Posts Tagged ‘missional’

The report of the United Church’s Comprehensive Review Task Group, “United in God’s Work” recommended that the United Church “make a commitment to supporting new ministries and new forms of ministry through an initiative that tentatively would be called Chasing the Spirit” . It frames the purpose of this initiative in terms that come from the Missional Church conversation: “The task group believes the challenge, risk, and hope for the church lie in joining what God is already bringing to life”(p. 13).

The language of the missional church conversation is being heard in many places in the United Church. There is lots of talk about engaging the neighbourhoods around church buildings. However, the term ‘missional’ is often applied to congregational mission projects rather than connoting a genuine shift in identity: mission is seen as something the church does rather than what the church is.

The Missional Church conversation recognizes that the the Church does not have a mission; rather, it participates in God’s mission in the world. That mission does not just happen in distant places; the Holy Spirit is at work everywhere, including the neighbourhoods in which congregations exist. God works through the everyday, ordinary lives of the people of the church and through the congregation as a local expression of the Body of Christ. Baptism is a person’s ordination into ministry and mission. The church is not a ‘place’ where spiritual consumers come to get their needs met. It is an outpost of the reign of God from which disciples of Jesus are sent into the world. It understands itself to be both gathered and sent for the sake of God’s mission of reconciliation and grace. The conversation is not about, “What can we do to get more people into our church”; it is about, “Where is God already at work and in what ways are we being called to participate in that work?” As congregations make this shift in identity, the role of the ordered ministry personnel shifts from being “the minister” to being a leader who equips disciples of Jesus for their ministries in the world and who cultivates a congregational environment that “nourishes this work of discernment, experimentation, learning and engagement with God at work in their neighbourhoods” (The Missional Network website).

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What does the ministry of the baptized look like if considered through the lens of the five marks of the church? Today we look at changes that are developing in the ways congregations teach the faith and form disciples of Jesus (didache)  as they find their way into the new shape of God’s mission.

3) Didache (Teaching)

It is not uncommon for leaders to lament the biblical and doctrinal illiteracy of the people of mainline congregations. There are long-term members of congregations who, if asked, could not find the book of Genesis in a Bible. Most clergy have had the experience of congregational members telling them that they want more Bible studies but, when the study groups are offered, few people sign up to attend; even fewer stay with the group for more than a few weeks.

However, there appears to be movement toward more intentional discipleship formation in some churches. Some of this is driven by the need to form Christians who are equipped to survive as Christians in an indifferent and sometimes hostile environment. The current context brings to the fore the challenge for disciples to be transformed by Christ rather than conformed to the culture.

When people are helped to deepen their discipleship, they become more willing to take on leadership roles that are shaped by the call of the Holy Spirit upon their lives. Taking on these kinds of leadership roles, in turn, often compels them to go deeper in their discipleship. They need to learn how to pray more deeply; they need to know better the story that shapes the lenses by which they see the world and gives hope; they need to recover the distinctive language of faith that articulates what God is doing in their lives and in the world; they need to develop maturity in Christ which includes the humility that shapes faithful relationships.

Congregations are finding new ways of delivering the content of Christian faith. They are more participatory and interactive, engaging not only the mind but also the heart and the body. They recognize that many adults learn best when content is not isolated into separate subjects but is integrated into and related to actual experiences.

Many congregations are finding that adopting Christian practices have helped people deepen their spiritual life and engage in the ministry to which they are called. “Practices are shared actions that, when taken together, weave a way of life amongst a people” (Alan Roxburgh, Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World: The Shape of the Church in our Time, p. 49.) In particular, in churches that understand themselves to be mission outposts of God’s reign, practices help them see the world and God’s work in it in new ways.

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The Church, by its very nature, is missional: the Holy Spirit gathers people into the Church and then sends them out into the world with the message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.The first gift that the Holy Spirit gave to the Church at Pentecost was the gift of speech. The early Church expected that every member would witness to the amazing work God does in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

I can’t speak for other denominations but, in the United Church of Canada at least, it can be difficult to get people to witness to the work is God is doing in their lives. People might share some stories with their pastor but they resist telling others, especially in a public context.

There may be a number of reasons for this: many of the people in our congregations were raised in an era where faith was considered to be decidedly private; they may feel that they don’t have appropriate language to speak about their experiences; they don’t want to be associated with those aggressive, brash types who want to know, “Are you saved?” and have only one particular kind of answer that would be considered adequate. Some fear that, if they were to share their experiences, other people would make fun of them. They would dismiss their witness as delusional.

There was a time when people thought that words weren’t necessary in order to witness to one’s faith. The deeds you did would speak for themselves. A popular quotation (mistakenly attributed to St. Francis) was, “Preach the gospel often and, if necessary, use words.” That may have been appropriate in Christendom, when people assumed that ‘everybody’ was Christian and could easily attribute good deeds to an underlying Christian faith. However, we are no longer in Christendom. Most people do not associate Christianity with the doing of kind and good deeds. They also recognize that people who do good things are not necessarily Christian. Years ago, a friend who was a missionary in Nepal told me, “When I do something kind and good in Nepal, I cannot assume that people will realize I am doing it because I am a disciple of Jesus. They are more likely to assume that I am doing it because I sinned in a previous life and am now working to atone for my sins.” The situation is now similar in North America — people will attribute our actions to any number of motivations. Words have again become necessary.

People may want to share their faith but find it difficult to be comfortable in doing so. I have been wondering what a church could do to help. The impulse to speak about one’s faith arises from the love that the Spirit of Christ places in human hearts — love for those who need to hear the good news of God’s unwavering love, of the hope that Christ offers, of the Spirit’s liberating power. So, I am wondering if, for many of the people in our congregations, it is their love for their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren that could be a gateway for learning to speak about faith to others. They are puzzled and troubled by the fact that their children have so little to do with the life of the Church, even though they were brought to church activities all their lives. They are concerned that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are growing up without hearing the stories of Jesus. They long to pass the faith on to the next generation, knowing that it has been a source of strength and comfort and guidance throughout their own lives. Some of them faithfully bring their grandchildren to worship and to Sunday School, even though the parents don’t attend, hoping that the stories will be told there.

Christian faith is story-based. It is through stories that Jesus reveals to us what God is like and what the reign of God looks like. It is through stories that our lives are shaped and we develop the lens through which we see the world. If the faith is going to be passed along to the next generation, it will be important to get those stories deep into hearts and minds and souls.

So, I have been wondering: What if a congregation asked the adults, “What is your favourite Bible story? Why is it important to you? What is one Bible story you want your grandchildren to know? Why?” The stories could be gathered into a booklet or the adults could tell the story in a video. The artists in the congregation could illustrate the stories. The booklet (in whatever form it eventually took) could be given to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren as a gift, offering an opportunity to read or view it together. Perhaps a booklet/video could be produced for each season of the Christian year. Over time, these booklets or videos may be places to start a deeper conversation.

As I was thinking about these things, it occurred to me: Learning to talk about our faith takes practice. It is a critical practice for the church in this new context. However, it may be that what is more basic than that even is not our faith but the faith. What is more critical is learning to tell the Story, as a way of learning to find the words to tell our part in it.

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This is the thirteenth and final 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 twelfth difference is described this way:

The pastoral church thinks about how to save the church.
The missional church thinks about how to reach the world.

When the topic of being ‘missional’ comes up in United Church circles, someone usually expresses their discomfort with the term. The word ‘missional’ carries with it baggage. It reminds people of that time in the not-too-distant past when ‘mission’ meant Christians attempting to impose their views and values on other people. Sometimes, people think that ‘missional’ means that they will be expected to knock on doors and ask, “Have you been saved?”

It is difficult for people who have been in the church for many years to wrap their minds around the cultural changes that have happened over the past few decades. In Canada, Christians are no longer in a position to impose anything on anyone. We are no longer the dominant voice in the culture. We are a minority among other minorities in the religious landscape. While it may have seemed appropriate a few years ago to some Christians that we should be reticent about speaking out about Jesus for fear of silencing other voices, that is no longer the case. We get to speak our truth as much as others do. We can name the name that has claimed our love and faith. We can share our story.

Hopefully, one of the things we have learned in the process of being pushed to the margins is a new humility. We cannot save the world. We cannot even save the church, for that matter. That’s Jesus’ work. What we can do is be a witness to the work God has done and is doing in our lives and in the world. We can be a sign of the Spirit’s work in the world, gathering people into community to love and serve God’s purposes for the world. In our life together as a community of faith, we can offer a foretaste of the kind of communities God intends for all people — shaped by love and grace, by forgiveness and reconciliation and by the honouring all people.

If a congregation understands its purpose to be a witness, sign and foretaste of the reign of God (David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission), its priorities and activities will change. It will find ways to structure itself so that less time and energy is spent on internal governance: will it trust a few people to make decisions so that the rest of the congregation can be about the work of living into faith in the world? It will find ways to help its people know the scriptures well enough to be able to recognize and name God’s presence when God is unexpectedly present. It will expend less energy on ‘fundraisers’ and more energy on equipping and supporting people to live out their faith where they live and work and play. It will mean that the pain and hurt and brokenness of the world will find a place in the church’s worship and life. It will also mean that all the people will need to develop deep practices of prayer since participating in God’s work in the world will be so challenging, it will drive them to their knees.

Worship will be less a performance by professionals and more a gathering of the world’s pain and hurt and brokenness into the redeeming, reconciling power of Jesus Christ through the surprising grace of the Holy Spirit. The liturgy — the “work of the people”  — will draw on the active participation of the whole people of Christ.

The ordered ministers of the congregation will spend less energy on providing chaplaincy care to all the members of the congregation and hospice care to a dying organization and more energy on equipping all the people to live into their baptism, i.e.  to take up their ministries both in the church and in the world. And, the congregation will support the ordered ministers in doing so.

The shift from being a pastoral church to being a missional church will not be easy for most congregations. Most won’t even consider making the shift until their level of pain (or desperation) is high enough. It will mean returning to basics — the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that shapes who we are and whose we are and what God calls us to be. It will mean sacrificing much that is dear to us for the sake of God’s mission in a hurting world. It will also mean, though, receiving new energy and purpose and passion from the Holy Spirit who is pushing us out of our comfortable enclaves and summoning us into God’s new future.

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This is the twelfth 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 eleventh difference is described this way:

When thinking of the community, the pastoral church asks:  “How can we get these people to support the church?” 

When thinking of the community, the missional church asks: “How can the church support these people?”


In Missional: Joining God in the Neighbourhood, Alan Roxburgh describes the Church as part of a three-way friendship with the Gospel and the Culture. The three friends grew up together and developed a deep relationship over the years. Then, they gradually drifted apart, losing touch with one another. One day, two of the friends were delighted to receive an email from the other friend, inviting them to spend a weekend at his home. The friends enjoyed catching up with each other. However, as the evening progressed, the friend who had invited the other two began to dominate the conversation. He turned every topic to a discussion about his needs, his questions, his plans. The other two friends left the weekend feeling that they had been used to meet his agenda.

In a few different situations, I have found Roxburgh’s depiction of the Church to reflect what happens as congregations try to find their way into the future. They recognize that they have lost touch with the culture around them. Two, three, four generations of people are missing from the faith community. The congregation wonders what went wrong: Why did their children, who were brought to worship and to programmes at the church all through their childhood, drift away? Why do their grandchildren have little interest in being part of the church’s life?

Many congregations begin to ask those questions when it becomes apparent that, if they don’t find adequate answers, the congregation will not survive. Their need to find new people for their faith community drives them to try to reconnect with the culture around them. They ask, “What do we need to do to get more people to support our church?” They look for tactics that they can adopt in order to make their congregation grow.

The Missional Church conversation is not driven by church-centred questions. The focus is not on “How can we get more people to support our church?” Rather, the focus is on what God’s Holy Spirit is already up to in our neighbourhoods.

I have found that it is very difficult for many people in the church to shift their focus. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have sometimes invited them to search out someone who is not involved in a church and ask them four questions:
What is important to you?
What are you passionate about?
Where do you feel God’s presence?
Where do you feel God’s absence?

My instructions are that they are to ask the questions and listen to the answers. Any questions they ask are to be for clarification only. They are not to try to correct or convince the person of something. They are just to listen to him or her.

Some people have taken up the invitation. They have asked the questions of young people and of the elderly. They have asked family members and acquaintances. The answers have been varied. Some of them have been heart-breaking.

However, whenever I have been part of a church gathering where the reports of the conversations have been given, the conversation inevitably turns to the question, “What can we do so that these people will come to our church?” What programme can be offered? What changes can we make so that these people will want to join us?
Even when I have pointed out to the group that the point of the exercise was to hear what God is up to in people’s lives (and not to find out how to make our churches grow), the group reverts to the church-centred question.

The missional conversation assumes that God is out ahead of us, at work in our neighbourhoods and in people’s lives. We go, listening and looking for the signs that God is already on the premises, already at work, although often in ways that don’t look like what we are used to. Nadia Bolz Weber, in an interview with Faith and Life, I think, says the church sometimes is like someone who says, “There are so few pay phones any more. Isn’t it a shame that people have given up on communicating with each other by phone.”

Roxburgh spends a lot of time reflecting on Luke 10. One of the things he points out is that in that passage it is the disciples who are to receive the hospitality of the people to whom they are sent. So often, we think of ourselves as the ones providing hospitality, as those who are offering something to others. It is a major shift to put ourselves on the receiving end of their hospitality. So the question becomes, “Can we create a space safe enough that they are willing to host us, i.e. to share with us the story of God’s work in their lives?”  And, “Are we training ourselves to become the kind of people who, when they trust us enough to invite us into their spiritual lives, can reflect with them what those nudges from the Holy Spirit mean?”
If it is true that God is already at work in their lives, a point at which we can meet is in giving them language to describe what they are experiencing. Of course, we need to know our own stories well enough to recognize God when God is acting in surprising places and ways in people’s lives. I think of my former theology professor, Steve Hayner, who is dying of pancreatic cancer. Through his writing in his Caring Bridge blog, he is able to help us recognize God’s grace even in his suffering and in his dying. Who would have thought that such a journey would be filled with such blessedness, so much joy in the midst of such great sorrow and suffering? He knows the Story well enough that he is convinced that God’s grace is to be found in suffering. He names it in his own life and so helps us recognize it in our lives as well.

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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.

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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.

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