Saturday, August 25, 2012

Simple Steps to be "Missional"

One of the values of the Fellowship of Presbyterians and ECO: A Covenant Order of Presbyterians, is to have "Missional congregations." This focus is so important that it is one of the legs of the "three-legged stool" (I personally prefer triangles over stools) that props up both of these collaborations. So, here are a few suggestions, some simple steps to becoming more "missional" based off of my recent experiences and past study.

1. Define Mission

What is Mission? The Mission of God, Missio Dei, is to see the gospel proclaimed, the kingdom come, and personal adoption of individuals into the family of God (the Church) from every nation, tribe, and language. It's important to see all three aspects of the gospel. If the gospel is only the gospel proclaimed, then the best way to accomplish God's mission is through sermons, apologetics, street evangelism, perhaps showering areas with pamphlets that explain what the good news is. The gospel is reduced to an intellectual understanding of what God has done through Jesus Christ and people see no evidence of the kingdom of God or deep spiritual connection with Jesus. If the gospel is only the gospel demonstrated, the kingdom come, then the best way to accomplish God's mission is through social services, feeding the poor, healing the sick, adopting children. The gospel is reduced to a "social gospel" in which people see their lives improved physically but have no understanding of why we did what we did or any connection to Jesus. If the gospel is only experienced through a Gospel Community, then while people might have an individual experience of God and fellowship, they have no foundation in the Scriptures to evaluate their experience or feelings, and they don't see a need for a demonstration of the gospel in their communities. Mission is all three: Gospel Proclamation, Gospel Demonstration, and a Gospel Community so that the whole gospel is preached and each person Understands the Gospel, Experiences the Kingdom of God in the World, and Experiences the Spirit of God in community. If our "missional" efforts focus too much in one area, or lack any of the others, then we have reduced the Gospel. As we examine each opportunity for mission we have to ask ourselves, are we preaching the whole Gospel?

Here's an example. Let's say that your church is connected with a local feed the homeless program. That's wonderful! You sign people up and you go once a month and your people probably grow as they experience Christ in a whole new way of service out in the community. How effective, however, is this "mission" at reaching the homeless community? Primarily this would be a Gospel Demonstration. The chances are that the homeless community will not hear the gospel explained to them, and if they do, it will most likely not be from your people. Again, we've reduced the gospel, and you've effectively taught your people that their "job" is to do work, and let the professionals (like preachers) explain what it means to follow Jesus. The biggest gap here is probably Gospel community. The homeless community will connect with those who actually run the feeding program, but the chances of them ever really connecting with your church community is little if existent at all. There may be incredible stories of transformation, or maybe there aren't really any at all, but you and your community will never know personally except maybe through a newsletter, and your congregation certainly won't benefit from actually adding these to your own body of believers.

2. Gospel Demonstration done by the Church 

Very much related is the need to shift from a professional mentality to a priesthood of all believers mentality. Many people think today that church is done by professionals. For example, parents drop their kids off at school to be taught by professional teachers, they take them to their afterschool activity to be trained by someone who specializes, and then they may drop them off at youth group where a professional Christian trains them. Christianity has become so institutionalized that only the professional clergy have the knowledge and skills to do it right. How do I proclaim the gospel to someone? That's what we pay the pastor for. How do I have a gospel community? Again that's what we pay our church staff for. How do we reach out into the community? Well we give money to partners who specialize in their specific world changing activities. We support this mentality when we have a transactional model for our mission partners. A partner is someone who is fully engaged and connected in every way. Could you imagine telling your spouse that you will provide the funds and they will take care of all the work of raising the family? It would be nice if they would send you a newsletter every now and then telling you how your children are doing. While this is not the ideal for a partnership in marriage, neither is it in our mission partners whether local, regional, or international. The church can have vendors, organizations or people that they pay for products, but in order to be on mission they need to be involved themselves, sometimes with partners in the fullest sense of the word. When we remove our people and our responsibility to demonstrate the gospel we reduce our the call of our Lord and Savior to see His kingdom come, and we do our people a great disservice by teaching them that they are only financially responsible to pay for others to do the work of the kingdom rather than being a priesthood of believers.

3. Focus your Gospel (Mission) efforts

Almost every church, not matter the size, is already doing mission. Part of the problem is that there isn't a focus to our efforts. We have a budget that is divided up among X partners, based off of a number of factors, and each of our partners gets some of our money. Sometimes we have members in our church, each with their own projects or partners, maybe the local soup kitchen. The problem with being spread so thin in our efforts is that the more spread you are, the less impact there you actually have. This is a basic concept in nature that we use all the time and there are many examples. Have you ever seen a performer lay on a bed of nails? Why isn't that person impaled? There are so many nails that the pressure is spread out and no ill befalls them. However, if you removed all the nails, save one, and tried to lay down the force, focused on that one point, would puncture the skin. When we spread our missional efforts out it looks great to church consumers. They, in a cafeteria style church, have a wide variety of "partners" to choose from and see a church that cares about many issues. The example given at the fellowship conference was that they could give $10,000 a year to 10 different agencies, or they could plant a church. They found that planting a single church had more impact for the kingdom of God. A good model for focus is to have a Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and an ends of the earth based off of Acts 1:8. Have a single focus for mission in your city, or immediate community, your Jerusalem. Have single focus for mission in your region, our county, your Judea. Have a single focus for a cross cultural mission, not necessarily far, your Samaria. Finally, have a single focus for an international, ends of the earth, preferably an unreached people group (see below)

4. Gospel Declaration

One of the key things in a missional declaration of the Gospel is to realize that the people you are reaching will not understand your language even if they speak your language. My wife and I have spent a lot of time in the hospital and it still amazes us that a lot of doctors and nurses use language like "tachypneic" when explaining things to patients. Why not just say "fast breathing?" The same thing happens in our church sub-culture. We speak in language that only the other people who have been apart of the culture of church understand and we use words that have different connotations and connections for those outside of the culture. At the last fellowship conference someone laughed, from the pulpit, about concerns about the word "evangelical" in the name of ECO. How could anyone be bothered by the word "evangelical"? Last time I checked we believed in preaching the good news! Absolutely we do, but is it worth noticing that for the secular culture, the people we are trying to reach missionaly, that the word "evangelical" doesn't mean bringing good news. It has a variety of political connections and is a culturally loaded word. It doesn't mean we abandon what evangelical means, but we would do well to declare the gospel in the language of the people. When we go on mission to tribes that have never heard the gospel before, we take great care to learn not only the linguistics, but also the way in which ideas are expressed. We should take the same care as we focus on particular people groups in our own local communities. Ideally the Gospel will be declared 1. after gaining a hearing through deep listening and 2. through story telling.

5. Gospel Community, relational capacity and multiplication.

People are built for community. They long for it and yet many have trouble "doing community" on their own. 
In order to share this part of the gospel we must build gospel communities which will take on a variety of expressions. One of the key aspects to understand about a gospel community is "relational capacity." This is usually a part of the triangle that new church plants excel at and which small groups aim at regaining in larger churches. While designed for community, we each have a limit, a capacity, at which we can have deep relationships. It is not possible, or practical, for an individual to have the deep love one another relationship described in the New Testament with 300 people. Yet, we are designed to function  most effectively in the world, Gosepl demonstration, in groups larger than 10. Our Gospel Communities to regain the space in between small group (an intimate family space) and congregational worship (a public space, in the New Testament the gathering of all of the city churches). That inbetween space is often called today missional community, micro-expression, or house church. It is the space of extended family, at the upper edges of relational capacity. It is thus important to build into the very DNA of church plants, and micro-expressions of churches (missional communities) that when they reach relational capacity they should multiply. If someone has begun an effective community, rather than seeking to grow, grow, grow, they should seek to multiply their leadership. After all we want to see the kingdom of God come, not our own kingdom's growth. Finally, people need to experience sharing the gospel as a community. We can't expect to preach responsibility from the pulpit and then hope that people will go out on their own and individually do these things without any help. Communities in action together on a focused goal provide an environment where people are discipled not only through knowledge, but by apprenticeship, by doing. My favorite resource for Missional Communities is Soma. If you really want to dive into this, then go here and listen to the hours of training material they have. It takes some time but is well worth the investment.

6. The importance of Unreached People Groups

One of the primary dangers in describing everything that the church does as being Missional is a loss of the importance of reaching "unreached people groups", some call this "frontier missions." When everything becomes "mission" then nothing is "mission". When we describe all aspects of the life of church as being part and parcel of the Missio Dei, the mission of God, then often we lose the emphasis on what historically has been a call to reach all nations, not just the ones that are convenient. For example, if picking up my neighbor's newspaper for them and being friendly is being "missional" then why should I bother to support a missionary couple attempting to break ground in a Muslim nation? Certainly I would never take such a risk myself. I'm already doing missions! I'm a missional Christian in my own missionary field! The "Mission" of the church is to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, to every people group. As exciting as the new "missional" movement is in empowering our people to move from a Christianity that is a service preformed for them by professional Christians to an actual movement of living a life, in every aspect, to serving our Lord, our focus on unreached people groups must remain. An unreached people group is a group that does not have an indigenous church strong enough to evangelize its own people. 

I could keep going but hope that some of the basic steps give us a jumping off point to begin actually implementing a missional mindset rather than just understanding that we should.

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