Two Kinds Of Churches

A friend of mine once told me that there were essentially two kinds of churches: the kind that are concerned primarily about who’s already there and the kind that are concerned primarily with who’s not yet there. Pope Francis certainly wants his flock to be the latter kind.

While reading through his wonderful little recent work Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of The Gospel), I came across this passage which summarizes what motivates the church that is always looking beyond the boundaries of its existing community to those not yet there:

 I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself. As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion”.

Immediately the protest from those inclined to a church that prioritizes those who are already there will be something like: “What about caring for the sheep?!? You can’t neglect the needs of the community for the sake of outreach!” Pope Francis anticipates this objection later in the document when he talks about pastoral care:

Today more than ever we need men and women who, on the basis of their experience of accompanying others, are familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit, so that they can protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock. We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders…One who accompanies others has to realize that each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without. The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Someone good at such accompaniment does not give in to frustrations or fears. He or she invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up their mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel. Our personal experience of being accompanied and assisted, and of openness to those who accompany us, will teach us to be patient and compassionate with others, and to find the right way to gain their trust, their openness and their readiness to grow.

He expresses a deep and sensitive pastoral concern for God’s people, yearning to seem them shepherded and cared for in intentional and compassionate ways. But he goes on to add the following, which is a crucial point:

Genuine spiritual accompaniment always begins and flourishes in the context of service to the mission of evangelization. Paul’s relationship with Timothy and Titus provides an example of this accompaniment and formation which takes place in the midst of apostolic activity. Entrusting them with the mission of remaining in each city to “put in order what remains to be done” (Tit 1:5; cf. 1 Tim 1:3-5), Paul also gives them rules for their personal lives and their pastoral activity. This is clearly distinct from every kind of intrusive accompaniment or isolated self-realization. Missionary disciples accompany missionary disciples. [emphasis mine]

The healthiest people in the church who are experiencing healing and in the process of spiritual formation do so unto a purposeful end: joyful participation in the Mission of God in the name of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.