufficient for our needs. As the mission progresses and more people become disciples of Jesus, we expect that we will outgrow the facility at some point. So we’re at the community center temporarily, but this too can keep us focused on incarnational mission.
Think of the Alton Mission Gathering space more like the Tabernacle than the Temple. Scripture says that the people of God are the Temple. We believe God dwells among us, not in a building made by human hands. The location is not meant to be a Temple, but a Tabernacle–a tent of meeting whose location is tied to the presence of God, not to a real estate plot.
A tabernacle is not a fortress, nor is it imposing. It also isn’t settled and permanent within the culture we live in. If our calling is incarnational mission, then even the Alton Mission Gathering needs to be an incarnational presence modeled after the one Incarnation: “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1.14). “Made his dwelling” more literally means “tabernacled” or “pitched his tent” among us. In other words, we’re not going to get so tied to location that we forget we’re a people on the move, led by the Spirit of God.