Change is a word that makes folks cringe - especially when they hear it in church. Last night we had our monthly Deacons meeting and after going through the regular monthly updates and reports, we discussed insights relating to the missional shift occurring in our church and others.
Together, we have been reading through Reggie McNeal's book The Missional Renaissance. Reggie was also here in Jacksonville last Saturday and many of our deacons attended the conference. This means the concept of implementing missional changes was fresh in our minds.
One of the issues with this missional concept is that many hear their pastors speak of it and classify it mentally as the latest "church growth buzzword." For many, it mentally goes into the file with "Church Growth," "Purpose-Driven," "Emergent," and others. Now, "Missional" can become a buzzword and it has for many. The danger of buzzwording (I made up that term) is that the word becomes so overused and misused that it becomes meaningless. Reggie McNeal even stated in a poscast that you could "put missional in a cookbook title and it would sell right now." True, but not very encouraging.
So, what does missional mean - really? Simply put the missional church is "the people of God partnering with Him in His redemptive mission in the world." If that's too "official" look at it this way - it's living life daily in the community and culture God has placed you with the mindset of a missionary, intent on blessing the people of your community and being the "hands and feet" of Christ in a very real way.
It's confusing. People in our fellowship are struggling with the definition. It's not the same as being mission minded. Many churches are mission minded. We are mission minded. That term means that we care about the global mission. We collect funds regularly for mission efforts in Florida, North America and the world. We participate in Operation Christmas Child. We support mission efforts in Haiti. We participate in disaster relief. We even regularly send teams throughout the world on mission trips. There are many other things. However, just because we support and participate in these mission endeavors, that does not mean we are missional.
Honestly, I believe we began making the shift to becoming a missional church about five years ago. We, like many churches, in the past have done "drive by" ministry for folks in our community, but five years ago we intentionally adopted Grove Park Elementary School and committed to a long-term partnership in helping this Title I school in our community to grow stronger. Our intent was just to bless them. This we did before we had ever heard the term missional. Apparently, this wasn't just a good idea we had, but a God idea. In fact, this model has been replicated many times over throughout our nation. It is my contention that every church needs to adopt a local public school. Anyway, that's a subject for another post.
Back to this subject of change and growth. Any organization (church, business, non-profit) must change over time. Many times Christians hear this and bow up. They are offended that we even bring up the notion that the church must change. They hear what isn't being said. They hear "The message of the church is broken. We need to change it to be non-offensive." That is so wrong. The fact is that the message, the Gospel, is timeless. It never changes and churches or denominations who have watered down the message or avoided talking about Jesus, sin, salvation and the process of redemption become meaningless. These churches eventually close their doors (or sustain their existence on the offerings of older members and become a club.)
The change that must take place over time is always contextual. It may be organizational. Regardless, when change is addressed and a pastor or leader becomes a change agent, he is facing an uphill challenge.
I'll stay with the missional concept and explain the general process that any organization must go through when change must occur.
Step One - The issue at hand is addressed and for the most part, many in the organization must deal with denial. This is called the Denial Step. Until brought to the organization's attention, there is group denial that anything is wrong. The organization continues to move ahead with the same template it has used for years. The culture, community, or in the case of businesses - the customers have changed, but the organization has yet to adjust.
Step Two - This is where many churches and businesses too, lose it. This step is the Resistance Step. There will always be a backlash from some within the church when change is proposed. The resistance may not be belligerent, so pastors need not think the people are the enemy. In fact, the challenge for the pastor is to remember that those who are resistant are still part of his flock. In many cases, resistance is based on fear or lack of understanding. I talked with one of our men who after discussing at length the need to be missional stated that he just didn't get it. This man is a great guy. He loves the Lord. He loves his church and desires to serve and lead others to serve the Lord, but like many he doesn't have a "box" in which to place this missional concept. It's hard to make a philosophical shift in this sense. I think it may be even harder when it seems that others around you "get it" and you don't. It causes frustration.
Now, take note here. There will be some resistant to change because they are belligerent. They have hard hearts and do not have a Kingdom mindset. Some will get angry when any change is proposed. Some may even leave the church. That's unfortunate, but it's a reality. The problems occur when the leader (i.e. the pastor) fails to stay on mission and backs up to unhealthy resistance. When these political moves are taken, opportunities are lost and consequently the church . . .well, the church looks like most in North America - plateaued or dying, maintaining, internally focused clubs.
Sometimes, an event occurs within the community that pushes a church from this stage of resistance to the stage of exploration. Sadly, these events are not always good. In our case, the kidnapping and murder of Somer Thompson moved us from Step Two to Three. The community, and especially Somer's family, needed to see and experience the love of Christ in a very real way during this time. At this point, all our regularly scheduled events and planning stalled as we asked the question "How can we be the church to this family and community right now." The people of our church jumped to the Exploration stage and began serving in ways collectively I have never experienced before. One of our deacons at the time caught me in the parking lot before the funeral visitation and said "This is what you've been talking about the past few years. I think we get it now." Wow! He was right. What is really exciting is that we never intended to be used the way we were (and prayerfully, we will never have to be used in that type of situation again) but because we had already begun the process of changing our outlook from internal to external, God had prepared us to be His hands and feet to this community.
Step Three - This is an exciting stage of change. It's called the Exploration Stage. This is when the people within the church or organization begin to "get it" and explore ways to implement the concept. In the missional concept, it's the people of God realizing that we're here to "be the church" not just "go to church" and the community becomes the mission field. No more "drive by" church events. No more "flash in the pan" Christian events, but long-term ministries that impact the world for the sake of the Gospel (and consequently, change the lives of those within the church.)
Step Four - This is the final upswing portion. This is the Commitment Stage. It is here that the church as a whole is fully engaged in this process. Those within the body know what, in this case, missional is and are able to share the vision to others. A new language is developed. A new way of being the church is experienced.
These stages of change are consistent across the board in all organizations. However, even when you make it to step four, the leader or leaders will discover that we are in an always changing world, so back we go to a new Step One. The church - always changing methods without changing the Message in order to fulfill the Great Commandment and Great Commission.
In our county today, there are maybe two or three churches that I know of who are intentionally seeking to be missional. I put us in that category. Others are churches from different denominations or are non-denominational. It's an interesting journey, and some will never move from the Denial Stage or Resistance Stage. However, we must press on. Why? Because being missional is not just a good idea. It's a God idea.
By the way, if you're wondering where our church is in this process, I believe we are just moving out of Step Two to Step Three. Yes, I stated we jumped there about a year ago when crisis hit our community, but we have been systematically stepping back and forth between the two steps since. It's good. It's challenging, because now we're seeing more and more members of our church speaking words of "exploration" and seeing the bigger picture.
If you're still in Step One or Two. . .hang in there. It's worth it.
Recommended reading on the missional movement:
The Present Future by Reggie McNeal
Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal
Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them by Ed Stetzer
Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations by Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer
Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers by Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird
More books listed in my bookstore here.