Thursday, September 21, 2017

Becoming Missional: Get Outside the Walls

An interesting thing strikes me about the early church. Much of what they did was in very public places such as the city square, the marketplace, and the Temple. Early Christians did not have buildings, so they were out among the people, interacting in the everyday flow of life.

Those of us who are believers today need this same type of involvement. If we hope for our churches to become more missional, we need to get outside the walls and get to know our communities.

I had lunch with some friends in another city recently, and they decided to take me to (what we call in middle Tennessee) a “meat and three” restaurant. The place was not fancy, the food was good, and the people were friendly. While we were eating, one of my friends commented, “These folks are very different from those who come to our church on any given Sunday.” This was very perceptive. He noted that most of the people who attended their church were of a particular social and economic class; there was not a lot of diversity. The realization provided fresh insight about their church, who it reached, and possibilities for change.

We need those “Aha!” moments. Most of them will come only when we take ourselves into different, often unfamiliar, environments. We can drive a different route to work, eat at a new restaurant, or seek out invitations to various civic groups. Whatever we do, we must be intentional about getting outside of our normal routines to begin to understand what God is about in the world.

I believe that those of us who are church people are called to be both gathered and scattered. We gather to worship, learn, and encourage one another, but then we need to scatter around our community. When we do that—keeping our eyes, ears, and hearts open—we will start becoming more missional.

 (This blog post is adapted from material in For Such a Time as This:  Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry by Ircel Harrison. The book is available from Amazon.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Becoming Missional: Build on Your Strengths

For years we have talked about the uniqueness of every individual and the fact that “God has wired each of us” in a certain way. As a result, we have made efforts to help individual believers discover their gifts, passions, and personality types in order to serve more effectively. Is this idea also true for the church as well?

Marcus Buckingham is the author of several ground-breaking books including First, Break All the Rules[1] and Now Discover Your Strengths.[2] While he was with the Gallup Organization, he helped develop the Strengths-Based approach to management. The basic idea is that we should spend more time using the abilities we already have than trying to improve upon our deficits or weaknesses.

Out of that conference came the idea that this may be the best approach for churches to pursue as well. Contrary to the Natural Church Development approach[3] of discovering where your church falls short (“where it leaks” in NCD terminology), a church would be better off to accentuate its unique strengths.

How does this apply to the missional church? Each church is uniquely gifted to do something in its setting than no other church can do or, at least, do as well. Due to your location, facility resources, the gifts of your membership, and the abilities of your leadership, you can address a community need or develop a ministry for which your church is uniquely gifted.

How do you do this? Two things are essential. First, pray to find and be open to the leading of God’s spirit. This must be open-hearted, no-holds-barred praying. Second, engage in purposeful conversation among church members. This involves ongoing, face-to-face dialogue among everyone in the church. Of course, both of these activities take time, but it will be time well invested if the church can come to appreciate its strengths and discern how to use them effectively.

(This blog post is adapted from material in For Such a Time as This: Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry by Ircel Harrison. The book is available from Amazon.)

[1] Buckingham, Marcus, and Curt Coffman. First, Break All the Rules.  Simon and Schuster, 1998.

[2] New York:  Gallup Press,  1999.
[3] Christian A. Schwarz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches. Chicago:  ChurchSmart Resources, 1996.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Becoming Missional: Start Small

“Becoming a force of nature doesn’t mean that all of our aspirations must be ‘grand.’ First steps are often small, and initial visions that focus energy effectively often address immediate problems. What matters is engagement in the service of a larger purpose rather than lofty aspirations that paralyze action. Indeed, it’s a dangerous trap to believe that we can pursue only ‘great visions.’”--Peter Senge, et al., Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future[1]

Small steps can lead to great strides. Several years ago, Jessica Jackley, co-founder of, a micro-investment program, spoke at Willow Creek Association’s Leadership Summit. In her interview with Jim Mellado, President of the WCA, she said, “Don’t be afraid to start small.” KIVA’s founders didn’t apologize for starting with just seven entrepreneurs. Jackley pointed out that you can talk all you want about an idea, but once you begin and actually do something—even if it’s small—people respond to you differently. The best way to create big change is to have the patience and attention to focus on one particular area and to serve that area as well as you can.

Where is a good point to start in your church? The beginning point may be acknowledging in some way those who are already actively involved in ministry in the community even if it is not an “official” church ministry. Another possibility is to start thinking about putting more time into people development (coaching, mentoring, instilling spiritual disciplines) than program development. Perhaps it involves getting the staff to read and discuss a book on what it means to be a missional church. It may mean identifying one thing the church is doing that is no longer needed and invest that time and energy into a new outwardly-focused ministry.

Our initial efforts may not show remarkable success but at least we will be moving in the right direction. We may make mistakes, but we may also discover the Spirit of God speaking to our congregation in a special way.

(This blog post is adapted from material in For Such a Time as This:  Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry by Ircel Harrison. The book is available from Amazon.)

[1] New York:  Currency Doubleday, 2005, Kindle location 1943.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Becoming Missional: Build Trust

A friend who raises funds for a theological institution has repeatedly pointed out to me the importance of relationships—whether you are dealing with individuals or foundations. “The best way to get funding from a foundation,” he says, “is to know someone on the inside.”
The same is true if you want to move a church toward being missional. You must build relationships and develop trust within the congregation, even if you are already on the inside.

This can happen in several ways:

A priority is to find a champion. If you are the pastor or a staff member, the champion may be you. If you are not, seek to share the vision with the pastor or another ministerial staff member. This person will be part of staff discussions and will also be aware of the resources in the congregation—people, finances, facilities, equipment—that can be assets in the missional journey.

Second, you should not only make this a matter of prayer but seek opportunities to ask others in the church to pray for openness, opportunity, and receptivity to a missional mindset. This may be in Sunday school classes, committee meetings, or prayer services. This not only adds a spiritual dimension as you and others seek God’s leadership, but it also makes others aware of the possibilities.

Third, practice transparency and flexibility in this effort. Even if you have a vision of what your church might become, you must be candid and admit that you are not sure exactly how this may play out. The Spirit of God often surprises us (consider Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch) and pulls us in unexpected directions. Even the most committed leader does not have the full picture and needs to be open to new possibilities. People will trust you more if you exhibit openness to new ideas and approaches.

Fourth, find opportunities to give the vision away. The vision of becoming a missional church is not something to be hoarded but a treasure to be shared. As you do so, you not only bless others but the vision takes on new strength and vitality as others embrace it.This may take time, but don’t be concerned about a timetable. Transitions like this take place only when the people are ready to perceive God’s mission.

Often we fail to act because we may know our ultimate goal, but we have not mapped out all the steps that will get us there. We understand and appreciate the need for our church to become more missional, but we can’t articulate the plan that will lead us to the desired goal.  We become bogged down in the details. The good news is that we don’t need a well-thought-out plan to start the journey. It is more important just to do something!

(This blog post is adapted from material in For Such a Timeas This:  Aligning Church and Leadershipfor Missional Ministry by Ircel Harrison. The book is available from Amazon.)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Becoming Missional: The God Who Initiates

One Sunday my pastor preached on the passage in Luke 15 about the loving father. Most of us call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but the primary emphasis is on the action of the father and, by implication, the action of the Heavenly Father.

The fresh insight I received that morning was that the father in the story took the initiative in reconciliation with both sons. First, when the younger son returned home, the father ran to meet the son without waiting for the son to approach him. Second, when the older brother refused to come in to the homecoming celebration, the father “went out and pleaded with him” (v. 28). The loving father was not passive but active in sharing love and grace with his sons.

This text can help us to understand better the nature and mission of God as well as the nature and mission of the church. In the Hebrew Bible, we read that it is God who takes the initiative to redeem humankind. God sends messengers and prophets to inform and entreat the people of God to follow faithfully. In the New Testament account, God sends a Son to humanity to share the good news. God is a sending God. Therefore, the church should be a sending church. If it is God’s intention to actively engage the world, then the church in carrying out the mission of God (missio Dei) must be a sending church.

This is the basis of a missional ecclesiology. “Ecclesiology” is simply the theological term related to the study of the doctrine of the church. “Missional” refers to the essential nature and vocation of the church as God’s called and sent people. What’s the difference between “missions” and “missional”? For many years, mission or missions was understood to be a program of the congregation supported by financial offerings, prayer, organizations, and projects. On the other hand, missional is a way of being and doing life (as individuals, groups, and congregations) that asks, “What does God want us to be, do, and become to continue the ministry of Christ within our own community and global context?” rather than “What do we want to be, do, and become to respond to our denominational programs or unexamined beliefs and traditions?”

In the missional congregation, mission refers to those initiatives individuals, impromptu groups, and organized entities take to respond to identified needs in the world, as a continuation of the mission of God. When a congregation adopts this understanding, it will gain a new perspective and set new priorities.

I believe that the adoption and practice of a missional ecclesiology can have a greater impact on Christian witness in the 21st century than the “emerging” or “emergent” church movement. In her book The Great Emergence[1], Phyllis Tickle makes a good case that the emergent movement will have more impact within denominations as it encourages Christians to learn about, honor, and practice some of the rich traditions of other “tribes.” The emergent approach might be seen more as a tool for dealing with the postmodern situation we find ourselves in. On the other hand, a missional ecclesiology reframes the way we see who we are and what we are about.

How are we carrying out the mission of God? God has reached out to us and we, in turn, are to reach out to our world.

Some people seem to be a little tired of the term “missional church” and dismiss it as just another phrase tossed around by those who are unhappy with the way their church functions. This is a bit unfair. The idea that the church does not have a mission but is the mission of God in this world is a transforming concept. My concern lies elsewhere with those who assume that the only way to have a missional church is to disassemble the old church and start from scratch.
Many of the most popular books on the missional church make this assumption and provide numerous examples of those who have just left the established church and started something new. Their approach is that “it’s broke, so don’t waste your time trying to fix it.” There is a place for such efforts, but I firmly believe that those of us who have cast our lot with the traditional church can work within its systems to help it become more missional.

(This blog post is adapted from material in For Such a Time as This:  Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry by Ircel Harrison. The book is available on Amazon.)

[1] Grand Rapids, MI:  BakerBooks, 2012.