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This is the ninth in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral and a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

The eighth difference is described this way:

The pastoral church is concerned with the church’s institutional nature, organizations and structure, canons and committees. The missional church is concerned with culture; with understanding how secular people think and what their needs are.

The church never exists merely for itself. The church is a people gathered by God to be sent into the world as a “sign, witness, and foretaste” (David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission)  of the Reign of God. Paul tells the church in Corinth that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20).

Churches tend to forget that they exist for the sake of God’s mission in the world for a number of reasons:

  • When the church assumes that the culture in which is functions is basically Christian, it is easy to drift into being merely a religious social club;
  • When a church ‘settles in’ to the way things are, there is a natural tendency to forget its core purpose for existing and to get preoccupied with matters related to managing itself;
  • When the church’s survival is threatened, the temptation is to turn inward, focussing on tactics and programmes to reverse the decline.

In a workshop at the 2012 Worship Symposium of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Mark Labberton spoke of growing up outside the church, largely because of the deep anti-Christian sentiment of his father. Religion, said his father, tends to make things small. It takes something great and glorious and makes it less than what it actually is.

Churches that are made up of people who are mostly all from the same age bracket, the same economic and social classes, the same race and ethnic background are too small. They are too small because God has so much more in store for them. They are too small because the gospel is so much bigger.

A missional church is a church that is rediscovering the largeness of the gospel. It turns outward, attending to the wondrous work that the Holy Spirit is doing in the world. It works within very wide horizons, responding to God’s challenging work of reconciling all things. It finds itself crossing boundaries as it follows Jesus in new and risky adventures among people different from itself.

This turn outward seems difficult for many people in our mainline congregations. Somehow, we have trained them to believe that the church exists mostly to meet their needs. Somehow, we have convinced them that getting what they want is more important than sacrificing their own wants and desires in order to working for what God wants.

In a few different situations, I have invited people in the church to participate in what I thought were relatively easy exercises as a way of getting out into their neighbourhoods. “Walk around the neighbourhood of your church building (or your own neighbourhood), praying, ‘What do you want me to see, God?’” Or, “sit in a local coffee shop and pray the same prayer”. I invite them to do this a number of times and share with others in your congregation what they have seen and heard and observed.Very few people actually take up the invitation. I don’t know why but I expect that figuring out why so many of us resist that turn outward may be the first step we need to take in participating in the ‘new thing’ God is doing in our day.

This is the eighth in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral and a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

The seventh difference is expressed this way:

Leadership style in a pastoral church is primarily managerial, aimed at keeping everything running smoothly.

In a missional church, leadership style is primarily transformational, casting a vision of what can be, and marching off the map to make the vision real.

It was Einstein, I believe, who first said that insanity is ‘doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results’.These days, if the leadership of a congregation assumes that its task is to manage the church well, it will probably find itself not only extremely frustrated, but also feeling like it is operating in the midst of insanity. The culture in which North American churches operate has shifted so radically, that the goal of ‘managing the church well’ no longer produces the desired results.

I am not advocating that congregations be poorly managed; it is just that ‘managing’ is no longer what is needed. In a time of what Alan Roxburgh calls ‘discontinuous change’, the kind of leadership required must be flexible, agile, able to act creatively.

Part of the challenge for those who are in leadership in a congregation is that many of them are in their positions because they value having things well managed. They want meetings that are orderly and that ‘get things done’ in an efficient manner, resulting in clear decisions and ‘action items’ that lead to successful programmes and projects.

Chances are they are not very comfortable with the kind of process that equips the congregation to respond to a culture in transition. That kind of process is messy. It expects that there will be failures. It takes people into risky new territory where they do not have the experience needed to remain ‘in control’.

Years ago, I heard someone say that churches need to create a space for the crazy, risk-taking kinds of leaders that are in their midst. Give them permission to go off and try out some of their crazy ideas. See what ones work. Don’t shut them down when some things fail. Instead, what churches tend to do is to drive them away or impose so many rules and requirements on them that any new life they generate is stifled.

One thing we know from the scriptures, wherever the Holy Spirit is at work bringing new life, things will be out of our control. That doesn’t mean they are out of control. It just means that God is in control — which often looks very different from what we are comfortable with.

This is the seventh in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral and a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

 

The sixth difference is described this way:

The pastoral church seeks to avoid conflict at any cost.
The missional church knows that conflict is the price of progress.

It is not an easy time to be the Church.  Radical shifts in the culture stress congregational life in multiple ways. That stress often gets played out in anxiety about finances, declining attendance at worship, and lower levels of participation in the governance structures and in programmes. It sometimes get played out in disagreements with other members and with the clergy. As congregations experience the stress and anxiety that change brings, conflict is going to happen. 

When it does happen, congregations have different ways of dealing with it. Pastoral churches often respond to conflict from an overriding desire to maintain a ‘cult of harmony’ (Tom BandyFragile Hopep. 28). In such congregations, a lot of energy is spent in avoiding painful realities and difficult discussions. Nobody wants to cause a disturbance by speaking up. Serious disagreements get shut down as quickly as possible. They get driven underground where they fester and turn ugly. When they do erupt, somebody inevitably says, “We are Christians. We are supposed to love one another”, as if loving and disagreeing are incompatible. 

Missional churches need to find faithful and healthy ways to deal with conflict because “the boundary-breaking work of the Holy Spirit . . . creates conflict, consternation and confusion” (Alan RoxburghMissional: Joining God in the Neighbourhood, chapter 8). “The patterns of Christian life that shaped and gave meaning to Christian life in North America for much of the twentieth century . . . are breaking apart . . . opening up to us a radically different way of being God’s people” (chapter 9).

Bandy suggests that congregations address conflict in the church through ‘adult spiritual growth, leadership creativity, and lay empowerment’ (p. 24). Congregations need to learn what words like ‘forgiveness’, ‘grace’, ‘letting go’ look like in the realities of actual relationships. 
Kayla McClurg suggests that adult spiritual growth needs to focus on developing people with humility  and an open mind: “It takes humility to hear each other, let alone work with each other, while seeing things differently . . . We hold in our hearts our sense of what is right, and we also hold those who oppose us” (“The Gift of Disagreement“).

Obviously, facing conflict openly will lead a congregation to deal with its relationships in deep, often painful, but also redemptive ways. Perhaps the first step is to create an environment where we do not run from conflict but face it truthfully, ready to learn important lessons from it, and looking for signs that the Holy Spirit is at work.

 

[Kathleen Smith has written a helpful book, Stilling the Storm, about leading congregations through difficult times of conflict related to changes in worship.
Jean Vanier's books The Broken Body and From Brokenness to Community are also helpful reflections.]

 

This is the sixth in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral to a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

 

The fifth difference is described this way:

When confronted with a legitimate pastoral concern, the minister in a pastoral church asks:  “How can I meet this need?”
When confronted with a legitimate pastoral concern, the minister in the missional church asks: “How can this need be met?”

The shift from a pastoral to a missional church is not merely a matter of a congregation doing different things. Neither is it a matter of doing things differently (e.g. offering ‘better’ programmes; offering groups that target a different kind of people; minimizing bureaucratic rules). The shift from pastoral to missional entails being different: a change in the culture of ‘being church’. Included in this is a move away from such hierarchical distinctions such as ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’.

In Liberating the Laity, R. Paul Stevens writes: “In the Greco-Roman world, the municipal administration had two parts: the kleros (clergy), the magistrate and the laos (layperson), the ignorant and uneducated citizen”(p. 21). At some point, the church adopted that kind of structure in its leadership — the clergy administering, or running the church; the laity working as assistants to the clergy. Along with that kind of structure, came a “mentality of [the clergy] feeling responsible to provide the vision for the church, of leading the church, even running it” (Stevens, p. 23).

A missional church recognizes that Christ breaks down such distinctions. All the baptized all called into and gifted for ministry. The work of ministry staff is not to run an organization in which they are indispensable. The work of ministry staff is to cultivate an environment in which each person knows that s/he is indispensable to the Body of Christ. As Elizabeth O’Connor describes such a community in Call to Commitment, “Everyone was needed and everyone was aware of the point at which he was needed” (p. 43).

Each person is a gift to the community. Each person has a call from God. Each person has been gifted by the Holy Spirit for that work. Ministry staff nurture the life of the community so that each person is helped to discern his/her call and gifts. “Ordained clergy equip and release the multiple ministries of the people of God throughout the church . . . Pastor[s] ask questions that cultivate an environment that engages the imagination, creativity, and gifts of God’s people in order to discern solutions” (The Missional Leader, Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, p. 12). They help the community and its people develop the habits and practices, the capacities and skills that open people to the work of the Holy Spirit who is at work in and among them.

They nurture structures that assist people in living into their calling and gifts. Such structures will not be focused on finding people to help perpetuate the structure ; they will function to support people discern their call, identify the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given for that call, and provide the supports that enable that call to be lived in faithful obedience to the living Christ. The pressing question stops being, “Who can we get to serve on existing committees?” and becomes, “What can we do to set this person free to be what God is calling him/her to be?”

 

This post is the fifth in a series of post that I am re-posting from another blog that I will be discontinuing.  The posts are about the shift from a pastoral to a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

The first post in this series is an introduction to some of the terms.

The second post reflected on the following difference:

The pastoral church asks,   “How many visits are being made?”
The missional church asks, “How many disciples are being made?”

The third post considers this difference:

When contemplating change, the pastoral church says: “This might upset some of our members, so we had better not do it.” When contemplating change, the missional church says: “This could help to reach someone outside; so let’s take the risk and do it.”

The fourth post reflects on this difference:
The pastoral church says: “We must be faithful to our past.”
The missional church says: “We must be faithful to our future.”
Here is the fifth difference:

The minister in a pastoral church tells the newcomer: “I would like to introduce you to some of our members.”
The members in a missional church tell the newcomer: “We would like to introduce you to our minister.”

In a pastoral church, ministry is seen primarily to be the work of the paid professional clergy. The people of the congregation see their role as supporting ‘the minister’ in whatever s/he is doing. In such a model of church, relationship with the paid professional clergy becomes the key to participation in the life and ministry of the congregation. The minister’s name is displayed prominently on the congregation’s signage and worship bulletins. The congregation expects ‘the minister’ will be the person who makes the first visit with visitors after they show up in worship. The minister helps the newcomer establish connections with other people in the congregation — people with whom they might have something in common; people who are responsible for committees or groups in which they might find a place to belong.

A missional church assumes that every person is called into ministry. When a person is baptized s/he receives the gift of the Holy Spirit who gives gifts for ministry. The Church then ordains or commissions some people to exercise their ministries in tending to the life of the congregation. They cultivate an environment in the congregation in which each person is helped to identify his/her gift(s) and call, and is nurtured and equipped to exercise his/her ministry. That ministry happens mostly outside the walls of the building — in the places where each person lives, works and plays. Their actions and words, their relationships and conversations are shaped by and give witness to the difference that following Jesus makes. Other people may become curious about the way they live their lives and begin to ask questions. At some point, the invitation to worship is extended. The relationship, then, is not primarily with the paid professional minister. It is with a follower of Jesus who is living out his/her faith in the world. At some point, that person gets around to introducing his/her friend to the paid ministry staff.

In a missional church, the ministry of the congregation is not confined to ‘church work’ (serving on committees or running programmes). It is carried by all the participants in the congregation as they respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives in the world.

“Christ growing love in you”

A sermon based on Philippians 1:1-12

The work of the church is to be a community of love. We exist to witness to the love God has for all of God’s creation. We exist to pass that love along. We are to love God, love one another, love the world with the love that has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

When people come among us, they should be impressed by the love that overflows in every meeting, in every event, in every gathering of every group. “See how they love one another” was what the watching world said about the earliest Christian communities. Aristides wrote to the Roman emperor Hadrian about the communities of Christ’s followers: “They love one another. They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something, they give frely to the person who has nothing; if they see a stranger, they take him home, and are happy, as though he were a real brother.” (The Apology of Aristides, XIV, XV)

During World War II, members of a Christian Church in Le Chambon, France sheltered thousands of Jews from the Nazis. When they were asked about this extraordinary courage, they all referred to the Bible verse that was carved into the doorway at the entrance to their church. This verse was embodied and preached about by their pastor over and over again. “Little children, love one another.”

The work of the church is to be a community of love that is a sign, witness, and foretaste of the life-shaping, life-changing love of God that meets us in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, ‘there is nothing we are less good at than love’  (Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience, p. 73).  From our earliest days, we have been encouraged to be competitive — to get ahead, to succeed. Day by day we are surrounded by powerful pressures to get more for ourselves by loving things and using people. We are schooled in impressive techniques for manipulating people so that we can get the things we love. However, the more focused we are on loving ourselves, the less capable we become of forming community with other selves. The end result is that we live in a culture where many people are profoundly lonely and looking for love.

So, Sunday be Sunday, we set ourselves at Jesus’ feet and open ourselves to the work of God in our lives, asking God to form us and mature us in love. The promise of the gospel is this: “the One who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). It is an amazing claim. What is most decisive about us is not our love or our failure to love. The most decisive thing is the work of God among us and God’s promise to complete what God began doing in our baptism.

On the day you were baptized, you were adopted into a community of people whose lives also had been claimed by God for God’s good purposes in the world. God has claimed each of us for the great and holy work of learning to love with a love like Christ’s. Indeed, God intends to produce in us and through us a “harvest of righteousness” (Philippians 1:11).

What do you hear when you hear the word ‘righteousness’? Do you automatically hear ‘self-righteous’? Do you think of people who are arrogant and judgmental; who consider themselves superior to others. Do you picture people who think that they are better than everyone else?

When Paul uses the word ‘righteousness’ in Philippians, he is not talking about that kind of self-righteousness. He is talking about a righteousness that is rooted in the grace and the love of Jesus Christ. The word means ‘in right relationship’. As we immerse ourselves in the grace and love of Jesus, a harvest of right relationships develops and grows: right relationship with God; right relationship with each other; right relationship with the world. The ‘harvest of righteousness’ that God’s Spirit produces in us i love that is growing and maturing and looking more and more like the love that Jesus lived.

Love is a word that is often messed up, perverted, or misunderstood. Jesus redefines love for us. Jesus’ love is not anything like the sentimental, ‘anything goes’ parody of love that is so prevalent in our culture. Jesus believes in us enough to summon us into an apprenticeship to a costly kind of love. Loving the way Jesus loves is risky and radical. It means that, day by day, we relinquish our own self-righteousness, our ego-driven desires, our fears that we are not good enough. Instead, we open ourselves to the Spirit’s guidance. We open ourselves to God’s grace that is at work in our souls. We pray. We learn to tell the truth to God, to others, and to ourselves. We receive forgiveness and practise offering it others. We take every circumstance of our lives and hand it over to God — all the messiness, all the pain, all the suffering, as well as the joys and triumphs. We ask God, “Show me your grace and your glory in this.” “Show me how to grow in the love of Christ through this.”

We learn to play jazz with our lives. Said one jazz musician, “We are a people who have sought freedom. Jazz expresses that freedom. More importantly, we are a people who, even through suffering have learned to love. Our music expresses our love for God, for God’s universe, for God’s people . . . We play jazz and the blues so as not to waste any pain.” (Mtumishi St. Julien, quoted in  “Moments of Inspiration: Preaching, Jazz Improvisation and the Work of the Spirit”, Charles Campell, Journal for Preachers, 21 no 4 Pentecost 1998, p 30-35)

Paul prays for the disciples of Jesus Christ in the church in Philippi that they will have no experience that is wasted. All is taken up by God and used to deepen their love and mature them in love, the the love of Christ that changes the world, even as it changes us.

It is a long, slow process. This is soul work and souls cannot be hurried. Yet, God does not give up on us. God’s Spirit continuously works in us, seeking to draw us out of ourselves and pulling us into the wide expanses of the love of God. God’s Spirit loves us just as we are; God’s Spirit loves us too much to leave us that way. God believes in us enough to say over and over again, “Repent. Turn from a life defined by your self. You are made for something more. Turn toward a life made large and holy by the love of God.”

Often, says, Craig Barnes, we are like a half-finished painting. Sometimes we are not sure what it will look like when it is finished. In the middle of the process, things can look pretty ragged. But you can trust that the Spirit is painting the image of Jesus in your life. Your work is to respond to the Spirit’s creativity. Your work is to receive the creative, life-transforming grace of God.

Will you let the living God change you? Will you open spaces in your life where the Spirit can work God’s love into you?

 

Let us pray:

Compassionate God,
we thank you for the work you are doing among us,
leading us forward into new challenges,
forming us into the image of Christ for the sake of the world.

Through your Spirit, lead us to make this community
a place where the lonely find friendship,
the despairing find hope,
the wounded find your healing power,
and all are brought ever more deeply
into the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

This post is the fourth in a series of post that I am re-posting from another blog that I will be discontinuing.  The posts are about the shift from a pastoral to a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

The first post in this series is an introduction to some of the terms.

The second post reflected on the following difference:

The pastoral church asks,   “How many visits are being made?”
The missional church asks, “How many disciples are being made?”

The third post considers this difference:

When contemplating change, the pastoral church says: “This might upset some of our members, so we had better not do it.”  

When contemplating change, the missional church says: “This could help to reach someone outside; so let’s take the risk and do it.”

This post reflects on this difference:
The pastoral church says: “We must be faithful to our past.”
The missional church says: “We must be faithful to our future.”

Things are somewhat more complex than these two statements might imply. The missional church is faithful to the past — it’s just that the faithfulness to the past, to our heritage and tradition, is one of working creatively with what has been given in order to engage the present in new, life-giving ways.

The distinction that is being made in the comparison is between preserving familiar customs and being willing to give those customs up for the sake of participating in the new future God is creating. That is the pattern of living we entered into in our baptism: learning to let go of that to which we are clinging for the sake of receiving the gifts God wants to offer to us. “Dying” in order to be raised to new life.

The critical issue for the missional church is that the congregation needs to go beyond the familiar recent past and delve deeply into the traditions of the Church. It needs to know that tradition well enough to be able to be both faithful to it and creative with it when adapting it to a new context.

Diana Butler Bass calls this ‘fluid retraditioning’. She describes it in The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church . Robert E. Webber also wrote from a perspective of working creatively and adaptively with the tradition, especially in relationship to worship.

Often congregations that want to move creatively into the future find that they are hindered by the fact that so many of their members are unfamiliar with the Christian tradition and basic Christian theology. They cannot work with it because they do not know it. An ‘introduction to Christian doctrine’ group might not excite much interest. The way into Christian tradition is through its stories, the narratives of the scriptures. As people enter into those stories, their imaginations get shaped in different ways. They themselves begin to see the world differently. They themselves begin to act in the world differently.

What are the favourite scriptures stories in your congregation? What do they say about who you are, whose you are, and what you are called to be?

 

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