What does it mean to  be ‘missional’?  Is that different from being ‘mission-focused’? Does it matter what you call it?  Does it matter if you do it?

I’m not sure the difference between being missional and being mission-focused.  I suspect they are at least close to one another.  Both move a congregation to being aware of missions, and into actually participating in missions.

I know from experience it starts with being aware of the need.  It means going deeper than just ‘bless all the missionaries over there’ to knowing about what a specific missionary does day to day in relationship with a specific people group.  The congregation begins to pray for and to give  donations to that specific missionary over and above the generalized denominational offerings.  Finally someone breaks out and goes somewhere.  Over time, if nurtured properly, the whole congregation gets behind the movement and a sizeable portion of the congregation gets involved.

It’s transformative.

In almost every case, it pulls the members closer to one another and closer to God.  They get a sense that what they are doing is important, and if they didn’t do their part, people would starve or die from disease, and people would go to hell without Jesus.

Perhaps the difference I’ve seen are those that focus their attention on the unreached peoples elsewhere in the world, and those that serve the forgotten, abandoned and estranged people in their local community.  Both are important.  Both should be celebrated.  And people need training in how to be ‘on mission’ in both locations.

Enter Church Publishing Incorporated (CPI), a publishing source for Episcopal support materials.  The story I get from the CPI press release is that their initial offering is five books of practical wisdom.

  • Starting from Zero with $0: Building Mission-shaped Ministries on a Shoestring, By Becky Garrison
  • Mission-shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions in a Changing Context
  • Mission-shaped Parish: Traditional Church in a Changing Context, by Paul Bayes, Tim Sledge, John Holbrook, Mark Rylands, and Martin Seeley
  • Mission-shaped Spirituality: The Transforming Power of Mission, by Susan Hope
  • Mission-shaped Questions: Defining Issues for Today’s Church, by Steven Croft

I haven’t read them, but the titles seem interesting.  (I just received Becky’s in the mail this weekend.)  If you’ve read one or all, let me know what you think.  If you want to get a copy, they are available from the CPI Bookstore.

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What is the end result of a struggle for control?  Is it a process of cleaning the weeds so the garden can flourish?  Or is it more like topping the tree in an attempt at keeping it from overtaking the landscaping – to keep in under control?

In the early 1980s, the Southern Baptist Convention began to come apart.  The argument was couched in spiritual terms – that teachers in the colleges weren’t doctrinally pure enough.  There were even heresy investigations of some who challenged their students’ faith in the classroom to give them tools to counter opposition in the real world.  The result was an intellectional split in the theological direction, and a physical split in some parts of the convention.  Texas and Virginia now have two theologically different Southern Baptist Conventions.  Some who consider themselves historical Southern Baptist now belong to a new Cooperative Baptist Convention.

At the time, there was a charge that it was a grab for money.  The SBC had become the largest Protestant denomination in the country and the largest Baptist convention in the world, with billion dollar budgets.  It sponsored 5 national seminaries and sub-convention associations supported dozens of colleges, hospitals and orphanages.

As it happened, the SBC, formerly the fastest growing provider of the Gospel in the world, stopped growing.

Except for the years following the Civil War, an analysis of growth trends show a 3%-5% year-to-year growth rate that tapered off after 1980 and began to top out in the mid 90s, turning to actual declines in total membership in 2005.

So when the US economy hit a bump in 2009, that decline in membershp began to take a financial hit.

And so comes a realization from denominational leaders that, just perhaps, they overdid their zealous enforcement of their brand of orthodoxy.  The realization reminded leaders of ousted Southern Seminary faculty member  Bill Leonard, who had predicted that once the conservatives took control of the SBC’s massive infrastructure, they would soon turn on one another.   And so they have. 

In a bid to shore up funding of missions agencies, the central funding organism, called the Cooperative Program -an innovative approach to pool voluntary church contributions to accomplish common activies, is now at risk.  Churches are beginning to fund individual missions and missionaries, or reserving funds for local actions.  There is also suspicion that most money is going for maintenance. (One trusted source said that an estimated 60% of weekly tithes goes to repay loans on buildings.)

This is an intersting object lesson for individual churches.  If you drive off your most passionate dissenters, does it change your core message?  Are you still focused on reaching your whole community for the Gospel, or are you seen as only after their money?  Are you inclusive or exclusive?  Choose wisely; you will have to live with the future you create.  

sources:
http://www.ajc.com/news/content/news/stories/2008/04/24/southernbaptists_0424.html

http://baptistmessenger.com/editors-journal-our-ominous-future/

Everyone wants the secret to keeping their church vibrant and growing.  What one thing to add to their program that will amp up the return on time investment and send visitors crowding into the sanctuary?

Those whose congregations are dwindling will settle for a moment of triage to stop the bleeding, to stabilize the outflow of members and attract fresh members.

For both cases, one simple answer is to stop focusing on yourself.  Packing the pews or gaining a big donor is not the answer.  The answer lies in the geography of Israel.

There are two main lakes large enough to be called seas: Galilee and the Dead Sea.  The first is a vibrant body of water, with vital fishing and irrigation industry.  The second will not support life.  Both have an incoming source.  Only one has an exit.

What keeps Galilee productive is the constant outflow of water.    The outflow is not the result of water coming in; water leaving drops the level of the lake, creating an imbalance, an opening for new water to rush in from upstream to correct for the drop. 

What the church needs is a viable outflow.  Note I said viable.  This is spirit-filled activity that engages the congregation in ministry and evangelism in ways that expend physical, spiritual and financial energy, without having to sever membership ties. 

For some, it is taking on a social cause:  a soup kitchen, a thrift store, an after-school program, a kids’ athletic league.  While good to do, they will generally not achieve a level of spiritual return commensurate with the energy expended.  The Return on Investment isn’t strong enough.

I’d suggest more purely spiritual tasks.  If you want a spiritual – and not jsut social – return, you need a spiritual investment.  The easiest is prayer walking.  Walk through the neighborhood and pray for each household.  Go door to door and offer to pray about needs they might have. (Write the need down, but don’t leave without praying on the spot.)

Missions is also a good approach.  Adopt a missionary or unreached people group and commit to specific, focused prayers for a substantial time (daily for a month, weekly for a year, etc.)  Pray for spiritual victories, for salvation of the people, for protection of the missionary.  Make contact with a missions representative about the region and learn what to pray for, and then be super-specific.

In praying this way, you will model Jesus to them, the way His disciples asked to be taught to pray.  They will grow spiritually.  The congregation will grow in unity of purpose.  The church will develop spiritually mature leaders.  And the drop in available spiritual energy will allow God to refill the reservoir with fresh resources.

Thom Rainer, currently President of Lifeway, the Baptist resource publishing house, took time this week to reflect on how to be a better pastor.  He’s pastored 4 churches, and is a student of what makes a healthy church.

In the post titled If I Were a Pastor Again, Rainer lists five thing he would do differently:

  1. Pray more
  2. More time reading the Bible
  3. More time loving the critics than worrrying about what they said
  4. More time “hanging out” with church members
  5. More time getting to know the unchurched

These look like no-brainers, but we need to remind ourselves of the basics our the job from time to time.  We forget that “prayer is the work” instead of a prelude to the job.  We get so pressured to prepare the sermons and do the rest of the job that we forget to take time to read the Bible for our own benefit.

The other 3 points deal with our relationships with others.  We are to be shepherd of the church, not just the hired help to speak and administrate.  We are to have our ears open to the hurt behind the accusations (think of the kids who “act out” jsut to get attention).  And we need to know people to witness to, and lead our people by example.

This is not an all-inclusive list, of course, but it’s a good start.  As I’ve said before, you start where you are and move forward, no matter where that starting place happens to be.

(See the article here.)

I heard again tonite a podcast I downloaded from Ozark Christian College from David Bycroft on “Celebrating the Small Church.”  He pastors a church of 700 in a Kansas town of 250, and at the time of the sermon was praying for 3000.  Briefly, here’s some of what he said:

First, know again that the impossible is possible with God.   You can build a congregation that reaches the lost.  In Bycroft’s terms, the average church takes a sports car and each week turns the ignition and “shifts into neutral,” agreeing to do exactly what was done the week before, getting the same lack of result they’ve gotten every other week.  Instead, Bycroft urged his listeners to be extraordinary by tapping into the power of God .

Second, know that it will take some work.  It will take personal prayer on your part.  You will need to teaching your people HOW to pray effectively. And you need to do what you do with intention, being a church that works hard at being God’s church.

Third, get help if you need it.  If you need to learn more, or need encouragement from seasoned pastors, remember that there are LOTS of free podcasts out there.  OCC is but one of the Christian schools that records their chapel services and makes t he sermons available for free download.  Start here.