I have had the privilege of leading Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck) for nearly 30 years, from its inception (I was a church planter) to now. I can’t begin to tell you what an enormous privilege it has been.
Recently, a fairly large team of staff participated in a “charette” process in relation to future building and campus development. When asked for one key word, one significant characteristic, that set Meck apart, they were uniform in theme, saying things like “our mission,” “we’re missional,” and “we are completely focused on our mission.”
They could have said that we are a large church, a diverse church, a unified church, a young church (demographically), a contemporary church – all of which we are – but first and foremost, we are a church marked by its mission.
And what is that mission? Our mission has always been to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ through the local church; in other words, the Great Commission mandate to “make” disciples and then to “teach them everything.” Most churches would embrace this rhetoric, but fewer reflect it as a reality—particularly on the “make” part of the equation. Many churches “woo” disciples, “recruit” disciples, “reach out” to disciples… but that simply means going after existing disciples. Jesus’ verbiage was clear: “make.” That means reaching the unchurched, those far from God, with the one message that can alter the trajectory of their lives, even into eternity.
This is why we have often told those new to Meck that we are not only after the unchurched, but that we are simultaneously not in competition with other churches. A hundred churches could open within a 10-mile radius of our campus, and we genuinely wouldn’t care. Even if one or more experienced meteoric growth from existing disciples. We’re after people who aren’t even looking for a church.
And yes, we have kept our eyes on that prize from day one, unwavering in our commitment to it for nearly 30 years. It’s why on the one hand, we could have been bigger numerically by now (transfer growth is always easier than conversion growth), but on the other hand, we have consistently seen what growth we have experienced come predominately from the unchurched (more than 70%).
One of the results of this laser-like focus is that it results in an energized and focused team. Just over the last few weeks, faced with any number of decisions related to the ending of all things pandemic and the church pivoting back into full operational mode, I heard an unrehearsed phrase uttered over and over again by both staff and volunteers. When faced with a decision, with one pathway being much easier in terms of workload or time consumption than another, I would hear, “I’ll always do anything for the mission.” The context tended to be conversations about what to do or what not to do. Often, the contrasts involved a price tag. When the T chart of pros and cons came up, and the cons loomed large, the response was, “Well, if it’s best, it doesn’t matter… anything for the mission.”
A collective “dying to yourself” for the sake of the cause is not exactly common. In fact, it’s the exception to the rule. As I have written in other places, what tends to rule is a spiritual narcissism. In Greek mythology, Narcissus is the character who, upon passing his reflection in the water, becomes so enamored with himself that he devotes the rest of his life to his own reflection. From this we get our term narcissism, the preoccupation with self. The value of narcissism is the classic “I, me, mine” mentality that places personal pleasure and fulfillment at the forefront of concerns.
In so many places and in so many ways, a spiritual narcissism has invaded the Christian community. Eavesdrop, for a moment, on how some Christians talk or the kinds of things they post:
“I want to go where I’m fed”—not where we can learn to feed ourselves, much less feed others.
“I need to be ministered to”—as if ministry in the life of the Christ follower is something that happens to us, instead of something we make happen through us for others.
We walk out of a worship service and say, “I didn't get anything out of it”—as if the purpose is what we got out of it, instead of what God got out of it.
A particular experience was engaged, and the response is, “That wasn’t very moving”—instead of pondering whether God was moved by our engagement.
Where did that come from? It wasn’t from our Leader. He didn’t talk that way. Jesus said: “I did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many”; “Whoever wants to be first must become last”; “Whoever wants to be great among you must become the slave of all”; “Not my will, but thine” (See Matthew 20:25-28; Luke 22:42).
Yet a spiritual narcissism has invaded our thinking where the individual needs and desires of the Believer have become the center of attention. And as a result, the church has lost virtually all its missional energy and focus. At least, the mission entrusted to it by Jesus.
So forgive me if I count it a moment of great personal satisfaction to be surrounded by selfless, sacrificial, servant-hearted athletes who say, to no matter what they might face,
… “anything for the mission.”
James Emery White
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.