For any pastor, there is the constant temptation to get pragmatic – do things to get people and money into your church. We all face financial pressures. We all face the pressures of other people’s (denominations?) expectations. Yet this temptation to get pragmatic is even more intense for missional leaders who are nurturing the establishment of a missional community. Results are hard to measure compared to what other churches are doing. The sacrifice appears great and appears to go unnoticed. This has never been more true than during this time when the fear of financial catastrophe is broadcast non stop across the airways and print media. And so missional church-planters face the anxieties and uncertainties associated with that as well because many of us do not have the comfort of an established money making skill or career. So the inevitable questions arise: what am I doing with my life? I have nothing to show for this? How am I going to sustain myself and my family (if I have one) long term? Can you see how this all builds up and makes the sustainability of missional church plants highly precarious?
Recently, as I sat with some friends who are missional “cultivators” of a church plant, one of them asked “How can missional churches be sustainable?” I said, it depends upon what you mean by sustainable. For in these days of financial crisis I know multiple situations of churches, mostly mega churches, who have built large facilities, and now face immense pressures to pay the bills. Their people are hurting and scared during this financial crisis, and yet these pastors are forced to get pragmatic. At the worst time to do so, these pastors must figure out what to say, or how to say it, to get money in the door. This is what I call unsustainable. The dubious nature of these church’s sustainability is increased substantially by the taking on of large capital expenditures like buildings and large payrolls.
As opposed to the capital intensive churches, it seems that missional communities should have the wherewithal to be more sustainable in these times because it is in our nature to:
a.) Keep building expenses minimal (BTW as many church buildings are being abandoned in post Christendom in the heart of abandoned parts of cities and towns – there are great opportunities for missional communities to take these facilities over).
b.) Maintain a multiple bi-ministerial (bi-vocational) pastorate who can live simply as well as develop market skills which give them options to make their support when need be. This keeps payroll down, spreads it out and keeps the pastors in mutual sustainable community. I might also be quick to add though, bi-vocational life cannot be done without at least three pastors doing it together and sharing the leadership of the church (Nothing worse than one guy or woman trying to do it all and work to pay his/her family’s bills).
c.) Build economically viable communities where costs of living go down through things like free-cycling and sharing meals, child care together.
All of this should encourage missional church planters in times like this. Our church plants are actually more sustainable than the Christendom models of church-planting. We should be encouraged to keep resisting the urge to get pragmatic.
But truthfully, resisting the urge to get pragmatic requires more than this little piece of analysis. It requires a regular practice of spiritual discipline. YOU CANNOT WHITE KNUCKLE YOURSELF, REASON YOURSELF to feel better amidst the fears, doubts and and temptations to go pragmatic. We are ever tempted to get pragmatic, do what it takes to get the bills paid, or do what makes oneself feel more secure and successful. We need a spiritual formation that shapes us into God’s mission and keeps us oriented towards God (in other words keep sane). What would such a spiritual formation look like?
In this regard I offer this suggestion. I just returned from a trip where I spent a day with God in Psalm 37 (first six verses). Amidst my own set of financial concerns, my over worked and over busy life, MY OWN TEMPTATIONS TO GET PRAGMATIC â€¦ I needed a day to ground myself. So I spent the day, returning to my roots, walking the neighborhood where I grew up, remembering God’s faithfulness to me in the days of my child hood and since. During this time I spent the day meditating, praying through these phrases from Ps 37 (doing lectio divina for those of you who know this approach).
Psalm 37: A Psalm for Missional Leaders (NASV)
Fret not â€¦
Trust in the Lord and do good
Dwell in the land, and cultivate faithfulness (or “feed on His faithfulness” – this line is a mantra for missional pastors)
Delight yourself in the Lord’
And he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord
Trust also in Him and He will do it
And he will bring forth your righteousness as the light â€¦
I try to take regular (daily) times of silence with a text like this, long walks, putting my labors, frets and fears into the hands of God and His Mission. This shapes me into His mission. Hope this helps some missional church leader who is close to losing his or her mind right now. What modes of spiritual formation for missional church planters have you engaged in during times like those described above?