Assessing for Adopting the Missional Approach

Assessing for Adopting the Missional Approach

You believe your church needs renewal, revitalization, revival, or even restarting.

You’ve tried programs, special emphasis weeks, spiritual renewal weekends, conferences, denominational campaigns, revivals, and other assorted means to stir the gathered church into a fire that scatters like embers to ignite a fresh passion for Jesus and making disciples.

If your experience is anything like mine, these efforts result in limited success. Things happen, the Spirit of God moves, lives are impacted…but no lasting transformation.

Now you’ve heard of the missional paradigm. You’ve read some about it, had conversations with colleagues over it, watched some videos related to it. Maybe you’re interested in exploring more deeply, or you’ve become convinced the missional track is where God is leading you.

Just to remind you, the term missional refers to living as people who have been sent by Jesus to make disciples; it’s a reorientation of every area of life around the mission of making disciples. Read my previous post that unpacks the missional mindset (here).

To assess where you are in your understanding of the needs of your church and how the missional approach can be applied, we need to ask some diagnostic questions.

What are your church’s core values or convictions?

Most churches have worked these out and have them listed and described on their website. These values/convictions are your non-negotiables, the realities that give your church an identity and distinction in your community.

If disciple-making is not somehow expressed in your core values, I would ask, why not? Most churches make the mission of making disciples a priority, because that is the mission Jesus gave us, so for most, it’s going to be on the list. So my follow-up question is then…

How do you flesh out the value of discipleship/disciple-making in the life of your church?

You say discipleship is a core value. So, how does your church express that priority in practical ways?

Typical strategies might include small groups, Sunday School, training, outreach events, or special classes.

I would point out what these strategies share is that they are programs/ministries the church uses, and they are conducted primarily at the building where the church meets. Disciple-making takes a more centralized approach. One more question…

How well are your strategies making and strengthening disciples?

Are your strategies truly effective? Are disciples being made?

If you’re getting an increase in the number of Christians attending events and getting smarter, that’s not the effectiveness I would be looking for. What I mean is, are nonbelievers being brought closer to following Jesus, and are believers becoming more effective at living and speaking the gospel?

It’s important to know that the metrics of the missional approach will be different than the metrics of more traditional approaches. It’s not so much the ABC’s (attendance, buildings, and contributions) we’re interested in. It’s the intangibles that often cannot be quantified numerically. In a later post we will delve into missional metrics.

If you and your leadership are considering how to shift into a more missional approach in your church life, it requires an honest assessment of where you are now, determining where you believe God wants you to be as a church, and then prayerfully and intentionally working out a plan to move in that direction.

I would be happy to consult with you in person, online, or by phone to assist in assessing your current needs and to give encouragement in pursuing a more missional approach. Let me know how I can help.


Turn Your Sunday School Class into a Missional Community

Turn Your Sunday School Class into a Missional Community

What if your church has the traditional Sunday School and you’d like to transition to Missional Communities?

What if you don’t have to scrap what you’re currently doing in order to begin something new? Is there a way to move people in a missional lifestyle direction without dismantling current activities and creating chaos among the members? Possibly. Let’s explore.

If you’ve been learning about MC’s and then thinking, That would never work here, maybe this post is for you. Especially if you have a Sunday School ministry in place.

First, let’s think about the rhythms of missional community living.

Family Meal
Having a weekly meal together is a common feature in the life of an MC. It could be potluck, grilling burgers, pitching in to order pizza, or the host preparing something. The act of eating together regularly builds the sense of family. And it’s not just the eating, but the cleanup as well!

Content Time
This is the serious discussion of God’s Word. Setting aside time to dig into the Bible as an MC is central to living gospel-centered lives on mission together.

MC’s regularly practice the rhythm of serving the people or community where they believe God has sent them. It could be occasional larger projects where the whole MC gets together, or smaller groups of MC members serving together on various aspects of the mission throughout the week.

Hang Time
It’s just what you think. Hanging out together. Getting together for fun, going out to eat, movie night, kids’ games, whatever. No agenda other than being together. Don’t think this is frivolous, because often great gospel conversations happen while just hanging out together. This is a natural entry point for your non-believing friends and neighbors.

Most church Sunday School classes have the content time thing down pretty well. They gather to study the Bible regularly. But when it comes to the other MC rhythms, not so much. There may be the occasional party or get-together, but nothing on a more frequent basis.

Next, let’s think about how to incorporate these rhythms into the traditional Sunday School.

Hey, you’ve already got the content time covered! The regular time you gather to study the Bible–usually Sundays–is already built in. One of the challenges of trying to have a serious content time during the week with an MC is figuring out what to do with the kids. Sunday School resolves that concern.

It’s the other rhythms that will now present the big challenge. How will you establish these new rhythms (family meals, serving, and hang time) with your group so that they become normalized? When will you schedule these rhythms for each week? Your group will need to learn a new way of living as most likely they are accustomed to just getting together once a week on Sundays.

They need to really grasp that what you are seeking to establish is a group of people who radically reorient their lives around the gospel and live as a family sent on mission together in the everyday.That will require some time to teach and train them in the MC lifestyle. I don’t have the space here to unpack the steps to beginning an MC, so listen to this podcast to learn the basics of beginning a missional community.

You can use the content time to build the foundation for how you will live as an MC. Take advantage of excellent training tools to teach the why and how of missional living. During your weekly study time you could as a group work through The Tangible Kingdom Primer, or the Gospel Primer, the Saturate Field Guide, or Missional Essentials. All of these are effective interactive training tools that can help transform a class into a family on mission together.

A couples class is ideal for launching into pursuit of becoming an MC. Even if it’s a singles class, or classes where husbands and wives meet separately, this can still work. You simply meet for the content time separately, but you do everything else together as family. You could even include a singles class with married couples to form your MC. The content time happens for each class, but the other rhythms are shared.

One caveat here is that each separate class really needs to be going through the same training at the same time so that everyone is on the same page. This requires that the leaders of those classes really coordinate intentionally and prayerfully together to take each class member on the same track toward MC living. The shared leadership component of MC formation could already exist in the leaders of these separate classes.

The great thing about the above mentioned resources is that you are living out the things you are discussing each week. So you don’t have to wait till you’re done with the book to start living out the other rhythms. You are beginning to build those rhythms over the course of going through the study together. The only way to really learn this lifestyle is to begin doing it.

I see some incredible potential in utilizing your Sunday School to transition into missional communities. You’re taking something that already exists and turning it in a missional direction. You avoid the trauma induced by stopping a current established (perhaps entrenched) ministry and introducing an entirely new one. There will likely be some pushback, but it won’t be to the extent that it would have been by an abrupt change across the board.

Don’t fret about those Sunday School classes that refuse to do anything differently than they always have. Just take the ones who are willing to go and forge ahead into missional territory. Others may see how awesome living that way can be and then ask how they can get in on it. Invest in those who want to reorient their lives around the gospel and experience following Jesus in the everyday.

Let me know your thoughts and share questions about this approach to transitioning to missional communities in a traditional Sunday School setting.

Note that the words in a different color are links to those recommended resources.

5 Missional Alternatives to VBS

5 Missional Alternatives to VBS

I dreaded Vacation Bible School.

There. I confessed it. So shoot me.

As a kid, VBS was just okay. It was nice to go for a week of Bible stories, snacks, and playtime. But my preference was to not interrupt my summer with a week of what we did already pretty much every Sunday.

VBS was an unquestioned fixture in the church calendar. It was a given that we were going to do Bible School. Because as a church, that’s what you do. Every year.

Even as a pastor, I dreaded VBS. All that planning, trying to recruit volunteers, and publicizing the week took its toll. When the week was over, there was a huge relief felt by all involved, especially me, that I had a whole year not to have to think about VBS.

Don’t get me wrong, we saw kids come to faith during VBS week. But most of them dropped off the radar shortly after the Closing Program. I found that was a major problem with VBS. No follow up or continuity of relationship.

We tried all sorts of VBS programs. We did daytime, evening, three-day VBS, once-a-week VBS for a month, and we changed up the format several times. We tweaked VBS every way it could be and squeezed every drop of effective juice we could out of it, but the result was the same year after year. No lasting fruit and exhausted volunteers secretly wishing we wouldn’t do VBS next year.

I know I’m not the only church leader that feels this way about VBS. I am, however, one of the few that will admit that I feel VBS in not the most effective means of summer outreach.

So, how about rather than curse the darkness, I light a candle and share some alternatives to VBS.

Sports Camp
Many kids play sports. Their parents are looking for camps to help their kids with skills. You likely have people in your church who could teach sport skills. So, lead a camp in soccer, baseball, basketball, cheerleading, or football. Provide snacks and water, and during breaks discuss how the gospel impacts character on and off the field. Plan for a scrimmage game at the end of the week where the parents are encouraged to come.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be team sports. You could do a chess camp, or a golf camp. How about this? Do a video game camp. Now go figure how to leverage that niche for the kingdom!

Life Skills Week
This is a great opportunity to partner with parents. Kids need to learn certain life skills. Skills such as making a meal, basic money management, how to get along with others, how to make decisions, developing healthy habits, doing laundry, wrapping a gift, treating a wound, house cleaning, mowing the yard, and taking care of pets are important for kids to learn. Parents appreciate when others come alongside them to help with these critical developmental phases in their kids’ lives. Set aside time in the summer to gather parents and kids to work on a few life skills.

Summer Mentoring
Rather than recruiting volunteers for VBS, send your people to volunteer with agencies that provide mentoring or tutoring services for kids during the summer. The Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters are all good places to start. Other communities have similar agencies and programs that provide such services for kids. Go into those places as sent people on mission, bringing the kingdom of God there.

Volunteering in this way can open up whole new areas of relationship that can be nurtured with the gospel. Go to where the kids are rather than expecting them to come to you. This alternative can continue past the summer and lead to long term missional effectiveness in a community.

MC Summer Rhythm
Your missional community has a weekly rhythm to it. Why not change that rhythm a bit for the summer? Use those warm/hot months to engage in events and activities focused on building relationships.

Our MC gathered on the front lawn of the home of a member each week for the summer. It was in a cul-de-sac, so the kids were out playing basketball, tossing frisbees, riding bikes and scooters, etc. We served ice cream treats and popsicles. It involved others in the neighborhood who came over to join in. Some of those neighbors got folded in when the MC started its regular rhythm in the fall.

You can mix it up in the summer, using your MC as the way to reach new people and build relationships. Have a monthly movie night for the kids. Do a monthly game night.

Summer of Mission
Another skill kids need to learn is how to serve others. Schedule opportunities to take kids on local “mission trips.” Clean the yard of an elderly neighbor. Grill hotdogs in the park and invite people to come over and share in the food. Do free car washes. Visit with residents of a senior living facility. Teach kids how to serve others using the things they love to do.

As you serve, you constantly remind the kids how Jesus served us in dying for us. Teach them to be generous with their time and resources, because God is so generous with us. Help them see their every act of service as a picture of God’s love for those they’re serving.

These suggestions are not fully fleshed out in how to do them. That’s for you to figure out in your own context. Be creative. Be intentional with the gospel. Living and speaking the gospel is supposed to be normal and natural in the missional lifestyle. So, just combine gospel-centered living with normal summer activities. You don’t have to feel locked in to doing VBS year after year. If you’ve uncovered the secret to doing VBS well, then keep at it. But, if you’re like so many others, don’t be afraid to try something else.

Missional: What It Is and What It Ain’t

Missional: What It Is and What It Ain’t

If you’ve read any of my blog, you’ve encountered the word missional.

I admit, I’ve been writing under the assumption that most of you are familiar with the term, so I’ve not invested many sentences in defining or describing it. However, this post begins with the assumption that you’ve never heard the word missional before and have no clue what it involves. 

In some circles, missional is code for unscriptural ecclesiology. Images of Rob Bell and emergent church theology flash into the minds of others. To others it’s just some new-fangled fad for hipsters who don’t like the way church is supposed to be done. But true missional is none of the above.

You can Google all sorts of definitions of missional, but the one that I’ve settled on is this: Missional is living as people who have been sent by Jesus to make disciples; it’s a reorientation of every area of life around the mission of making disciples.

You might be thinking, “Duh, I know as a believer I should be trying to make disciples. So what’s different about “being missional?”

The key distinctive in missional is in the idea of reorienting every area of your life around making disciples. That means that the mission of disciplemaking is not some add-on to everything else you’re doing. It’s not some optional extracurricular activity you schedule into your week. Missional means your life is centered around living as one who is sent by Jesus into everyday routines and rhythms to bring the good news of Jesus to bear on every relationship and circumstance. Check out this video of Paul Tripp talking about this view of mission. It can mean shifting some things around in your life so you can more intentionally be on mission, or it may just mean doing what you’re already doing, but with gospel intentionality.

Some Christians and churches think they’re being missional when they actually are not. You can’t just tack on the adjective missional to “church,” “small group,” “ministry,” or any other related word and presto!, you’re missional. If you’re doing what you’ve been doing with a tweak here and there and labeling it as missional, you’re still not missional.

A church sending a group to serve at a homeless shelter once a month is a great thing, but it’s not missional.

A small group leading a worship service in an assisted living once a quarter is lovely, but it’s not missional.

A church sending a team for a summer mission trip to Central America for ten days is awesome…but it’s still not missional.

Missional happens in the everyday, not in the every-once-in-awhile. 

Now, if that church group reorients their lives to serving the homeless as part of their normal weekly rhythms, even some of them daring to relocate closer to where the homeless are, some members providing skills training, others leading a regular worship gathering, making prayer and gospel conversations a regular occurrence with the homeless, then that would be a missional thing.

Maybe that small group could adopt some of the assisted living residents who have no local family as grandparents. They could participate in weekly activities at the facility and volunteer on a regular basis. They could build relationships with the staff, particularly the caregiving staff (aides) in the facility and bless them by praying for them and showing appreciation for their work. The small group could coordinate with the facility to plan special events through the year. All this plus do a regular worship service for the residents. This is missional.

The group that takes the occasional annual mission trip could find a local migrant population they can begin to love on. Some in the group could attempt to learn their language. Host some events like a dinner where people make their favorite dishes from their home country. Provide resources to help them find jobs, help in getting a place to live, or filling out paperwork. Those with kids could meet parents in a park and have conversation while their kids play. Sounds missional to me.

Are you getting the idea? Do you see the distinction between just doing a ministry activity and living missionally? Missional living requires a reorientation, sometimes a radical reorientation, to join God on his mission among a people to make disciples. At the very least, missional is doing what you normally do, but with gospel intentionality. It is seeing all of your life as mission. 

Another distinction that shows up in missional living is the frequency of contact and depth of relationship that occurs. It’s going from once a month, once a quarter, or once a year to practically everyday. It may not literally be every day, but it will work out to being more than once a week. Your lives and those you’re pouring into are rubbing together, being weaved together. Relationships become more like family. This happens not only with the people you’re loving and serving with the gospel, but with one another as you serve on mission together. And it’s a beautiful thing.

So, think about something you’re doing now as an act of ministry. How can you turn that from an occasional action into a missional lifestyle? What changes, if any, might you need to make in order to create margin (extra time/resources) so it can happen? How would you need to reorient your life in order to join God in his mission to that group of people, that neighborhood, that school, that population/segment of society? Now, the big question. Will you?

Keeping Church Members Happy

Keeping Church Members Happy

Pastor, stop trying to please all the Christians in your church.

Some of you are losing your minds trying to keep church members happy. You love what you do, but at times, it’s more stressful than you suspect it should be. You wonder if you’re truly fulfilling the call of God on your life. Many churches treat the pastor as though he were a hired gun. Do these common expectations sound familiar?

We hired you to preach good sermons.
We hired you to visit the elderly members and the sick.
We hired you to marry and bury our members.
We hired you to administrate the church business.
We hired you to evangelize the lost.
We hired you to train the volunteers.
We hired you to grow our church.

So much of what you’re expected to do is take care of Christians, make them happy, and keep them “fed” and occupied with Christian activities. Perhaps that’s all they want you to do…and they want you to do it all. This may be what they believe they hired you to do, but is it what God actually called you to do? Why don’t we take a quick look at another more reliable source?

God called you to be an example in how you speak and live (1 Timothy 4:12).
God called you to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12).
God called you to train others who will train others who will train others (2 Timothy 2:2).
God called you to preach the truth even when it’s unpopular (2 Timothy 4:2a).
God called you to correct and rebuke when needed, but to always encourage (2 Timothy 4:2b).
God called you to be willing and eager shepherds, living as examples to those you lead (1 Peter 5:2, 3).

You’ll be doing much of the things members might expect, but not because you were hired to do them. You’ll be doing them because they’re part of fulfilling your call as a follower of Jesus. 

Your focus must be on being on God’s mission, not on dispensing religious goods and services to consumer-minded Christians. Jesus said something about leaving the ninety-nine behind to go in search of the one. The satisfaction of the saint must not take priority over the salvation of the sinner. At some point you will come to realize there is only one you must please, and that’s God. If God is pleased with your life and leadership, it really does not matter who is displeased.  

The satisfaction of the saint must not take priority over the salvation of the sinner.

Let Jesus consume your heart. Pursue Jesus and not a model. Reacquaint yourself with the Savior in the Gospels, exposing yourself to his life and ministry. Ask the Spirit to fill you with the wisdom and love of Jesus as you lead, train, and care for your church. Lead them to understand all they need is Jesus, that he is sufficient for all they believe they lack.

Know, speak, teach, and preach the gospel. Filter everything–conversations, circumstances, counsel, comfort, conflict, confrontation–through the grid of the gospel. Let God’s greatness, glory, goodness, and grace as fully expressed in Jesus be the foundation of all you do in life and ministry. No matter what you’re teaching or preaching, always take it back to the gospel. The gospel is embedded in all of scripture!

Pour into two or three others. There will be a couple others in your church who will be drawn to the lifestyle of incarnating the gospel in everyday life, who want to passionately pursue a gospel-centered missional life. Pour into them. Teach, train, eat together, really “do life” together. These will be the seed of a harvest of possible change in your church, transitioning from a traditional/institutional framework to an incarnational/missional paradigm. Pray that God will continue to raise up even more.

Get connected with others to learn and be encouraged. You need support. Find others in your area or online to connect with. You may even start some sort of network yourself. But you need somewhere to share your struggles and what God is showing you. You need a place to learn from others and their experiences. Many resources are available to help you. Verge Network and Saturate are two online resources I always recommend.

Leading and pastoring a church is way more than serving as a chaplain for Christians. It’s leading believers to join in the mission of God to reach those yet to be reached. So, you have to ask yourself one final question: Who will I live to please–God, or church members with short-sighted expectations? Only members who are living gospel-centered lives are truly happy.

Mid-South Missional: Featuring Vintage Church, Horn Lake, Mississippi

Mid-South Missional: Featuring Vintage Church, Horn Lake, Mississippi

This is the second 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 Vintage Church and pastor Brice Holbrook.

LCI: Give a brief snippet of your personal story, Brice.

BH: My name is Brice Holbrook, and I was born in Desoto County Mississippi, to a police officer and a teacher, both strong believers. I graduated from S.B.E.C (now northpoint Christian school), the University of Mississippi in ’06, and then from Mid- America Baptist Theological Seminary in ’09. I have been married to Anna Holbrook for eight years. We have three children: Ellie, age five; Bennett, age three; and Emmalynn, age five months. I enjoy the Memphis Tigers, Memphis Grizzlies and St. Louis Cardinals. I like working with my hands in the construction field, playing disc golf and softball, and spending time with my family and church.

LCI: What is your church background, and what sort of experiences did you have?

BH: Church planting for me was a shot in the dark. I had been a part of the same church my entire life and even served there for five years as associate and youth pastor. I decided that I would develop a youth ministry like I would do a church plant. Build community by organizing social functions around church family, and promoting having non-Christians to be a part of our fun. The goal was to train young people to share the gospel with their friends as naturally as possible. I treated the youth like a practice church plant and we had great success. I spoke with the youth like I was speaking to adults and they responded well. However, I was only partially prepared to plant a missional church. The gospel had to transform me over many years.

LCI: Fill me in on a little history of Vintage Church.

BH: Vintage church started as a dream of a perpetual dreamer. I am always thinking of fabulous things, but truly rarely having the guts to explore. I believe God knew this when he organized the circumstances of Vintage. I started out with a partner and long time friend, and I was going to be the second man (associate/co-pastor) in the church. We had great dreams of what the missional church would look like, yet no experience. We had learned everything from books and conferences and most importantly the Bible. We had everything set up and had a good core group with a ton of money, and right before we were set to start, my partner left. It thrust me into a position only God would put me in, with a church that barely knew me, and zero experience in the church style I was promoting. To make things worse, most of the core group came about because of my partner. We met with our core group and asked them where they stood and if they planned on staying with Vintage. Almost all of them said they were committed to where the Lord had brought them. So we started meeting in 2013 and have been learning and growing together since that time. We currently stand around sixty-six people with children. We have Sunday morning service at Horn Lake High School and three missional communities. 

LCI: How did you first learn of the missional conversation?

BH: I think it was reading people like Darrin Patrick, Jeff Vanderstelt, 3DM, and listening to some men in the Memphis area. Mostly there was always a desire on my heart to fix what I thought wasn’t working in the traditional church. I started tearing down all of the things that were unnecessary in order to get back to what the Vintage Church might have looked like. 

LCI: How did the missional approach impact your ministry philosophy, ecclesiology, or missiology?

BH: For me, I had to detox from a traditional church model. I experienced moments of rest for the first time in ministry and I felt guilty for not being busy. I had to keep reminding myself that being busy is not always being productive or godly. We cut out a program-driven mentality and where you would normally do missional activity through the corporate body, and we designed our missional communities to be the avenue for missions. We organized most of our events and outreach through neighborhoods and the effort of each individual MC. We moved to a more liturgical style service with meaningful prayers, songs, scripture reading, preaching, and communion each week. We want to do a corporate worship service well, but it is not our main focus. Vintage is also elder governed. We support a foreign missionary financially and domestically we support and work with church plants.

LCI: What have you observed in utilizing a more missional approach among people in your context? Have people quickly adapted, has there been any pushback/conflict? 

BH: There is pushback with everyone, some people don’t realize that it is pushback. It usually comes in the form of people wanting something that looks like what they are accustomed to seeing. I am guessing because it brings comfort. We typically have less pushback with people who are unchurched or who have been out of church for a while. Usually they find the more personal/organic style to be a relief. I am deeply convicted that I am there to train the parents and the parents are to raise their children, so we do not have a lot of programs where we separate the family. We usually lose a lot of people on that one, because people are looking for churches to give them a break from their kids and their busy life.

LCI: What individuals, leaders, books, or resources have been influential for you?

BH: Jeff Vanderstelt, Darren Patrick, people from local church, Mark Dever big time, Putman’s Real Life Discipleship, J.D. Payne’s book, Missional House Churches, The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall

LCI: Any parting pearls of wisdom for people considering planting missionally or introducing Missional Communities in established churches?

BH: I think over the next few years you will see MC’s as a token name for small groups, but trying to start missional communities and not change anything would be silly. Churches can’t start MC’s all at the church building and expect them to be missional. They are not synonymous with Sunday school. It is hard for MC’s to not just be a name if you are program-driven church, because in order to make them missional you will have to add more missions activities. But if you add more activities you will wear your church out. To those starting missional churches, if you attempt do some amalgamation of a traditional and missional church then you will likely frustrate yourself and confuse people. True missional churches have to go all in, and when you do, the people that stay will be all in also. It is a slow growth model.

To learn more about Vintage Church, click here.

Mid-South Missional: Featuring Missio Dei Church, Memphis

Mid-South Missional: Featuring Missio Dei Church, Memphis

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;;;

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.