The AND of Church: Genius vs. Reality

Every pastor wrestles with creating or maintaining a structure that aligns with their vision. Church planters are no different. No topic seems to be influencing this conversation right now more than the Genius of the “AND”. This is something that I’ve wrestled with from the beginning. The question continues to arise: How do we maintain a balance between the gathering and sending of the Church in a context that naturally wants to gather and often resists the sending?

Something interesting has happened at Austin New Church. Although we are a church that values equally gathering (exaltation/proclamation) and the sending (incarnation), our onlookers often assume as a service-based-missional-church, that we value mission, service, and community OVER worship, teaching, and discipleship. This is not true.

In fact, our intention is to be a church where our reality is a balance between the two. I believe not only in the “Genius” of the AND, but also in it’s biblical value. I truly believe that one validates the other. But I also understand completely why people make this assumption about ANC. And it’s our fault.

We do it on purpose.

Let me explain: I’m right-handed. And I play basketball. My natural bent is to dribble with my right hand and to shoot with my right hand. I don’t have to work very hard to do that well. My left, however, is another story. I have to force myself to go left. I have to work extra hard, do left-handed drills, and honestly… I’m not nearly as good at it.

So I have a choice. Always go right, which eventually becomes predictable and even ineffective in certain situations. Or LEARN to go left… be willing to work hard, willing to do something that makes me feel uncomfortable or even make me look a little awkward at times, willing to even fail trying, but do something I know is not only necessary but something that can be a difference maker.

“But go and LEARN what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mt 9:13

“LEARN to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” – Is 1:17

The gathering of the church has become our “right hand”. We intuitively (and culturally) do it well. Honestly, we do it so well… it easily becomes rote… so we spend extra time trying to keep it creative, always seeking to push the envelope to the next level. This – in itself – is not a bad thing.

The sending of the church is often our “left hand”. We know it’s there for a reason. But we tend to use it only when we have to. And it’s certainly a difficult task to improve. It’s hard work. And often takes sacrifice.

So we have a choice. Do we settle for doing one well and neglect the other? Or do we work hard on our weakness, shooting for a balance between the two? I’m not trying to oversimplify the conversation, but I believe this is part of our problem. We get whatever we put into it. In fact, I believe we must work harder – possibly twice as hard – at the missional elements of church to come even close to the middle. This is our strategy at ANC. We lead with mission and our hope is that worship is the overflow. So far, so good.

We can’t minimize this to being just a functional move. It’s more complicated than that and there’s a reason it works. There is certainly a biblical purpose. But as church leaders and practitioners we must recognize that the GENIUS of the “AND” is a reality that very few of us actual find. And that the REALITY of the “AND” is found in identifying, working on, and playing to our “weakness”. It’s not only about what we do well, it’s what we neglect. It’s certainly more of an art form than a science and often requires an over-compensating of sorts in the direction of mission. A move not everyone is willing to make.