Missional Service

Missional Service

Personal Note: This is my first blog post in a few weeks. We have been in the process of selling our house and moving. I don’t have to tell you if you’ve been through this what an interruption that can be.

Serving is part and parcel of the life of a Jesus follower.

Jesus is the prime example of what true service is. He continually was giving of himself for the benefit of others. He said, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Matthew 20:28). When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he told them they should do as he had done for them (John 13:15). Jesus’ example was behind Paul’s admonition to the Galatian believers to serve one another humbly in love (Galatians 5:13).

All of this means that service in the name of Jesus is not some kind of add-on to everything else you’re doing in life. It’s not an optional, do-it-when-it-fits-your-schedule sort of thing. Service for the Jesus follower is a lifestyle.

Let’s think about how churches many times approach serving. Churches tend to promote service from the perspective of a project orientation. Sometimes they even call it that–a service project. It’s done as a kind of one-off activity that is planned, coordinated, executed, and then analyzed for its effectiveness.

The service activity may be a regularly scheduled project varying in frequency from weekly to monthly, quarterly or annually. Some projects are connected to the season of the year. Some churches are well known in their communities for the specific service projects they perform, and are appreciated for them.

A major drawback of doing service purely from a project orientation can be that those being served can feel as though they are little more than a project for a church’s service activity. While they appreciate the kindness shown, they know that these church members, once the project is completed, will retreat back to their homes and normal lives. Meanwhile, needs continue among those served the whole year, day in and day out.

An example of this scenario is a church that conducts an annual outreach to a local apartment community doing Bible Clubs for the kids. The kids and their families are blessed, but once the week is over, they know this church will to a large extent be absent from their lives till next year. Those of the church who participated in the project will feel they have done their annual bit of service and continue on with their normal lives.

Even when service is done on a weekly basis, the project orientation is still influencing the attitudes of service both on the servers and those being served. It is still seen as an additional activity that is scheduled and performed.

So, how would missional service be any different? How would a church move from a project orientation to a missional orientation regarding serving their communities? What impact does a missional perspective have on how a church serves?

First, we need to establish that serving is to be a normal and natural outflow of a loving relationship with God. We love because we have been loved without measure by God; we serve, because Jesus has served us by ultimately giving himself for us. Our mindset should be, how can we not serve with generosity and grace as God has served us?

Serving is to be the lifestyle of the believer. We serve not only by participating in organized activities, but in smaller, everyday opportunities. We must learn that service does not always have to be put on the calendar; it is how we live every day. Reflecting continually on the gospel leads us to live a life of extending grace to others in simple acts of service on a regular basis without even thinking about it. Serving should be a habitual expression of our desire to glorify God and make Jesus known.

Let’s return to that example of serving the apartment community. A missional orientation of serving would lead one or more of the families in the church to choose to move into the apartment community and become residents. Their acts of service would be year-round. The other residents would receive their serving and not feel like a project, but like a neighbor. They are now your neighbors and friends, not your service project. This is how serving gets real, when you choose to live among those God has called you to serve.

Another example is when churches serve by cleaning up a park, or performing some other service activity that is very public. Churches will often get matching colorful T-shirts printed up to wear when they do these projects. That’s okay, but let’s think about the rationale of advertising our church this way. Are we drawing more attention to the love of Jesus for the community, or are we communicating that we want the neighbors to know that our church is the one doing the serving?

I think the simple act of serving without concern that people know that your church is the one doing the serving highlights Jesus more effectively. When Jesus said in Matthew 10:42, “If anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…” I don’t think he had in mind including a label on the cup with the church logo and a note saying From your friends, the Disciples of Jesus in Bethel.

Churches can tend to use service projects as a means of promoting their church and increasing the attendance at their gathering. Our motive for serving should never have the hint of personal gain. We should serve because this is our identity: servants of King Jesus. Serving should point to Jesus, not to us. And Jesus said if we lift him up, he will draw people to himself.

I challenge you to examine how your church serves the community. Is it more of a project orientation? Service is not a project we complete; it is a lifestyle we live. Adopt a missional orientation to your service as an individual believer, and lead others to do the same.

Advertisements

Understanding Missional Terminology

Understanding Missional Terminology

Communication can be practically impossible if you’re unable to understand the language someone else is speaking. Hand gestures, facial expressions, and pointing to things can help, but it still falls far short of efficient communication.

Something similar happens in discussions among church leaders talking about mission and ministry. They may be speaking the same actual language, and even using the same terminology, but the meaning of those terms can be understood differently.

Throughout church history, theological and biblical terms took on a pretty standard meaning as they were taught and studied. At times, some of the deeper meanings of terms may have been truncated somewhat for any number of reasons. Perhaps out of cultural compromise, political convenience, or in an effort to promote a particular doctrinal position certain terms were shaped accordingly. Today, that reshaping of terminology has carried over into our current church experience, and we unwittingly fall short of full comprehension of some critical language of mission.

If we are going to effectively share the good news of Jesus, be fully engaged in the mission of God, and have lasting impact on the culture of our day, we must be on the same page when we describe and define our terminology of mission. It is definitely not that we must come up with new meanings for familiar terms. It is simply that we must define these terms from the perspective of the biblical mission.

So, here are a few terms where we may be using the same words, but speaking a different language at times…

Sin

Typically, sin is defined as anything that displeases God, acts and attitudes of rebellion against God, or disobedience to God. All true. But let’s go deeper. Consider this definition of sin:

Sin is any expression of disobedience to God rooted in unbelief regarding the truth of who God is or what God has done.

Sin at its root is unbelief. We believe wrongly, which leads us to behave wrongly. Sin is not just about the surface actions that we manifest. It is not even only about the heart attitudes that sometimes lead to those actions. It is about a willful unbelief that God is who he says he is or that what God has done for us in Jesus is enough. When we fail to believe that God is great, glorious, good, or gracious, we sin.

Gospel

The gospel is traditionally thought of as the good news about Jesus paying our sin debt by his sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross so we can be forgiven of sin and go to heaven. Amen! All that is great news. The typical understanding of the gospel with this definition speaks to our future, and usually this is how people think of the effect of the gospel: it secures me a place in heaven for eternity.

The problem with this description of the gospel is that it doesn’t really address the here and now impact of the gospel on us. So let’s define the gospel like this:

The gospel is the good news of Jesus as expressed in God’s greatness, glory, goodness, and grace. Jesus has saved us from the penalty of sin, is saving us from the power of sin, and will save us from the presence of sin.

A fuller understanding of the gospel enables us to live with incredible peace and victory right now in the everyday. We understand that we are now living the eternal life that God gives through Jesus, and all the benefits of the gospel begin now and not in the sweet by and by.

Evangelism

The usual understanding of evangelism is that it’s the act of sharing the gospel with a nonbeliever for the purpose of seeing them come to faith in Jesus. This typically involves learning a technique of conversation that eases into the topic of spiritual matters.

Evangelism means telling good news. We normally think only nonbelievers need to be evangelized, but believers need the good news about Jesus proclaimed to them as well. In fact, there is not a single person who does not need to be evangelized on an ongoing basis. Evangelism is not just for the purpose of getting a nonbeliever saved. It is also to call believers to live in line with the truth of the gospel.

Evangelism is showing how the good news of Jesus applies to your life circumstances. It is declaring how the greatness, glory, goodness, or grace of God as expressed in Jesus speaks to what you are dealing with in life at the moment.

This is not some sort of feel good approach that compromises the need of the person to repent of sin and turn to Jesus. It’s simply making the good news truly good news to the individual by showing how Jesus is the better answer for whatever their dilemma is.

Discipleship

Most think of discipleship as training a new believer in the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life; how to pray, how to study the Bible, how to serve, and how to share their faith. It usually involves a curriculum, a class time, or some sort of formal one-on-one meeting. Discipleship has a continuum, beginning when a person chooses to follow Jesus and ending when the person has completed the course.

Biblical discipleship is a lifetime process. It begins with your first encounter with a person and continues for as long as you are involved in their life.

Discipleship is the continuing process of learning to submit every area of life to the lordship of Jesus. It is moving from unbelief to belief in every area of life.

Discipleship occurs best in three environments: life on life (one-on-one, done in normal everyday rhythms), life in community (each believer has impact on the person in the family life setting), and life on mission (discipleship occurs as the family serves together on mission).

It’s so important for leaders in communicating with those they lead, not just to use the same words, but to be speaking the same language.

Missional Metrics: How Do We Measure Success?

Missional Metrics: How Do We Measure Success?

To determine if something is being effective or not, to gauge whether or not something can be declared a success, you need metrics. You need some way to measure the results.

In traditional church paradigms, success is generally determined based on three particular criteria: how many people attend the gathering, how much money was received, and how large a building (space) you have. The ABC’s of church success: Attendance, Buildings, and Contributions.

Typical metrics of church success are based primarily on quantitative standards.

Now, don’t think that I’m saying it’s always a bad thing to pay attention to numbers. Knowing how many or how much is helpful to church leaders for some things. My only argument here is that numbers are not the best gauge of true missional success in a church.

How We Did vs. How We’re Doing

The numbers game generally focuses on one event: the gathering. We feel that we were successful if the crowd was larger than the previous week. How many people responded in some way to the message? How many kids were checked in at the children’s ministry area? How much was the offering this week? If the numbers were good, even a little higher, then we did really well that Sunday. If the numbers were down, maybe we didn’t do so well. This is measuring how we did.

Measuring how we’re doing takes into account what’s going on all week, not just what happens on Sunday. It does take into account how many in some ways, but it’s more focused on the idea of how well.

For example, how well are we building friendships with people who don’t yet follow Jesus? How well are we incorporating the gospel into everyday conversations? How well are we multiplying our missional communities? The how well translates naturally into the how many.

Measure What You Value

We measure what we value. What we place value on, we measure. So, if you value quantity, you measure by the numbers. You then focus your efforts on what can increase the numbers.

If your concern is more about quality, then you measure by effectiveness. Quality is more intangible than statistics, and is not something that is easily quantifiable. But it really is the more accurate picture of how your church is doing and a better metric.

Just as the how well naturally translates into how many, the numbers can lead to a deeper examination of your effectiveness as a church. Here’s what I mean.

How many non-believers are in your circle of friends? Now how well are you doing at loving those non-believing friends in such a way that only the gospel can explain? How many opportunities to have gospel conversations did you have in the past week? How well did you take those opportunities and speak the gospel into specific situations?

See how that works? The more valuable metric is how effective your church is at living and speaking the gospel. The result is that more people are introduced to Jesus and his ways through his people. And that’s success by any measure.

Building a Missional Framework for Your Church

Building a Missional Framework for Your Church

What is the basic organizing factor of your church? What is the framework on which you build your identity and function as a church?

If you examined everything you do as a church—every event, program, ministry, and activity—what would those things point to as your “main thing?”

The most typical framework of traditional churches is the Sunday gathering.

Everything the church does, communicates, and promotes inevitably points back to the Sunday gathering, the big weekly event. The gathering is the primary organizing structure of these churches.

The planning and preparation each week looks toward the gathering. Then we pour our energy into the gathering. Next, we review how the gathering went. And then we launch into planning and prep for the next gathering.

In churches organized in this way, evangelism is expressed as encouraging members to invite others to the Sunday gathering. Discipleship is a formal exercise in a classroom setting, typically at the building. Anything done outside the building in the community still has the goal of getting people to the gathering on Sunday.

Some unfortunate side effects of relying on the gathering as your primary organizing structure are…

  1. Attendance becomes a metric of faith. Members begin to judge one another’s relationship with God based on their attendance at the gathering or participation in every event.
  2. It reinforces a disconnect between life at church and life everywhere else. If believers depend on the Sunday gathering as their primary means of spiritual sustenance, they are more likely to compartmentalize their lives into what happens on Sunday and what happens every other day of the week. They generally don’t make the connection of their faith in God with the experiences of everyday life, and they often fail to see the relevance of the gospel to the everyday.
  3. It conditions people to a centralized, building-centered understanding of church. This is one of the cultural misconceptions that often manifests itself in the language we use. We go to church. We will see our friends at church. Our language betrays the notion that we see church as an event at a location.

With that being said, is there a more biblically appropriate framework around which we can structure a church?

The organizational framework that I would encourage you to consider is missional communities.

A missional community 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.

The missional community is smaller than the gathering, usually between six to twenty-five people. If it helps you, think of a missional community as a small group (although I personally cringe at using that term to describe an MC, because they are not the same at all).

In the missional approach to church, MC’s are the primary organizational structure of the church. MC’s are how disciples are organized for the purposes of mission, discipleship, and shepherding. Those functions of the church are mainly carried out in the context of the MC’s. Although, let me hasten to add, those functions are still important in the gathering. It’s simply that we don’t rely only or even mostly on the gathering for those functions to be accomplished.

MC’s reverse the negative side effects that organizing around the Sunday gathering can cause.

  1. Living on mission is the metric of faith. MC’s naturally foster an environment of accountability concerning living a gospel-centered life. Failing to be on mission indicates unbelief, and other MC members faithfully “gospelize” one another to repentance and missional living.
  2. MC’s establish a deep connection between life with church and life everywhere else. Members are taught to see all of life as mission, and to look for gospel opportunities and opportunities for worship in the everyday. The sacred/secular is a misleading distinction. For the missional believer, all of life is holy and sacred, and there is no detail of life that is untouched by the lordship of Jesus.
  3. MC’s condition people to a decentralized church structure, and to a view that ministry and mission are a way of living, not an activity you add to your schedule, or an event you attend.

If a church is organized around their missional communities, then their weekly gathering will be focused on celebration, worship, equipping, encouragement, and fellowship. Evangelism, discipleship, and shepherding happen in the context of the MC.

Using missional communities as the primary organizational structure of the church does not take the place of the weekly gathering. Rather, MC’s enhance the significance of gathering regularly as a body.

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.

Serving
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.

The Missional Approach to Personal Evangelism

The Missional Approach to Personal Evangelism

Did you ever have any personal evangelism training?

Programs like Evangelism Explosion were widely used in many churches back in the day. Christian Witness Training (CWT) was another.

What I got from much of this programmed training was a little inspiration, but even more frustration. Most of the training that was around gave you one methodology no matter how you were wired personally or how you were uniquely gifted. Many who went through such training felt a sense of guilt over not being able to effectively share their faith using the methods they were taught.

It felt as though there were only two options. Either you were gifted so that such personal evangelism was comfortable for you, or you were guilted into presenting the gospel in ways that were very unnatural for you. If that was the case, you believed the approach you were given in the training was the only way to do it, and you pretty much gave up trying to share the good news at all. Frustrating!

But what if you can bear witness to the good news of Jesus in everyday life in ways that are very normal for you and come very naturally? I've previously written about various ways that you can speak the gospel, so read that post as well. Here are some ideas and actions that I think will help you develop a missional approach to your personal evangelism.

The gospel is good news!
Let me rephrase that…the gospel is the greatest news ever in the history of eternity! And good news needs to be announced. That's what evangelism is, the announcing of good news. When something good happens to you, you can't help but share it. If Jesus giving you a new life, forgiving sin, and filling you with his Spirit for everyday life isn't good news, I don't know what is. Let the gospel captivate you every day in a fresh way. If you're overwhelmed with the grace of the gospel, you will more naturally share it with someone else.

Share the good news out of grace, not guilt.
Sure, we have an obligation to share the gospel with others, but obligation alone is not the proper motivation. You get to share this good news! If your reason for sharing is because you get to do so instead of because you ought to, or have to share, it makes all the difference. Speaking the gospel to someone else is a privilege, something you get to do because of God's grace.

Relationship is the context for effective sharing.
Evangelism approaches that emphasize witnessing to people you don't know or barely know are intimidating for most Christians. Some can do it with little problem, but it freaks the rest of us out. If you have built a trusting relationship with a person, you have earned the right to speak into their lives. I find it's far more effective and more likely to produce lasting results if I share the gospel within the context of relationship. There is built-in opportunity to continue the conversation later. In relationship, the other person can see the gospel at work in your own life. They have the chance to ask questions of you. I think it's better than the "hit and run" technique, or just tossing a gospel grenade into someone's lap.

Stay alert for "gospel pathways."
Gospel pathways are natural opportunities that arise in the course of everyday life where you can speak the gospel into someone's life. Sharing your faith does not require an appointment. You don't have to schedule a time for spiritual conversation with someone. It can happen while you're working on a project together, sitting at lunch, or riding together to a ballgame. The person mentions an issue of concern, a problem, or a question they have. That may be God's opening for you to say something about how the gospel is good news for them in that moment.

So, to sum it up…
1) Let the gospel captivate your heart,
2) Share the good news because you get to,
3) Build trusting relationships, and share the gospel within that context,
4) Watch and listen for natural opportunities to speak the gospel.

So take heart! You can share the good news just being who God designed you to be in the way that comes natural to you. Now you just need to be intentional about it.

What struggles have you faced in sharing your faith with someone? What has helped you to overcome fear or guilt in your witnessing attempts?