Thursday, April 22, 2010

New Wineskins: Ministry in the World

In recent weeks, I have become aware of people in our congregation who have significant ministries in the community—the lawyer who volunteers with the domestic violence center, the former heart patient who spends time each week visiting heart patients and sharing insights about how to live with their disease, the busy mother who tutors at-risk children, the business person who finds himself the “chaplain” in his workplace. This is what missional Christians do; they serve in the world. These are not church-sponsored activities. These are ministries that they have identified and pursued.

In Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal notes: “People don’t go to church; they are the church. They don’t bring people to church; they bring the church to people.” Wherever a believer is, there the church is present. For some reason, we have erected an artificial dividing line between “sanctioned” and “unsanctioned” ministry.

The challenge for the church is to give members the permission to seek out and pursue their ministries in the world. We value what people do within the walls of the church through recognition, training, and encouragement, but we fail to do that for those who are doing Kingdom work outside the walls. In fact, we sometimes make members feel guilty if they are using their gifts elsewhere! The traditional church needs to find ways to bless and commission those who undertake ministries in the larger community.

Missional faith communities, on the other hand, start out with this approach as a basic premise. It is expected that their members will be engaged in ministry in the world. They may be focused on being the presence of Christ in their neighborhood, their workplaces, or in a common ministry that all members of the group support. Very often, missional faith communities will form around a particular ministry or a specific neighborhood in order to make a difference there.

Let us remember that God is always at work in the world and invites us to join in that activity.

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