Mark Galli, editor of “Christianity Today” magazine, spoke Nov. 5 on his thoughts about the true mission of the church on Union’s campus in Hartley Hall.
After a day spent serving the Jackson community with the university’s Campus and Community Day more than 150 students, faculty and staff members, and University President David Dockery gathered to hear Galli’s fearless description of how the view of the church should change.
“We are delighted that Mark Galli could be with us on Union University’s campus tonight,” Dockery said.
“His words about the church were thoughtful, thought provoking, helpful and challenging.”
After being hired as an associate pastor of a local church, a heated debate over whether the church should install a paper towel dispenser or blow dryers for the church bathrooms brought Galli to a realization that the church is full of broken people learning to love each other.
Galli gave the disclaimer at the beginning of his lecture that he is not a theologian, nor is he trying to claim to be one.
He gave the example that the church brings people of different backgrounds together and encourages them to live in community with one another, noting that it is not always easy to love everyone within the community.
“Seems to me the church’s destiny and purpose is to live together in love and Christ for God’s glory,” Galli said.
“That is, in fact, the destiny of all humankind from every corner of the globe.”
As a Baby Boomer, Galli has seen many people leave the church to do mission work with other organizations because they do not think the church does a good job of being missional.
“I am hardly against Christians working in society,” Galli said.
“Any Christian whose heart does not break over injustice or who does nothing to alleviate suffering is not a Christian in the first place as far as I can tell.”
His point: people in the church are doing mission work, but the point of the church is not to be a missions organization.
“Our job is to bask in the goodness that it is a people gathered in unity around a good God revealed in Christ,” he said.
“Our mission, if we are to have one, is to enjoy that. Or, as Paul puts it, ‘to live for the praise and glory of God.’”
“I thought he did a good job at presenting both sides in a non-judgmental way,” said Rachel Robbins, senior music and psychology double major after attending the lecture.
Galli quoted Emil Brunner, who said, “The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.”
He summarized by saying, “Its very life is dependent upon what it does in the world.”
Galli disagrees with this viewpoint.
“It is an unhealthy diet for the church to digest, because it fails to appreciate what church is like in a lived reality as we know it,” Galli said.
“Until we rid ourselves of this missional notion as a dominating paradigm for how we understand the church, we will not be able to love the church Jesus has actually given us.”
He gave examples of hypothetical people in local churches such as, “Margery” the woman who does a lot in Sunday school but has a habit of gossiping, and “Scott,” the guy who is not well-liked because he is such an environmentalist, and “Max,” the extreme legalist.
“Yet each week you sing hymns that speak of the unity. You live in something resembling a community centered on Jesus,” he said.
“The church is a place where saints are made, and it is also a place that regularly reminds us to love our neighbor.
“If you want to do something really hard and constantly be tested in love … to learn to be holy and blameless in love, there is really no better place on the planet than the local church. It’s where we all learn together and ‘grow up into the stature and fullness in Christ, who is all in all, to the praise of God’s glory.’”