Saturday, May 14, 2016

Seminary PL8: Thinking Missionally

This is the eighth post in the Pastoral Leadership part of my Seminary in a Nutshell series. The first six were:
1. The last four posts have been about strategic planning. The typical process begins by clarifying the mission of your church in a way that leads to a sense of vision for its immediate future. Often the core values of the church or organization are also clarified before the church sets specific goals to work toward. Thus far we have been looking at the first two steps--clarifying mission and setting vision.

In this post and the next, I want to mention two key factors a church should take into account when working through this process. Again, many will intuitively connect these dots, but it is worth mentioning them explicitly. The first has to do with the divine opportunities of your church's context. The second has to do with the specific strengths of your church and ministry. Today's post is about the missional opportunities of your church's context.

2. One of the "books" of this Seminary in a Nutshell series has to do with mission. In theory, that entire topic would come into play in strategic planning. For example, one post in that series will have to do with demographics--what do the people who surround your church look like? While there are plenty of churches where the people drive in from some distance, there is something peculiar about a church that has no connection with its immediate environment.

The key to thinking missionally is to think about what God is doing rather than what your church or ministry wants to do. God is on a mission to reconcile the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-20), and the church is his agent in the world to bring it about. While we may talk about "our" mission, we are really about God's mission.

A key question in strategic planning is thus, "What is God already doing here?" What is God already doing in our community to reconcile it to himself? What is God already doing in our church? The missional question is, "How can our church join God in the mission that he is already doing here?"

What does our community look like? What are the greatest needs of our community? What people groups are not being reached in our community? What tools does our church already have that we can use to good effect?

3. It is unlikely that your church can do everything or reach everyone. Certainly you do not want anyone to feel unwelcome. Certainly you must not exclude anyone from the reach of your mission. Certainly there is no aspect of being in the kingdom that you want to leave completely out.

But focus multiplies the effort. A well known pastor in my denomination was once convicted that his church was almost completely Caucasian while his community was incredibly diverse. To put it in missional terms, he realized that his church was not participating in the mission of God in the community to which it belonged. He engaged in a mission to see his church look more like his community.

Then, as the congregation had increasingly come to look like the community, he made sure that the leadership of the church began to look like the community as well. Finally, he himself turned over the senior leadership and transitioned to another ministry.

In the city where I live, there are dozens and dozens of churches. Different churches serve different groups of people. There is a "college church." It certainly wants to reach everyone it can, but it simply is not as likely to minister to "blue collar" individuals in the city. Yet there is another growing church that does an incredible job ministering to that cross section of the city.

We are not arguing for complacency here. We are not arguing that a church segregate itself. There are great dangers in a church "excusing" itself from groups that should be its primary mission. So the college church I mentioned has worked hard to minister to the community immediately to its north, which tends to be quite different than the college community immediately to its south.

So there is a tension here. The mission of God in your church's community may not look like your church currently looks. That should tug on the church's conscience, and it should strongly consider strategic goals to change that fact. Yet a church cannot do everything and should focus its ministry. And you can't minister to anyone if you destroy the church trying to change it.

There thus has to be a balance. Is it worth splitting a church over the mission? If those that leave are weeds rather than wheat, maybe it is (Matt. 13:24-30). But God cares for the souls of those who might leave too, and sometimes it is the leader who is in the wrong, not the objectors. There is a time for the pastor to "wipe the dust off her feet" and move on too (Matt. 10:14). Or it may be time to wait, to continue to minister faithfully until a window opens for movement. Or there may be opportunity to work more subtly, creating a parallel ministry that can be integrated later.

It is also a fact of human nature that people cohere the most when they consider themselves part of the same group on the same mission (a slightly reworked version of the so called "homogeneous principle"). The pastor who integrated his congregation led his congregation to own the vision of a church that looked like its community. Although the church is now diverse, they still see themselves as a single church with a common identity and vision.

4. The bottom line of this post is that a church and its leadership should think missionally as they formulate their vision, while also taking into account the realities of their situation. The mission of your church, if it is legitimate, will always be a subset of God's mission. What is God doing in your community and how can your church get on board? This should be the primary question, not "What do we want to do?" or "Who do we want to be?" Rather, the question is what God wants to do with your church.

How might God use your church as part of his mission for your community? How might God use your church to minister to those already part of its congregation? How might God use your church to minister to the world?

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 9: Evaluating Strengths

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