GUEST BLOGGER: Carl Richardson on the Mission of the Church

A couple weeks ago, Carl Richardson emailed me a copy of a 7 page paper he was going to release today. I was captivated as I read it, not only because of what was said but because of who was saying it. Carl’s reputation in the Church of God is exceptional as a thinker, a speaker, a denominational leader, and a practitioner of the mission of Jesus Christ.

I have a great appreciation for Carl Richardson’s ministry and for the way he’s gone out of his way to share his life, ministry, and wisdom on a personal level with a number of young minister’s including myself. At the end of the end of the article, you’ll find a gem called the Missional Manifesto. Tear it apart. Share your thoughts. Who wants to go first?

You can find other articles by Carl here.


The Mission of the Church

The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
(Luke 19:10)

Does the Institutionalized Church Help or Hinder in its Fulfillment?

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you . . .. (Matthew 28:19-20)

. . . Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15)

You and I feel free to speak honestly and openly of our own family. But if our family is, in the least, criticized by others, it burns our bacon. A blowhard French journalist writes a book about America that is full of arrogance and stupidity, and we want to let all the air out of him and mail him back home flat.

And when we do take an honest look at our church family, some things are so obvious that it becomes clear that we simply love the church too much for some things to be ignored any longer. The time for pretending is over. The time is past to expect that the decades-long challenges related to the institutionalization of the church will vanish.
They won’t.

These challenges are not exclusive to any one church family or denomination. They are true, in varying degrees of severity, for all church groups and denominations everywhere – globally.

Let me state my personal view of the obvious. The institutionalized church, for the most part, does not help in the fulfillment of the mission of the church.

It hinders.

And this is not new. It has been happening for decades with increasing frequency and intensity. The officials of every institutionalized church group everywhere are aware of this disturbing trend and are hoping fervently for a reversal of the crippling paralysis of institutionalization. In my view, church officials of almost all denominations are looking for a cure for this condition. My honest belief is that no church official – or group of officials – actually ever knowingly creates a full-fledged dysfunctional institutionalized church. None are intentionally created, but for the most part, are inherited. They are the product of a gradually failing system which, like an iceberg, adds layer after layer over several decades, with the bulk of it hidden from sight.

Sadly, and for whatever the reasons, many church leaders are themselves perceived in an adversarial role by the pastors and members. They are seen as mostly inaccessible, unresponsive to phone calls and mail and generally out of touch with reality. And among those who are not benignly oblivious to this phenomenon, most seem perfectly content for things to stay just the way they are.

In many instances, these guardians of the institutionalized church do not pursue nor inspire big dreams. In fact, they often torpedo any dreams that do not come directly through their “golden funnel.” As a result, the institutionalized church is generally bereft of any grand design or workable strategy to win and disciple lost people for the Lord. For the most part, church programs look good only on paper and have little, if any, relevance to the local church and its scriptural mission.

As a consequence, truly missional churches and ministers are decreasing both qualitatively and quantitatively. Decline and institutionalization are identical twins.

For the institutionalized minister in the institutionalized church, the ministry is a profession and not a commission. Most prefer “business-as-usual.” Those who dare cause any ripples within the system are regarded with suspicion and are, at times, allegedly blacklisted and targeted for varying degrees of punishment and ultimate destruction of their “rebellious” influence.

So over time, an “us-versus-them” mentality emerges.

The wonder of it all is that as much gets done for the Kingdom as it does. I attribute that fact to those truly missional pastors, evangelists, teachers, and other Great Commission Christians who pro-actively pursue their Scriptural assignment or mission. They often feel like square pegs trying to fit into round holes. Bumper-sticker sloganeering just isn’t enough substance for them to fulfill their ministry mission. It takes something more. Much more. Pro-actively ministering under such conditions calls for a dramatic shift in thinking and perception at every level.

At its core, Missional means a shift in thinking and perception.

This shift is partially expressed by Ed Stetzer and David Putman in their book, “Breaking the Missional Code” (Broadman/Holman, 2006), in some of the following ways:

* From programs to processes
* From demographics to discernment
* From attractional to incarnational
* From uniformity to diversity
* From professional to passionate
* From decisions to disciples
* From monuments to movements
* From additional to exponential
* From services to service
* From organizations to organisms

As Rick Meigs also observes, Jesus told us to go into all the world and be His ambassadors, “but many churches today have changed the ‘go and be’ command to a ‘come and see’ appeal.” They strive to have the best show in town.
Somehow, many in the institutionalized church have fallen in love with buildings, programs, icy professionalism, multiple staffs and a varied menu of goods and services designed to attract and entertain people but with very little redemptive value.

Today, for an authentic missional leader to pro-actively pursue the fulfillment of the actual mission of the church strictly within the framework of the institutionalized church, it is like trying to swim in a pool of molasses in the cold of winter. While we may admire the effort, we must wonder if the end result is worth all the frustration incurred and the energy expended, resulting in disheartening futility and exhaustion.

A man or woman of God should not be required to run a complex gauntlet and jump through countless “hoops” before they can do what God has called them to do. Those who are prepared should be released to fulfill the mission of the church and should not be required to ask, in the words of the childhood game, “Mother, may I?” prior to their every effort. Most institutionalized leaders in the institutionalized church can politicize almost anything. Not even the Lord’s harvest is exempt when almost every decision is weighed from a personal political perspective.

Here, the operative word is control – not mission.

It should be different. God’s family is a big family and capable of grand visions for achieving great things for God’s Kingdom.

Please let me share this personal experience; in 1984 I prayerfully made a quality decision. I had spent years striving to be pro-active in the pursuit of the mission of the church and to help bring reform to the church from within the system, as the director of and speaker for Radio and Television for my denomination (Church of God, Cleveland TN). But I felt that I could make a greater impact for the Kingdom of God simply as Carl Richardson. I never even considered leaving my church – because the church is my family. Even so, making such a transformational decision nearly tore my heart out. But since that time, God has helped our ministry to win and disciple more than 2 millions souls for the Kingdom of God through our missional Beyond Borders network of trans-denominational ministries locally, regionally, and globally.

“The church,” said Christian Educator William Denney, “is the only organization in the world that does not exist for the benefit of its own members.”

Was he right? Or, was this just wishful thinking?

Stated simply, the mission of the church is – or at least should be – the mission of Jesus. In too many instances, however, it is not. It may be true in some places and cases, but it should be true everywhere, because the Word of God is true everywhere.

Lest some may have forgotten, let’s read again – and experience again – the passion, the power, and the sheer wonder of these missional scriptures:
The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10)

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you . . .. (Matthew 28:19-20)

. . . Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15)

When God loved, He loved a world. When He gave His Son, He gave His Son for a world. When Jesus Christ died, He died for a world.

Today, an increasing and often disturbing fiery spirit of localism, statism, regionalism, and nationalism renders the church ineffective in any attempt to obey the terms of the great commission. But its mandate is clear.

Add to this the disturbing evidences of an unsteadying paralysis of institutionalization and the result is a deadly concoction which causes a decided lack of passion for the true mission of the church – to win and disciple people for the Kingdom.

Almost always there is present both good and bad, strength and weakness in the expression of the church at any given time. Weakness may be manifested even when the church is at its best, and some strength is there when the church is at its worst.

To declare here that there is an increasingly strong tendency toward institutionalization is decidedly not a broadside condemnation of institutions and organizations per se. They are often necessary and desirable instruments or vehicles for the orderly advancement of the faith. It would therefore be utterly impossible for any effective propagation of the values of a movement to be made without appropriate institutions. Institutions can be a valid and valuable part of any significant movement. Historically, many church denominations got their start in this way.


“Seasons” in the Life of A Movement

There are “seasons” in the life of any movement or institution. There is the springtime and the greening of supple youth and rapid growth, to be followed by the summer of passion and fire, to be succeeded by the autumn of wisdom and maturity of middle age, which is often followed (after a time) by the winter of a gnarled old age and accompanied by a crippling paralysis.

Despite the frequent and vocal assertions by the unwitting perpetuators of the institutionalized church that “we are still a movement,” the overwhelming evidence is that the “movement” to which they so passionately refer is, in reality, no longer a true movement. It has become an increasingly stagnant institution. Denial soon becomes the real ongoing mission.

The Gospel says, “seek the lost.” But institutionalization says, “let the lost seek the church.”

The Gospel says, “Go!” But institutionalization says, “Stay!”

The Gospel says (in Luke 14:23), “Go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, that my house may be full.” But institutionalization says, “Let’s launch a new public relations and advertising campaign to attract the right ‘profile’ or ‘demographic’ of the prospective church attendee we are currently targeting.”

Institutionalization is marked by inflexibility, immobility, insensitivity, and inconsequentiality.

Chanting the “party line” and reciting proven “trigger phrases,” the perpetuators of the institutionalized church give primary lip service to the Great Commission but only secondary action.

Often the most zealous among them actually perceive themselves as preservers of “the faith.” Imagining themselves to be among God’s most favorite people, they are expert at self-deception and self-righteousness, artifice and guile. Within the ultimate framework of the institutionalized church, the Great Commission is not resisted. It is ignored. It is quietly displaced with lofty sounding substitutions and high-gloss new programs void of much of anything of eternal consequence.

The bottom line is the only line. The mission of the church is surrendered – then forgotten. Meetings replace mission. Focus on the letter of the law unsparingly replaces the life-giving anointing of the Holy Spirit of God.

Servicing the institution becomes primary. Kingdom ministry becomes secondary.

Christ is no longer Lord of all. He is not Lord at all. Jesus is no longer Savior. He is relegated to and referenced as merely a partner in the “business” of running the church.

What it Looks Like When the Church Becomes Institutionalized

In big church meetings, any increases in finances are loudly trumpeted as “divine favor,” while with intentionality, the least, the last, and the lost are ignored and abandoned to a Christless eternity. It is as if there were no heaven or hell, no repentance or salvation, no Godly righteousness, no purity of heart, no judgment, no reality of regeneration, no real mission.

Institutions become most burdensome when their adherents are primarily related to the church as an institution or to the auxiliary organizations of the church, rather than to the Person of Jesus Christ.

The church becomes institutionalized when it turns its primary focus upon itself and when it is more concerned with perpetuating its own uniqueness than it is with the mission for which it was originally founded.

The final and most fatal mistake for any church organization occurs when it becomes self-serving, self-contained and ingrown. Cliquishness is mistaken for fellowship. Flow charts are substituted for the flow of the Holy Spirit.

Then comes a preoccupation with preserving the memory of the past.
Denominational monuments are built.
The movement fades.
The mission is lost.

But this doesn’t happen overnight. The change comes about so slowly and imperceptibly one is hardly even aware that it is happening. The sense of mission slips away until only the external forms remain.

Few are asked to take the form of a servant, but all are asked to take a packet of envelopes to keep the wheels of the institution well-oiled. Forgiveness becomes a “cosmic blotter” to individuals who pass through the institutionalized process. Once the individual is absorbed into the institutional machine, he can just about do as he pleases and have nothing to worry about. By attending the meetings and faithfully paying his dues to the institution, he thereby demonstrates his loyalty. He has “arrived.” He is now a “professional” Christian.

He has no cross to carry,
no burden to bear,
no load to lift.
no witness to share.

But there is not one shred of biblical support for such a lifestyle.

No church that drops its disciplines and demands for total commitment to the Great Commission can deepen its life or broaden its outreach or make a redemptive impact upon the world around it.

It is here that we face the full measure of who we are as people of God.

As a people, the church is itself the verification of the message it proclaims, or else the betrayal of that message.

I admit it. On the surface, one could easily be plunged into the throes of despair were it not for several very encouraging factors.

Solid ground of real hope

In personally ministering in all 50 states and more than 80 nations on 5 continents over the past 50 years, I have found solid ground which gives me real hope for the future.

* God relates Himself to people, not mere things, nor churchly institutions.
* Our people are good people.
* They are increasingly “Kingdom-minded” and many are global Christians.
* For the most part, they are disinterested in the nuances of politics in the church.
* Being missional is an individual choice pleasing to God, not necessarily others.
* Truly missional leaders want to do what is right in the sight of God and man.
* They care deeply about their faith, their family – and their church.
* They want to make a redemptive impact upon the people in “their” world.
* They want the priorities of the church, including financial priorities, to support the true mission of the church.
* They are fervent in their desire to save the missional church from the bog of institutionalization, even if they have to help drag the church kicking and screaming to the higher, solid ground of true Scriptural mission.

For the most part, genuine proponents of institutionalization are mere straw men anyway. The institutionalization process occurs as a result of passive acquiescence and not through active pursuit. I personally know of no one anywhere who actively pursues or defends raw institutionalization. Not one person. Period. The notion of anyone anywhere meeting covertly for the express purpose of displacing the mission of the church with peripheral concerns or trivial pursuits is non-existent.

Positive Pursuits

Therefore, truly missional officials and missional pastors and their congregations should begin at once to tweak any and all man-made systems to become closely and immediately aligned with the Great Commission. Re-thinking and revising spiritual priorities in keeping with the Word of God itself must at once become a top priority worthy of pro-active pursuit at every level. Some old-fashioned “praying through” is urgently needed – now more than ever – at every level in the Kingdom of God.

And in our eagerness to be counted among the “defenders of the faith,” let’s be rock-solid certain that it does not deteriorate into mere church politics and that we do not actually become defensive of the very institutionalization which may already be sounding the death knell of the truly missional church, locally, regionally, nationally, or globally.

I offer the Missional Manifesto (below) for your prayerful consideration.

Carl Richardson

Missional Manifesto

Great Commission Christians are missional in our vision and actions. Winning and discipling people for Christ is our true mission – our true priority.

At every level, therefore, we will resist the crippling effects of the institutionalization of the church, its systems, its polity, its government, its doctrines, its outreach, its spirit, and its fellowship. We will strive to keep ourselves, and the church, free from the corrosive effects of institutionalization and will embrace personal purity as God’s abiding lifestyle of thought and action for His people, the church.

We will steadfastly stand against the intrusion of carnal political thinking and activity in such a holy calling as the mission of the church.

We therefore urge the church, at every level, to begin at once to rethink its priorities, including financial priorities to fund the mission of the church, and to prayerfully and urgently re-align its operational systems, toward becoming truly missional in commitment in word and deed.

As missional Christians, we therefore commit ourselves anew to the Lord of the harvest to work for personal spiritual renewal/revival as an ongoing lifestyle so that the Lord may be glorified in us and the church may be edified through us.

We not only accept what God is doing in us and through His church personally, corporately and globally, we hereby heartily embrace it.


5 Responses

  1. That was awesome. Thanks so much for posting it. How can we best “urge the church…to begin to rethink its priorities, including financial priorities to fund the mission of the church”?

    This is a great and important point in my mind, and I would love to participate in that urging.


  2. I am somewhat overwhelmed with the article. Without a doubt Carl Richardson has penned the words of his heart. Hats off to him! The institutionalized church is what she is today because of aged leadership figures who have politicized what used to be a movment. In it’s inception the CG was alive and mission minded. Over the years due to internal repititious patterns of leadership we have arrived at almost flat line status. Not in activity – but in missional life. While statistics may be produced the real mission of the church has been passively ignored. We are in the critical care unit and need a great deal of attention. Mission. While the real misson of the church can be defined by quoted scriptures we must move beyond the academic to the operational level. New paradigm structures without a practice toward renewal is nothing more than a repeat of history…only with a different uniform. The world is a village. The days of denominationally controlled churches are quickly fading with the sunset of yesterday. Today the denom can only offer an academic structure, administration assistance in reassigning pastors/leaders, and conflict management for state and local representation of said denomination. It is up to the local church to define its mission movement. Herein lies the problem. A younger congregation can exist with this new approach to mission but aged congregations are often times too caught up in the political denominational arena to practice real local mission. When a pastor has to rely on denom leadership to define his/congregational mission we have missed the mark by a long shot. We can no longer dispense crutches to pastors who have not arrived at the crossroads of personal commitment to mission through prayer and fasting. Most of the language used by emerging groups today are foriegn to far too many pastors. We have relied on man instead of prayer and spiritual discernment to lead our churches. As a Pentecostal denom we have handicapped our own leadership. Pentecostal dynamics are needed not just in the excitement and demonstration of our altar calls. Pentecostal demonstration is needed in the daily practices of our pastors and leaders in the arena of hearing from the Holy Spirit and leading under a daily apostolic and prophetic anointing. After all, this is what Jesus taught us. He could do nothing outside of his codependence on the Father. We have traded this model of dependence for denominational dependence. We have, in so doing, lost our mission. To regain it we must return, as Carl do richly states, some old fashioned “praying through” Oh, I forgot…too many have left this to our denom leadership who have practiced political positioning instead of prayer positioning. Oh for a Godly return to missional practice.

  3. This tugs at the core of what ails us all… that the machine runs simply to keep the machine running. The machine (of organization, structure and practices) exists only to benefit the greater mission. When the mission cannot be accomplished because of the demands and costs of the machine itself, then we are cutting off our nose to spite our face (or some other such analogy).

    Most who understand all of this get sickened at the very thought that someone would try to perpetuate the machine over the mission. To be truthful, this passion sometimes causes some to see any “machine” as the enemy; but for the most part those who want to see the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven realize (1) the need for structure, order and history and (2) the call of Christ to the Church being supreme over the structure, order and history.

    Let us see the best in all while fighting for the best for Christ.

  4. Oops, sorry for all of the italics. The first “any” was the only one meant to be italicized.

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