There are, of course, two extremes on this issue. On the one hand we have the Fundamentalist approach: Circle the wagons! Its us against the world. Keep those sinners out of the church. They might have a bad influence on my children, and they might infect us lest sin grow rampant in the church. The church is a haven from wickedness of this world (i.e. worldliness). In this mindset the last thing we would want is to have anything to do with “those people out there” – sinners. Because we need to keep ourselves unstained from the world! So the last thing we would want to do is go to them (i.e. be missional, or do evangelism).
On the other hand we have the missional church movement. And that is of course a good thing, and I think a needed correction to evangelicalism. Our purpose is to reach the lost. We must show the love of Jesus by doing outreach and serving our community, thus building relationship(s) outside “the four walls of the church.” Again, all well and good. But when the focus becomes solely on being missional to the neglect of gathering as followers of Jesus for mutual encouragement and edification [or for what I like to call the big four activities of the local church (prayer, worship, teaching and fellowship – Acts 2:42-47)] then something is out of whack! We can’t very much give something we don’t have (like say a genuine sense of inner peace) if half of the people sent out on the outreach event are walking wounded themselves! The church still has to engage in the basic work of Pastoral Care of our own. Some level of healing must take place before we can send those new disciples out on mission so that those sent can reflect the wholeness that we offer to the world out there beyond the borders of the four walls of the church! See also Robby McAlpine’s post on related problems with an overemphasis on the missional approach.
Another problem we see is where a church blurs the lines between the church gathered and the church scattered and tries to turn the Sunday morning gathering of Jesus’ followers into an evangelistic outreach event. I’ve written elsewhere on this – The Attractional Model of church. Don’t get me wrong, I do think there is a Biblical precedent for the idea of unexpected church “visitors” (See 1 Cor. 14:23-25). Nor do I think that the church gathering is a time for charismatic excesses which would seem bizarre or make no sense to an outsider. But we can’t do this missional thing on our own. Sunday morning is the huddle, but the mission is out there! We need the power of the Spirit, encouragement and accountability of our brothers and sisters (the gathered community), prayer, and good solid proclamation of God’s word for ourselves in order to go out there and live a life of missional sentness the other 6 days of the week in the market place.
So yes, we need both! We need to gather as followers of Jesus, with like minded people, of the same faith to lick our wounds (be restored and encouraged), to hear the good news of the kingdom of God once again, to worship “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Tit. 2:13), and pray and ask God to strengthen us for the road (mission) ahead. And yes we need to train our people to live life on mission in their homes, neighborhood, community, workplaces (not just view the church as a private club of the “feel good about ourselves holy ones.” We need to send missionaries to the far reaches of the earth, to the remotest unreached people groups on the planet, as well as plant churches in the next town over! We are a sent people. I am sending you. I am sending you! I am sending YOU (John 20:21).