This is the fifth post in our series about missional ministry. You can read my prior posts by following the links:
1 – Introducing missional theology
2 – Why you can’t be missional alone
3 – Why prayer is the fuel of missional ministry
4 – Why missional ministry requires vulnerability
Missional is urgent and it is also lean. Christians (and churches) make the missional shift when they come to realize that not only is the mission of God their mission, but that the ways in which we’ve pursued that mission in the past are no longer effective. In The Missional Leader Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk detail a common response to declining ministry effectiveness in non-missional churches: confusion, anxiety, and conflict. Often, our first response to a major change in the context in which we’re ministering is to keep doing what we’re doing, but to do it more intensely. We decide to work harder rather than smarter. Roxburgh and Romanuk call this “the reactive zone”–not a good place to be.
Some typical reactive responses to diminished missional effectiveness include:
- Tension with senior staff that results in pastoral turnover.
- Building a new worship center in order to attract more people to worship.
- Adding a “seeker” service or an extra AA group.
These reactions show that the leadership of the church is struggling to really grasp what’s going on in their context. They think that by adding some “extra” they can revamp their flagging ministry success. In reality, they need to take the time and do the hard work of digging down into their unique congregational DNA and asking God to reveal to them where, why, and how they need to change in order to be better stewards of the Gospel.
When a congregation and its leadership are willing to start that journey, the likelihood is that they’ll move toward being a missional community. Jesus addresses one of the realities that, I think, restrains pastors and churches from becoming more mission-focused: it’s urgent work and to be done with lean resources.
As he sends the seventy-two, ambassadors preparing the ground for Jesus’ upcoming preaching tour, Jesus tells them: “Do not take a purse or a bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road” (Luke 10:4).
There are at least three ways we can understand what Jesus is saying and I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive:
- Their ministry is urgent. In telling them to depart without stopping to provision themselves for the journey points to the urgency of the task that Jesus has given to them. It was critical that they depart immediately and make progress down the road so that they could do the preparatory work of establishing a missional vanguard in the places Jesus would visit and preach. Common sense would dictate making some preparations for the journey, but Jesus places that as a relatively unimportant task compared with getting the good news to the people.
- Their ministry is lean. This leanness is a function of the urgency of the mission–the more baggage a traveller has, the more difficult it is to be flexible in travel. It reminds me of my honeymoon. We way overpacked and had a miserable time dragging full-size rolling suitcases down the cobbled streets of Hereford, UK. The messengers had what they needed–it was time to get on the road.
- Their ministry depended on others. Since they carried and important and urgent message and were barely provisioned, these missionaries had to depend on the hospitality of others, a high cultural value in their culture.
Making the missional shift requires us to embrace the urgency of the mission and to engage it with a creativity unencumbered by the baggage of ineffective mission strategies. The mission is so urgent that it ought to be the criterion by which we evaluate most (if not all) elements of our church budgets. To what extent does this program or this line item play a key part in taking the gospel into the community? Where there seems to be a tenuous connection between the two, we should consider entering a period of prayerful discernment about the future of this program–how could it change to be more missional? Is there a place for this in our congregation?
This is difficult work of spiritual leadership. It requires focus, humility, prayerfulness, and proximity to the heart of God. For that reason, it’s imperative that before all else we prepare our hearts before we rearrange our priorities.