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Is Your Church a Religious Cushion?

By Scott Thomas, Director of the Acts 29 Network 


Jack Miller was the director of World Harvest Mission and pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church near Philadelphia and professor at Westminster. In his book, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church (one of the best books I have read in a while), Jack described the church as a “Religious Cushion.” He characterized the religious cushion church:


  1. Resembling a retreat center,
  2. Practically being fellowship-driven and not mission-driven,
  3. Consumer congregants demanding worship as a separate dish ordered aside from the mandate of making disciples,
  4. Preachers without the courage to confront the missional apathy of the church, and
  5. A church only doing missions in far away lands.


As we make disciples, we lead them to be Spirit-led followers of Jesus who are life-long learners, obedient to Jesus and who are then making disciples of all nations who make disciples. It’s lather, rinse, repeat.


Missional Leaders Needed

As a missional leader, you have the responsibility to continually remind the people of your gathering to go into the Lord’s harvest fields. Like Jesus, you have to continually point them to the gospel message of redemption through a sent people. As a band of missionaries, you have to engage the lost, not as a means to build your church, but to follow the mandate of Jesus, the One sent by God to seek and to save the lost for the glory of God.


C.H. Spurgeon said, “You do not love the Lord at all if you do not love the souls of men.” [John Blanchard, Gathered Gold (London: Evangelical Press, 1984), 299.] The people in the churches where I was pastor quickly strayed away from the harvest like a runaway criminal on the chain gang. They wanted to work on the building, have fellowship dinners, potlucks, and men’s breakfasts. They wanted to read books, sing songs—as long as it was in the style they preferred—and start programs for their own kids. MOPS, AWANA, VBS, BSF and home school CO-OP. Whatever kept them away from S-I-N-N-E-R-S.


Jack Miller calls this missional leader the “Pacesetting Pastor.” A pacesetter, according to Miller, is a runner who moves ahead of the pack and sets the example that gets others moving. This is not a comfortable position unless you are called to make disciples of all nations and you are called to lead a group of believers to be radical followers of His mission. The pacesetting pastor keeps the mission of Jesus as the focus of the gathered community. I like “A United Gospel Community on Mission to all people for the glory of God” as a slogan. It is simple, understandable and easily remembered. A pacesetting pastor cannot let the mission become an elective of the church. Most of all, the pacesetting pastor cannot be sucked back into the pack and lose the influential role as the leader of the mission.