This is the first of two interviews with pastors of missional churches in the Memphis, Tennessee area. I was curious how the missional paradigm had influenced their approach and how it was being fleshed out in this unique region. So, here’s the story of Mission Dei and pastor Shaun Payne…
LCI: So Shaun, tell me a little about yourself.
SP: My name is Shaun Payne, I am married to Tracy Payne and together we have three daughters, Bella, Kylee, and Addie. I was born in Keflavik Iceland into a military family. My parents divorced when I was only 3 months old. My mother remarried to a man in the Army and we traveled the United States and were able to live in Okinawa Japan for 3 years. I came back to live with my dad in Memphis in the 7th grade and I have been living in Memphis ever since. My family and I love Memphis. We love to explore and continue learning about the city from the history to the present with great hopes and dreams for the future.
LCI: What about your church background and past experiences with church?
SP: I had no interaction with the church growing up with the exception of the influence of my godly grandmother (Mammaw) Ruby, a small yet powerful indian (Native American). I hated Christians, churches, and pastors until my conversion. I used to sell drugs and drink with “Christians” often who would leave the parties early because they had to go to church. Never about Christ, never any life, always judgment, hypocrisy, and religion.
LCI: Tell me about your current church.
SP: At the time of graduation from seminary, I believed God was calling us to plant a church in Las Vegas, It was on the flight home after visiting Las Vegas that God began convicting me of something else altogether. I was studying and teaching through the book of Jonah at the time, and the Spirit worked through his word to reveal I had become careless toward the people of my city. I hated them, and in some sense, like Jonah, I was waiting on the hill to see what would become of them. Through a few interactions with scripture and as I began and finished the book Prodigal God by Tim Keller, I was convicted of my hatred of the people God had revealed I was to give my life to.
After a few weeks of praying and fighting with God because I longed to go to Las Vegas, I submitted to give my life to Memphis. I began to see why God loved her, I began to see the older brother as worth inviting to the party, and I began to see the younger brother in the city, and I saw the love of the Father. The Spirit worked in me to reveal his love and further convince me of the truth of the gospel, shaping the overly religious city that was in large part gospeless. Lots of churches, lots of “Christians”, lots of religion, but few disciples living in the power of the Holy Spirit who were sent to make Jesus known and his kingdom visible in everyday life. No gospel. No care for others, no passion and zeal, complacency, mediocrity, and religion had largely ruined the church in the city. We began with a dream of a church that really lived in the everyday with a vibrant faith working in the power of the Spirit and living out the truth of the gospel.
One day under conviction, I quit my job at the church where I was on staff, and left the office, called my wife and told her we were planting a church (This did not go well haha). After hanging up with her my pastor at the time called and graciously offered to help us. We began with a few people who desired to help us make the dream a reality. In August of 2008 I began talking with White Station Baptist church in East Memphis, after preaching there twice for a friend. I initially submitted to an interview that I deliberately attempted to blow. I asked three questions of them: what is your church government (structure), what is your church theology, and how do you budget your money. I submitted a plan to them to replant the church.
After six months of meetings and conversations, on December 6, 2009, I was voted in as the fourth and final pastor/replanter of WSBC Memphis. That was Sunday, and we introduced new values of gospel, community, and mission by Wednesday. We replanted into Missio Dei Church September 9, 2012. With a new vision, mission, values, and name, only five people remained from the orginal seventy. The first year and half were by far the hardest. I was asked to resign three times and the entire leadership team stepped down during the first year.
LCI: How did you first learn of the missional conversation?
SP: I read a book that would blow my mind and enhance my understanding of the church called Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. That first year we asked the entire church to work through this book. It challenged the culture of the people I had been called to serve. I was invited to a micro conference with Jeff Vanferstelt, Dhati Lewis, and Michael Stewart in 2010. I have learned and led in Porterbrook Network here in Memphis. We have read a ton on fleshing out this paradigm among the dechurched and unchurched. We have also learned so much from Jeff V and Dhati L and their team over the years.
LCI: How did the missional approach impact your ministry philosophy, ecclesiology, or missiology?
SP: Missional living is what the church is tasked to do with their everyday life. Community offers the beauty of seeing this as a big picture. We live in the midst of the truth of Jesus by his gospel (life, death, resurrection, ascension and return). Our philosophy of ministry is largely shaped around a gospel-centered community that lives a life together shaping one another with the truth and practice of living as sent people that all might know Jesus. We have people (saved and lost) constantly around us who are learning through the normal everyday experience how the gospel challenges and offers the way of life. It is complicated and messy, but beautiful. Our mission is clearly evidenced in how we do life.
LCI: What have you observed in utilizing a more missional approach among people in your context?
SP: Memphis is both religious and irreligious, so you have to learn when and how to approach each group. Often you’re dealing with both groups at the same time. It is slow, it is hard, but it is worth the work involved. It is learning and teaching, it is faith and practice, it is dark and beautiful, it is learning to be transparent, vulnerable, and open and trusting in Jesus beyond your comfort. Religion and irreligion always push back. People will offer justification and will point to something other than Christ and his gospel. I think replanting is more challenging because of the baggage of religion and ideas that must be confronted but are often difficult to relearn.
LCI: What individuals, leaders, books, or resources have been influential for you?
SP: Soma- Jeff Vanderstelt, 3dM- Mike Breen, BluePrint Church- Dhati Lewis, Tim Keller-all his books, Joe Thorn, Steve Timmis and Tim Chester; http://gcdiscipleship.com/; https://www.vergenetwork.org/; http://wearesoma.com/
LCI: Any parting pearls of wisdom for people considering planting missionally or introducing Missional Communities in established churches?
SP: I think you have to be strong and patient yet move with the Spirit in his wisdom. Some say I moved too fast and others think I did not do the work correctly. I have been with the church through pain and beauty. I have seen the beauty arise from the ashes. I have been there almost eight years. It is worth it to me to see the people God has saved, people changing and engaging their family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and even their enemies with the gospel out of love, making Jesus known and his kingdom visible through their normal ordinary everyday life for his glory.
Keep learning the gospel, keep studying and do not be distracted from the task. Keep believing and follow Jesus yourself. Pray more than you think you should. Learn and teach what you are learning with every one. Get out of the office and do work in the field. Proclaim the gospel as you go where you are and by the strength and power of the Holy Spirit. Be humble and walk in the Spirit (keep in step with him). Give people an example of what you are teaching and show them how to do it. Ask questions and allow the Spirit to teach. He loves us more than we believe and he is a better teacher than we believe.
Learn more about Missio Dei by clicking here.