Missional church is breaking out all over the Diocese of Western Louisiana. I’m thrilled. And I realize that I can’t take any credit for it.
God is at work around here. And we have been rolling up our sleeves and joining him in his work. Just keep reading my blog (Pelican Anglican) and this newsletter, checking out our Facebook page, dropping by our website, and watching your inbox for the e-news.
For my part, I’ve been helping us to understand what we mean by “mission” and by “missional church.” Sometimes I’ve communicated effectively. Other times, not so much. In order to keep the missional ball rolling, come along with me as I say a few things about what it means to be missional.
Let’s start by clearing up some common, understandable confusion.
Some people hear “mission” and assume we’re referring to going to a place like Africa or Central America or Appalachia. They think of mission trips: episodic ministry events at a distance from where we live.
That’s not what we mean by “mission.”
Others hear “mission” as a synonym for outreach. In other words, they assume that being missional church means having outreach programs. Usually, outreach programs work on a benefactor-recipient model. We view ourselves as the privileged benefactors who will help those less fortunate than ourselves as one of the many things we do as a congregation.
That’s not what we mean by “mission.”
Missional churches will probably sponsor mission trips and outreach programs, but doing such things do not make a congregation missional. Being missional is not one thing that a congregation does. Being missional is the DNA—the living essence—that defines every dimension, every activity, of a missional congregation.
For starters, let’s define a missional congregation by contrasting it with an attractional congregation. Whether we realize it or not, most of us were raised with the attractional model of church. In the attractional church, the point is to get people inside. To make them members.
Attractional churches measure their success with average Sunday attendance and pledge numbers. The motto of the attractional church is: get more people to come to church. Use catchy worship styles, kids’ programs, coffee shops, felt need groups, and a myriad of other programmatic offerings to attract spiritual consumers.
Do you see the logic? Attract-consume. The church has a mission, and that mission is to get more members. To increase market share.
By contrast, missional church starts in an entirely different way and proceeds in the opposite direction. For the missional church, the starting place is that God has a mission. We do not say that the Church has a mission. God has a mission. And the sole purpose for any congregation is to engage God’s mission.
God’s mission is to heal the world: to reconcile the creation to himself and to reconcile all of us to each other. God is already at work doing this, and God has brought churches into existence to accomplish it.
Each congregation is where it is precisely because God has called that congregation into being in that location. Missional congregations understand that God’s mission is going on all around them and that their purpose is to participate in what God is doing out in the world.
As a first step, I encourage everyone in a congregation to walk the neighborhood of the congregation. Literally. Walk the neighborhood 20 minutes in each direction. Get to know the people, the businesses, the institutions, and the schools.
When you walk, walk with ears to hear. Do not assume that you have something to say or something to give that others don’t have. Assume that God is already at work. You are looking for partners. How do others perceive the needs of the neighborhood? How can you take part with them in healing your corner of the creation?
Listen to the stories that people tell you, especially their stories of God at work. Be humble enough to learn what others already know and to join what others are already doing.
This is a brief, incomplete sketch. I’ve said nothing about the role of worship in nurturing and sending us as healers. Space does not allow me to talk about a community defined by belonging and mutual care as opposed to a collection of self-interested consumers. But then again, I’m going to be your bishop for a long time. Stay tuned. We’ll get around to that and much more.
This article will appear in the August Alive!.