Finding God before church: Book advocates finding the missional path in order to help others

Saturday, October 20, 2007
"Finding the Missional Path" by Barry E. Winders (Submitted photo)

Barry E. Winders isn't advocating people quit going to church. But he is suggesting churches take a look at how and why they're trying to grow.

In his recently published book, "Finding the Missional Path," Winders explains what he means.

"There's nothing wrong with attracting people to the church," Winders said. "We can't fulfill our mission unless we attract people, but that's not our goal. It's not our true mission."

The church's true mission, Winders says, is showing God's love for people at the home and community level. It's not about building bigger churches or going on mission trips to far-off countries. The church's work is at home, and mainstream churches seem to have lost sight of that, Winders said.

"It's not about church attendance we have on Sunday," he said. "We have made that the endgame."

It's about forming and preserving souls.

In the introduction to his book, Winders questions why churches are focusing on what he calls "church stuff" -- political activism, numbers and techniques.

"Of greater concern is the American culture's hunger for the holy, the mysterious, the unexplainable and the spiritual," he writes. "People today are pressing all the spiritual 'hot' buttons searching for purpose and for understanding of their role in God's redemptive mission in the world. At times it appears church members are sending the wrong message to their membership by urging them to save the institution. ... Not released to be missional in their homes, schools, neighborhoods and places of work, church members sense a conflict of mission because the Great Commandment and the Great Commission stated in the Bible differs from the primary focus of the church. ... The aim of the church must be souls -- not just saved souls but formed souls."

What Winders contends is not really revolutionary -- although he says it does tend to make some clergymen uncomfortable. The organization Love INC is already on a missional path, he says. Recently La Croix United Methodist Church and some other churches in the area got together with a "blitz day" as part of its "40 Days of Community" approach. People went out into the community and helped their neighbors and performed untold small acts of kindness.

"People need to see God within their own culture," Winders said.

They need to see God at work in his people close to home.

"Churches are being hard-wired to think they are part of a better world than is out there," Winders said. "They want to attract people into the world of the church, but our world is not a perfect world, and the church is not a perfect world. The problems of the world and the problems of the church are no different."

Winders says he has no ax to grind with any church organization. He wrote the book because he sees the church becoming distracted by "church stuff," bound up too much in growing the way a business would grow, not growing souls. The church needs "to be the church, not do the church," he says in the book.

"I ask people 'When you are engaging people in the world, do you make them feel guilty or do you share with them God's vision for life?'" he said. "Some of us have to retrain and refocus. We don't need to make them feel guilty. They need to see God's vision for their life."

Since he began exploring the missional path, Winders, who is pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church in Fruitland, says he goes about his job as pastor differently.

"When I was a young pastor I was doing everything to be a super pastor," he said. "I was in a church for 12 years that grew from 130 to 600 people. That was the goal: to be bigger. It is our goal; it is not God's goal. God's mission is to see our lives changed by Christ and be part of a ministry for him."

A missional path can be found anywhere, Winders said. Spiritual conversations are going on in every place where people are; one just has to listen.

"Finding the Missional Path" is available at Gospeland Christian bookstore, Barnes and Noble, Borders and on Winders will sign copies of his book at Gospeland from 4 to 6 p.m. Nov. 2 and at the Gospeland at Marion, Ill., from 1 to 5 p.m. Nov. 3.

He will also hold a conference Feb. 1 at the Drury Lodge based on the book for lay people and clergy. Anyone who wants to attend can contact him at

@contact note:

335-6611, extension 160

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