When most of us hear the word “community” we think of a geographic area in which we live and/or serve. What would it be to think of your community as a mission field?
Leading people into the mission field is one of the characteristics of a Christ-centered leader. The question is, are you mission-focused?
To resource you as a Christ-centered leader, I first focused upon community as “koinonia” found in the New Testament. Today I want to focus on the community in which your congregation is located as your mission field. It is in your engagement with your mission field that helps you and the people you lead into becoming and growing as Jesus followers.
To focus on the mission field, keep in mind that the foundation of Christ-centered leadership is Jesus. So, through the lens of being a Jesus follower, what does it mean to be in the midst of your mission field?
The World is My Parish
To get an idea of what it means to be in mission in the community in which you are located, let’s look first at John Wesley and his idea of “The world is my parish.”
Wesley insisted that “true Christianity cannot exist without the inward experience and the outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth.” The inward experience was supported by koinonia. He established a system of class meetings and bands to assist in keeping the faith vibrant. He called it personal piety. Closely related to this inward experience was the outward practice of social holiness.
Social holiness is living out of your faith in the larger community or your mission field. This idea of living out your faith in the community is captured in Wesley’s words, “The world is my parish.” It is your koinonia living beyond itself to all people. The greater focus is on the mission of making Jesus followers so that the people in your community and the relationships in the world might become who God created them to be. It is the spending of yourself and your resources so that all the world might know of God’s love in and through Jesus.
John Wesley’s Mission Field
Now, if you are thinking this is not what you signed up for, remember that Wesley came to this position “kicking and screaming.” The preacher evangelist, George Whitefield, had great success in reaching people for Christ but he had no system for them to stay on their walk with Jesus or to grow in their faith. Knowing the preaching and organizational skill of John Wesley, Whitefield reached out and invited Wesley to join him in preaching to the poor and to the coal miners.
Wesley fought against it.
Up to this point, Wesley had only preached in regular church services in the city. Should he accept Whitefield’s invitation and help with the open-air meetings in the country? He practiced what he preached. Wesley called on the Christian fellowship for guidance. Finally, he submitted himself to his koinonia fellowship. Through their prayer and support, Wesley decided to go and preach the gospel in the fields of Bristol.
The Methodist Movement as Mission
He adapted his understanding of ministry to meet the needs of the larger community. He joined with Whitefield and began to organize people into fellowship groups where their faith was kept alive and where they lived out their faith in the communities in which they lived. It was a fellowship where people cared for and looked after each other’s souls and where loving hearts set other hearts on fire. It was also a fellowship where those with a heartfelt faith moved into the community to love and serve in the name of Jesus.
In Wesley’s day, the Methodist movement addressed areas of poverty, slavery, prisons, liquor, war, and education. United Methodists have always had a “social creed” which speaks to the issues of the day. United Methodists have always worked for the transformation of the communities in which they have lived.
As a Christ-centered leader, how are you leading your fellowship into the community where your congregation is located? With your mission as your focus, use the questions below to help define your community, identify the needs of your community, and discover the resources needed to meet those needs.
1. Where have you witnessed God’s presence in your community?
Use this question at the beginning of every meeting, with small groups, and at the end of each day. People who follow Jesus should be able to articulate God’s movement in their lives. You can ask the question in different ways and in different contexts. Just be committed to asking the question over and over until people begin to look for God’s presence or God’s love in the community?
2. What is the mission of the church?
This question is about the purpose of your church, your koinonia. People who follow Jesus should know their purpose and be able to measure their lives and ministry by that purpose. Use this question to keep your focus and as a sorting mechanism for the ministry in the community.
Keep in mind the mission of the church is more than a mission statement. It is a guide to ministry. The question will help you keep focus and not confuse activity for missional impact.
3. What is your mission field?
Your mission field can be described in several ways. Most often, it is a geographic area where people live or at least where your church is located. John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.” As much as you and your church are involved in the world, your mission field is your neighborhood, your town, or your city. It is important to say, “Our neighborhood is our mission field” or “Our town is our mission field.”
Once you have defined the geographic area, define who lives in the mission field. After you identify who lives there, define their habits and interests. Listen for stories, look for symbols, and identify activities that help you learn more about the people you have identified.
4. What are the assets of the mission field?
Prepare to make a list of the assets. Start with the people who live in your mission field. What relationships, skills, and resources do they have? Move to the property, businesses, and services in your mission field. Identify the community focus, physical attributes such as parks, rivers, etc., and financial assets.
The best way to identify the assets is to take a walk within your mission field and ask people to respond to the question; “What do you love about our community, neighborhood, or city?”
5. What are the hopes and dreams of the people around you?
Prepare to make another list. What are the hopes and dreams of the people in your mission field? Basic needs like food, water, and shelter could be at the top of the list. What about safety? What about the dream to be loved, to belong, or to be taken seriously?
Again, the best way to identify the hopes and dreams of the people around you is to take a walk within your mission field. Ask people to respond to two questions: First, what do you love about our community? And second, what are your hopes and dreams? What are your hopes and dreams for this community? An effective way to follow up on your questions is to ask if the person would like to be a part of making the dreams a reality. Make sure you get contact information.
6. What relationships exist between you, your church leaders, and with the mission field?
Identify relationships within the mission field. What relationships do you and the people of your church have regarding businesses, government, education, arts and entertainment, non-profit groups, health care, first responders, etc.? What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, and re-established?
If you are not sure where to start developing relationships beyond the walls of the church building, start with the principal of your local elementary school. Or begin to attend community meetings to get to know the people who participate. With a little effort and interest, you will meet people with whom you can develop relationships and partnerships.
7. What is one way you can collaborate with another church in the mission field?
Every church, at its best, is focused on Jesus. Practices and theology might differ, but we are in this work together. Put aside all thoughts and feelings of being in competition. Model for others what collaboration might look like, even in the face of differences. Take time to meet other Christ-centered leaders. Learn their stories, how they express their mission, and what disciple-making looks like in their faith community.
Let me come back to something I said earlier, if you are thinking this is not what you signed up for, remember that Wesley came to the position of “The world is my parish” position both “kicking and screaming.” But modeled true Christ-centered leadership. He called on the Christian fellowship for guidance. Wesley submitted himself to his koinonia fellowship. Through their prayer and support he decided to go and preach the gospel in the fields of Bristol.
You are a leader today because Wesley adapted his understanding of ministry and moved into the mission field located outside the church building.
So, just like Wesley, your mission is not based upon whether you like it or not, or whether you agree with it or not. God has given you the mission. The community is your mission field. Learn about the people God has given to you to love and serve. Develop the relationships needed to make a transformational difference in their lives and in the neighborhood, town, or city in which they live. Be who God has created you to be.
Experience God’s Presence
It is time to get started. At the end of this day, ask yourself this question: “Where did I experience God’s presence today? Give God thanks for the people through whom God was present.
Now, make a commitment to yourself and to the leaders of your congregation, to ask that question at the beginning of every meeting, gathering, rehearsal, etc. in your church. Listen closely because people will begin to see Jesus in places he has not been seen before.
Lead the people entrusted to your care to pray that they might recognize God at work in your mission field. When you discover where God is working, join God in that work.
Christ-centered leaders are mission-focused. Who you are is how you lead.