Archive for March, 2015

Missional Questions for Every Congregation to Ask

March 1, 2015

In Scott Sunquist’s book Understanding Christian Mission, he lists six missional questions every congregation needs to be asking to help them live into God’s missional plan. Here they are:

1. How can we understand our local missional context?
This is a social analysis of the community. What should the church be looking for as it analyzes its own mission field?
A. Ethnic patterns: what groups live here and in which areas do they live?
B. Age patterns
C. Economic status of various groups
D. Educational level
E. Major institutions in the area
F. Economic patterns (manufacturing, service industries, etc.)
G. Religious beliefs and membership
In addition to doing a factual, objective analysis from census data and other data available, there should also be a subjective analysis of the community. The church’s leadership team should walk the neighborhood, stopping in stores, schools, restaurants, and other establishments. They should take time to talk to people along the road, on the bus, or in the park. In this way, a leadership team will develop a missional awareness of their neighborhood. Most church contexts are very complex and it takes time to take the pulse, to know the hopes and fears of local people. A church must begin their missional journey with listening and attentiveness.

2. Who are the immigrant groups in our community? Where are they from and what does their social profile look like?
In most places in the world, people are moving beyond their ethnic boundaries. Some are “moving up” because of better jobs and great economic opportunities, while others are “moving out” to escape famine or violence. Some are students, some are professionals, and some are illiterate. Our missional presence must be directed according to the people God has brought into our midst. Some immigrate to get a better education which will lead to better career and economic opportunities. Some immigrate to a different country as a matter of survival. Many struggle to learn a new language and transportation system and adjust to a new climate. They can see God in the incarnation of His Body, the local church, which welcomes the foreigner.

3. Where are the poorest and neediest in our midst?
There are many ways in which we can and should be involved in local missionary work, but one aspect of mission that we must identify and then engage in is ministry among the neediest. Poverty and injustice should be like magnet north, turning the compass of our missional involvement in their direction. The early Christians were known for taking care of the poor – especially widows and orphans who were especially defenseless within the surrounding culture. The Missio Dei must run through the places of greatest darkness and pain, the places that seem completely hopeless. It is in such places, and with such people, that the light of the gospel is most needed and most clearly seen. Every local church should ask “Who are the neediest?” and then set out to meet their needs.

4. Are there events and institutions that we need to establish in order to meet needs and serve our community?
The local church should be the one place in every community in which people are asking what their community needs. It may be a medical clinic or a free dental clinic. Paying attention to the local community may reveal that the community needs healthy gathering places or wholesome gathering events. In some cities, it means reclaiming the streets: bringing families and young people back to playgrounds and side streets. Many churches are providing street fairs and sports leagues to bring communities together in moral and safe contexts. Other churches are using their buildings seven days a week to offer free tutoring for children, language classes for immigrants, computer literacy for the unemployed, and AA classes for people with ongoing addiction problems. A local church can be a catalyst for community building and the “full conversion of cultures”.

5. To what degree can the local church cooperate with people of other faiths in local mission and social ministry?
This is not an easy question to answer. In many Western countries, Christians are strongly encouraged to cooperate in all mission with all people. In certain contexts, this is appropriate, nothing is compromised, and much good is done. However, there are times when cooperation becomes compromising, as not all social issues are commonly evaluated as to their social good. In many areas of community outreach, cooperation is essential: local churches need to work cooperatively with other religions to provide basic health care, to maintain open dialogue, and to feed the poor. But, if our ability to talk about the center of our faith is hindered, we need to re-think our cooperation.

6. What is the role of the laity in mission, and how can the clergy enhance and promote it?
Many people in the West have come to believe that missions is the responsibility of the clergy. But, lay people are specially gifted in a variety of ways for carrying out the mission of God. The role of pastors is to aid in converting, equipping, and sending out the laity. We often forget that most of the evangelization in the world, most of the translation of the Bible, most of the work for justice, and most of the care for the poor has been done by lay people.

One pastor starting asking members to tell their stories of how they were living out their faith in Christ in mission in the careers God had called them into. A crossing guard told how God had called him to make the intersection in front of a primary school a safe place for children. If a child forgot their lunch, he lent them money to buy one; and if a child forgot their homework, he called a parent. He created a loving and peaceful environment for children. A hairdresser spoke about how God had called her to help women feel good about themselves and to listen and pray for her clients. A few had so appreciated her ministry that they came to her church to discover the faith that they had seen and enjoyed in their presence. Here is a model for a local church in which everyone can understand themselves as uniquely gifted and called by God to their neighborhood.

Each and every person called to Christ is sent by Christ. Some are sent around the world, others are sent across the street. However, all are sent as ambassadors and reconciling agents with a life to share as well as a message to speak.