Posted by: mattdabbs | October 6, 2008

Nuts and Bolts of Raising Awareness of the Mission in a Congregation

We obviously want missional thinking to be among more circles than the ministers and missionaries. John Ellas mentioned in his Small Group class at Harding Graduate school a study done by Win Arn. He asked ministers and church members the question “Why does the church exist.” 89% of members endorsed “to meet the needs of my family.” 90% of ministers endorsed “To reach the lost.” That is a significant swing. It shows that the ministers get it but the vision of mission has not clearly been cast within Christian churches. I once worked in a church that was still running a large bus ministry. Often the attitude about evangelism was “that is what the bus ministry does.” The idea has developed in churches that church exists for me instead of the biblical idea that we exist for God and his mission that is often carried out by the church. We believe in the priesthood of all believers in theory but not often in practice.

So how do we make the transition in people’s thinking toward living more missionally? I don’t claim to have all the answers here or have done all of this effectively but I do want to share some thoughts and am curious what feedback this might generate.

1 – Be informed by Scripture: We have to be informed by scripture why we are here and what God wants us, as the body of his people, wants us to do. So God communicates to us his vision and we, as a church, share that vision through teaching, preaching, and through the elders shepherding.So this is not about getting our way or having things the way we want them to be. This is about God’s vision for His church. That is humbling. We often need to get ourselves out of the way before God can do what He needs to do.

2 – Let Scripture Reshape Our Paradigm: The idea that the ministers are the ones getting it done for us has to be thrown out and something new and better (more biblical) put in its place – that we are all here to do the work of the Lord. We are all on a mission.

3 – Planning: Once we are informed by the word of God as to what our mission is we need to come up with a God-centered and directed plan of action of how to best cast that vision/communicate to the congregation. Again, this needs to be a coordinated effort of all that we do in the church and not just one or two ministries. So it comes through the sermons, from the elders, within the Bible classes and small groups, and through community outreach and service projects. The elders and staff should be in prayer about this and then meet together with other members and ministry leaders to communicate what it is we are trying to do and why it is important. Often this step is lacking. We just do what we have always done with little thought or intention. We figure we are fulfilling our God-given duty by showing up for an hour or two a week and performing the scriptural acts of worship. It takes more intention and planning than that.

4 – Communication: Cast the vision that is produced from the planning phase to the congregation. This needs to come from the elders at the start and be repeated from the pulpit, Bible classes, small group curriculum, etc on a regular basis. That means it takes coordination with the teachers and ministry leaders to communicate our mission from multiple fronts so that people just can’t miss it. Those of us in ministry often assume people get it and that they know what is going on because we are around it all the time. People don’t always know. So let’s communicate very clearly and let them know in as many forms as possible!

5 – Go Organic: This is more than about a bunch of church programs. This is forming in Christians an awareness of identity (who they are) that they are to take and live out on a regular basis. We don’t want the sum total of our ministries to be what happens during set times at the church building. We want people to take their faith outside the walls and live it out on a regular basis. This is also about ministers making the paradigm shift from those who do everything to facilitators and equippers. Teach them how to fish. Once they taste fish and know where to get it, chances are they will go and get some more. If all you do is hand them fish once a week chances are they will wait a week for the fish distribution time and not think much about it during the week because 10:30 on Sunday is “when we are supposed to eat fish.”

I have been amazed at how seriously people have taken the mission of God when it has been consistently communicated, expectation levels raised, and responsibilities delegated. People are ready for this. I am interested in how many of you have worked on shifting people’s perspectives toward being missional.

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Responses

  1. Being a preacher, you might imagine I’d say this, but I think that an integral part of this is in the pulpit. If the preaching minister isn’t consistently & competently casting a vision of mission, then I think most of “the folks” will miss it. I think passages like Isaiah 49:6 & the Great Commission texts need to be put on the forefront of people’s minds on a regular basis. People need to understand the strong missional element of the character of Jesus (Jn. 1:14), and how we’re called to be conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29). Stuff like that needs to be heard in a dynamic/creative way on a regular basis. I just think that the pulpit, when shaped properly by Scripture, has a transformational power in the consciousness of the Church on both an individual & corporate level.

  2. Communicating the vision from the pulpit is key. It makes all the sense in the world. I often think many preachers and teachers get “into the groove” of the Sunday routine or else get so busy with the daily responsibilities + developing and preaching the sermon itself that the vision is lacking. Then there are those who have a vision but don’t keep it on the forefront.

  3. Matt,
    I really like this list. It is true that it is not going to be an accident that our churches have their paradigm rewritten in a missional direction. I think that there might be a few things that need to be redefined for us to make this transition from a maintenance focused institution to the people of God who are participating in God’s Mission…

    (1) We need to redefine salvation as more than an event (a.k.a. baptism). This doesn’t minimize the importance of baptism but it does do more justice to the picture that Paul gives us in Romans which is based on the Exodus narrative. The Red Sea was not the completion of God’s deliverance. Baptism is the same with us today.

    (2) Redefine membership. Somehow we have gotten this idea that meeting with the elders, filling out a card, having your picture taken, and picking up your directory make you a member in the Lord’s Church. The question will need to become, “What does it mean to BE a part of the body of Christ?”

    (3) Redefine Mission(s). It’s not about US going OVER THERE and taking God with us. It is about us become participants by God’s invitation and command (to use language from Christoper Wright) to participate in God’s mission.

    Yes it needs to come from the pulpit, and the classroom, and the small groups, the coffee shop, the bed time stories, the potlucks, and the personal quiet times. There is no doubt the shift needs to be made.

    Now we must muster the courage and desire to make it happen by God’s grace.


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