Living Missionally

Culture shifts are difficult for organizations to make. In particular, organizations that place a high value on their history find it very challenging to make a shift in their culture. One such organization that values its traditions is the church. There is good reason for this. Many churches have a long history. Many churches have a long history of good deeds, helpful contributions, and a significant impact on their local communities. So, it is no wonder that they value their past. They have good reason to do so.

But, what do you do when you fall on hard times? What happens when more of your people are looking in the rear view mirror than through the windshield? What if most of your people are looking at what is behind them instead of what is in front of them? Then, something needs to change. It has been said that, over time, organizations shift from being a mission to a movement to a museum and then to a morgue. How do we learn what it means again for the church to live as a missionary community with an essential purpose for its local context?

One way is to go back to our roots. One way is to go way back in our history, look at the early days of our movement, and discover how the church got started and what people were doing at that time. Over the years, many church cultures shifted from doing mission to supporting others in mission. We gave money and sent missionaries overseas to do our mission work for us. One of the unintended consequences of this was that those of us in the “sending” churches no longer saw ourselves as missionaries. We forgot that we are also “sent” people, sent into our own local communities to live as witnesses for Christ. We all know that when you don’t exercise your muscles for a long period of time, that after a while, you forget how to use them. For many people in the American context, we have spiritual and missional muscles that have atrophied from lack of use. We have forgotten how to use them. This means it is painful when we begin to stretch them again. What to do?

In response to this situation, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved an initiative called Living Missionally at its June, 2014 meeting. While affirming and re-affirming their historical commitment to world missions, this initiative lifted up the need and the call for every Christian to go beyond the walls of their congregations and increase their engagement in service and witness to their local communities.

The rationale focused on three main issues of the needed culture shift that are addressed in the book Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, edited by Darrel Guder.

1. The first culture shift that the church must make is to move from being a church with mission to a missional church. Most churches will articulate a commitment to mission and have a mission program. If they are large enough, they may have a specific pastor or staff person devoted to mission. Many support overseas missionaries or contribute to food banks, homeless shelters, or rescue missions. In this construct, mission is seen as one of the many activities and programs of the church. But, the purpose of the local church is not to be a “vendor of religious goods and services” with mission merely being one of a myriad of programs. Rather, doing mission is central to what it means to be the church. The church at its core must be missional. Everything it does is not because the church of God has a mission but because the God of mission has a church. Everything we do is because God has invited us into His mission on earth. All Christians have a calling and a vocation to participate in the mission of God.

2. The second shift that the church must make is in regards to the very definition of what it means to be the church. The church was designed to be a body of people sent on mission. In other words, the church was intended to be a missionary community. Thus, the church is not only a group that gathers for a worship service. It is not just a social club that builds relationships. The church is also a group of people organizing together so they can serve the community around them more effectively. The purpose of gathering together is to be sent. Darrel Guder says, “The public worship of the mission community always leads to the pivotal act of sending. The community that is called together is the community that is sent. Every occasion of public worship is a sending event.” To be a missional church, the worship is driven more by what must happen after the service. They do this through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues. To do this effectively, the church must know its neighbors and understand what things they care about.

3. The third culture shift the church needs to make is to move from talking to doing. In some churches, people think if they have gone to a meeting, that they have done the work. Not so. I know one church where people like to gather to talk about issues, but they don’t want to actually do anything about them (seriously). We are called to reach out to our communities through acts of witness and service to demonstrate the love of Christ to our friends, families, and neighbors. What does this mean practically? The Living Missionally initiative suggests taking some the following steps:
a. Determine a number of volunteers and volunteer hours that they would commit to their community and fulfill that commitment for the year,
b. Adopt a community in need of refurbishing in the U.S,
c. Actively engage youth and young adults in volunteer opportunities,
d. Support young adults and others called to serve in God’s mission in the U.S. and abroad, or
e. Re-present Christ in their everyday lives through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues.

Living Missionally means stepping out in faith. It means engaging in missional experiments, being creative and innovative, and trying new forms of ministry. It means not being afraid to fail and not letting our fears hold us back. It means building relationships with people, listening to them, and discerning how God might be calling us to respond. Living missionally is not something that can be done in a sanctuary or a church building. We can be encouraged in our gatherings to go out and live missionally, but that is only the beginning. Living missionally is the realization that all Christians are called and sent. We all have gifts and talents that God wants to put to use. We are the sent ones. All of us can make a difference in the world in which we live.

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One Response to “Living Missionally”

  1. tomcundiff Says:

    Reblogged this on Bound and Nurtured in God's Love and commented:
    Clark Cowden is on target with his three points.

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