“Let’s Take a Year and Just Do This Ourselves First”: Initiating Missional Change

I spent last Friday and Saturday at Wesley Park United Methodist Church in Michigan leading their governing council through a discussion of the why’s and how’s of reorienting a church to the Mission of God in the world. It was a great time and thanks to all there who welcomed me and entered the dialogue with me. I spent yesterday and Monday at my own District Conference. Although I was one of the speakers, I got to listen to other pastors talk about changing from an “attractional” focus to a missional one. We heard some amazing stories and confessions of the temptations and failures of building a big church for (some of) the wrong reasons. Of course, I was one who had plenty of confessions of temptations and failures.
There was a theme in both of these meetings which can be summed up by what Will Clegg said at the close of our meetings together there at Wesley Park. The question was, “ok, where do we go from here?” Will Clegg said, “I think it really starts right here (with the council).” We need to take a year and just live this ourselves before we go to the congregation with anything. Let’s decide to take small initiatives towards arranging our lives to live missionally together, from whence we can then inhabit the church body with the stories we tell and our examples.” Simple but profound (I hope I quoted Will half way accurately). At my own District Conference, as I listened to leaders of churches that once were on the seeker-church, attractional model track as recently as two to five years ago, with larger buildings and budgets, I heard almost the same words. It has to start with the leaders/pastors doing it – living their lives missionally, in the places and lives of those who are lost, hurting and without Christ.

There is always the temptation to lead from the top on down. To use some sort of technique to create a program. But this is an ethos – a culture – we are nurturing: a culture of Mission and Christian community. This cannot be instituted as a program although it can be nurtured through instruction. This cannot be enforced top down although it can be led by those in leadership modeling the kind of life we are leading others into.

There will be fear for a lot of pastors who have been routinized into serving Christians and having the needy come to them always putting the pastor in a position of power. These habits are hard to break but must be broken if we would lead our churches into the Mission of God. I offer these texts below, ironically read by one the leaders at Wesley Park at the end of our meeting. Thanks to Wesley Park and the Midwest District of the C&MA – you all encouraged me and inspired me and blessed me this past week.

You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. 1 Thess 1:6-9.

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. Phil 3:7

(These two verses, by the way, are quoted by Alan Hirsch in The Forgotten Ways p. 115 in a discussion of this topic which is very worth reading!).

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