The first task of congregational leaders is not insuring their congregation’s survival, but their congregation’s missional vitality. Because we seldom hit a target we can’t see, congregations need their leaders to do two things. First: clarify the mission. And second: constantly keep it before the congregation.
No way around it: the church is a franchise. We don’t get to make up what we are about. Jesus already did that. He said, “Go and make disciples and teach them to obey me.” (Matthew 28:19-20) He said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:25) He said, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these
. . ., you did for me.’” (John 25:40)
The United Methodist Church summarizes all this by simply saying that our mission is “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” This reflects both the historic emphases of the Wesleyan movement: a heart warmed by Christ expressed in social holiness.
The problem is that the default in our consumer society is to think that the church is all about taking care of me: my personal preferences, my pastoral needs, my peace of mind and my comfort level. Unless leaders are continually lifting up the real mission of Christ’s church, the default in our culture is to think that the church is about the idolatrous trinity of caring for our members, maintaining our facilities and perpetuating our beloved local traditions. And when the congregation is in crisis, the idol becomes simply the survival of our congregation. This is not the target that Christ calls his followers to move toward. Aim at this and we have already lost our authenticity; we have already lost what it means to be the body of Christ in the world.
How do leaders keep the mission constantly before their people? Here are two practical as potatoes ways of doing this:
#1 When planning any event, activity or program in the church, ask those involved to complete this sentence and write their answers on a white board or news print :
We are doing this SO THAT __________________.
Let people complete this sentence in as many ways as they can. Then ask, “How does this advance our mission to make more and better world changing disciples?”
One congregation did this exercise regarding a Valentine’s Day Couple’s Dinner that they did every year. “We always have this dinner,” one person said. “Everyone expects it and enjoys it,” said another. “It’s fun to get dressed up and have a nice dinner,” said one more. “But, does it advance the church’s mission?” asked a church leader.
“It would if we used this as a way to invite people from the community to join us and we got to know them. It could be like a Matthew party, you know, when Matthew invited all his tax collector buddies over to meet Jesus.” “Yea, but I don’t remember anyone outside our church family coming to the dinner in recent years.” “But what if we were intentional about inviting others and about getting to know them?”
What resulted was a conversation about how something they always did was actually fulfilling the mission of the church they all said they affirmed. As a result, they began to make changes in how they did this traditional Valentine’s event to make it more intentionally missional.
#2 Another practical way to keep the mission before people is to ask of any event, activity or program in the church the following question:
If we do this really well for the sake of Christ’s mission, what will be the results?
The idea here is to make clear what the missional outcomes of this event should be so that you can make sure they are the outcomes.
For example, you might ask what the missional results of your congregation’s youth ministry? One congregation did this and here are the results they identified as indicating missional success in their youth ministry:
· Our youth will be growing in their devotion and commitment to Christ.
· Our youth group will grow and include youth not previously in our church.
· Our youth will see themselves as part of and participate in our whole congregation’s life and ministry.
As a result of identifying these three missional outcomes for their youth ministry, the youth ministry leaders were able to “begin with the end in mind” (Stephen Covey) as they planned. They were also able to monitor how they were doing along the way by asking if these expected outcomes were actually happening. This enabled them to make mid-course corrections in what they were doing to improve the outcomes. The point was not to just have a good time or to keep the kids busy during the summer or to have a separate youth group from the rest of the congregation or to have a youth group because everyone did. The point was to advance Christ’s mission in these ways.
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence