Tag Archive for: Missional

As a Christ-centered leader, in a rapidly changing world, you have the responsibility to lead forward in mission. By centering on God’s mission, engaging with the community, and embracing your local context, you can lead with purpose and authenticity. You have the opportunity to lead your church in reclaiming its role as a vibrant and relevant force in the lives of the people in your community and beyond. 

Engaging in Mission

You have been preparing for mission. The time has come to engage in the mission for which you have been preparing.  David Bosch wrote, “Mission is seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is the church because there is a mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people; since God is a fountain of sending love.” 

The time has come to move into the community with God’s love. But before you move too quickly, take a quick overview of the mission in which you are engaged.  (For a more in depth overview go to Preparing for Mission: Building on HOPE) .  

Our Mission

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).

People are sent out into the community to live the life of love as they have experienced in and through you and other followers of Jesus. As they experience hospitality, they extend hospitality. As they are immersed in God’s love, they invite others to be immersed in God’s love. As they practice loving as they have been loved they are inviting others to experience and to practice God’s love. 

Remember, you are sent out by Jesus. “Go” literally means “as you go.”  Wherever you are, you are set apart to live the life of love as experienced in and through Jesus.  

You are sent out to “make disciples.” A disciple is a student or follower. You have been invited, called, and commissioned to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus. This is important. You have not chosen Jesus. Jesus has chosen you. You are a follower of Jesus for the purpose of loving others as you have been loved. 

Making Disciples

Now, some people misread the word “make” as coercion, but that is not what Matthew means by “make.” Matthew is concerned about developing healthy relationships. So, how do you make disciples? You make disciples, followers, and students of Jesus, the same way Jesus did. You love people. You bless them, help them, and care for them. Just as with Jesus, (agape) the well-being of people becomes your priority.  

You practice the love of Jesus so you might become like Jesus. When you read the Gospel of John, you discover that the followers of Jesus are known by the way they love one another. So, to “make disciples” means to love people as you have been loved.  It is to engage in the love of God in the places you live, work, play, and associate with people. 

Making Disciples Begins with Love

The greatest part of loving others as you have been loved is, you are not left alone to love others.  The Risen Christ is with you.  God does not leave you to fend for yourself. The very birth of Jesus is announced as “and they shall name him Emmanuel which means, ‘God is with us.’” The mission of making disciples is God’s mission. You have been invited to participate in God’s mission.  If God calls you, God will equip you. When God calls and equips, God will be with you, even to the end. 

With that review, you are not ready to move forward with the mission clearly in focus. 

Read Matthew 28:19 

“Go therefore and make disciples…” 

To help engage in mission, below are seven questions to answer: (Click here for a more in-depth look at the 7 Missional Questions

1.      Where have you witnessed God’s presence in your community? (God’s Presence)

To help lay a foundation for mission and assist in developing a clear focus, consider asking this question at the beginning of every meeting. Have every group that meets engage in answering this question. It is one of two foundational questions that contribute to congregational health. People who follow Jesus should be able to articulate God’s movement in their life. The question can be asked in different ways. For example, “Where did you experience the light of Christ today? (Matt 5:14-16) How did God’s love become real today? Take note of the responses as one way of preparing for mission.

2.      What is the mission of the church? (Mission)

This question is about the purpose of the church. It is not about mission projects, trips, or work. It is about why your church exists. What is the church’s mission (purpose)? Does everyone know the mission? Can they repeat it? Do they embody it? This is the partner question to naming God’s presence. Both are essential for healthy disciple-making movements. It’s one thing to have words on a website or framed on the wall. It’s another thing to use the mission to guide what you do and to measure the direction and activities of the church. Use the mission as a sorting mechanism to ask, “Does this help us further or fulfill our mission?” If not, why are we doing it? Don’t confuse activity for missional impact. Don’t try to justify all your activities as contributing to your mission. If you’re having a party and it’s simply for fun, name it as fun. Otherwise, the mission becomes fuzzy for people. Lack of focus leads people to inaction.

3.      What is our mission field? (Mission Field)

Your mission field can be described in multiple ways. Most often, it is a geographic region where people live. Using the location of your church building as the center of a radius, what is the geographic area of your missional outreach? Although most of your church members live in the suburbs, if your building location is in the urban core of the city, your mission field is a section of the urban core of the city. The question to answer is, “are you a suburban church that meets downtown or are you an urban church in ministry downtown?  Once you have defined and are clear regarding your geographic region, then identify who lives within the mission field. What are their habits and interests? Listen to their stories, identify activities and symbols that help you learn more about them. Although you live someplace other than where your building is located, identify the area around your building as your mission field and the people within your mission field as your mission partners.

4.      What are the assets of our community? (Assets)

This is an important “preparing for mission” activity. Your assets start with the people who live in your mission field. As you meet people and begin to develop relationships, take note of their skills and resources. As you walk your mission field, take note of the services, businesses, physical attributes (parks, attractions, poverty, trash, etc.) and financial assets. If you’re having trouble identifying assets, take a walk in your community and ask people to respond to the questions: “What do you love about our community (neighborhood, or city)?” and “What would you change if you could change it?”

5.      What are the needs in our community? (Needs)

 This is another important “preparing for mission” activity. The needs start with the needs of people in your community. In general, the basic needs are food, water, and shelter. These are followed by safety, love, belonging and self-esteem/respect. Recognizing and realizing our potential, learning, faith, and service round out the list. As you walk your mission field, ask the people you meet to respond to a couple of questions. The first question is, “What do you love about our community (neighborhood, city, etc.)” Make sure to start with what they love, or you will not get much feedback. People like to talk about what they love to anyone who will listen. Then ask the second question, “What needs does the community have?” As you engage people in conversation, follow-up with “Would you like to help address the needs?” Make sure to get contact information so that you might engage them in meeting their needs.

6.      What relationships exist with leaders in our community? (Relationships)

 How are you and other church leaders developing relationships with the following sectors of the community: business, government, education, first responders, faith/religion, arts and entertainment, non-profit, health (hospitals, doctors, nurses, clinics)? Who are the people you already know and what relationships do you have with them? What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, re-established? What community leaders are members of your church? One person with whom to start building a relationship beyond the walls of the church is the principal of your local elementary school.

 7.      What is one way we can collaborate with another church? (Collaborations)

Every local church, at their best, is focused on Jesus. Your practices and theology may differ, but you are in the same business of loving others as you have been loved. In other words, you are not in competition with other churches. We are all on the same team. Now is the time to model for others what collaboration can look like, even in the face of differences. Now is the time to have a conversation with another local church leader or pastor. Listen to their stories. Learn of their faith and God’s call upon their lives. Take note of how they express their mission and what disciple-making looks like to them and their faith community.  Reflect upon how you might partner with them in God’s movement of grace and mission of love in your mission field.

You have received much information regarding engaging in mission. As you read, reflect, and respond to this information, prepare your head and heart for the next part of Preparing for Mission: Engaging in Mission Part 2.

Respond

To engage in mission, prepare your heart and mind with prayer. Ask God to help you to be aware of and sensitive to the people you encounter in your mission field. 

Prepare your heart and mind with bible study. Read Luke 10:1-12 and ask God to send you out as a missionary to learn about the mission field you have defined and within which you serve. 

Engage the leaders of your church in participating in the seven questions above. Send your leaders out in teams of two or three to experience the mission, to encounter the people, to assess the assets and needs of the mission field. 

Assist your leaders in identifying and developing the relationships within your mission field. What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, or re-established? 

Continue to engage our team in prayer and study. Continue to ask God to help you be aware of and sensitive to the people you encounter. 

Now, how will you love the people God sends your way?  How will you reach and receive them in love? How will you introduce them to God’s love? How will you practice who you are as a follower of Jesus?  In what new way will you love them as Christ has loved you? 

Remember, practice makes perfect. It helps you become who you are created to be. And who you are is how you lead. 

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me be an extension of your love in the lives of the people you send my way. Help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what did you engage in God’s movement of grace and God’s mission of love? How did you engage the seven missional questions?  Who did you invite to participate with you? How did you feel like a missionary?  

If you did not engage the seven questions today, how will you engage them in the near future? Who will you invite to participate with you? How will you use prayer and study to prepare?

Defining Leadership in Today’s World

Who or what defines a leader? How do you understand the concept of leadership?

I am discovering that most people assume that they know good leadership. Their understandings are based upon what they have seen or experienced. Sometimes their view is limited to a particular place, like the workplace, a service club, the PTA, or the church. Other times their view is based upon a person who has helped meet a need or shown some particular interest in relating to people.

Shifting Views on Leadership

Some people experience leadership all the time. Whether at work, school, the grocery store, or wherever they interact with people. They experience some form of leadership. They understand themselves as leaders, regardless of position or power. Wherever they encounter people, they have the opportunity to influence and to motivate people in one way or another.

In today’s culture, there are many ways to define, think about, and approach leadership. Some say a leader is one who inspires and motivates action. Others say a leader influences and advances change for a more equitable world. Then, there are others who say that a leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential (Brené Brown). Regardless of your definition, your belief about leadership informs what you think about and practice as a leader. So, how do you understand leadership?

The Need for New Leadership Models

Over my time in ministry, leadership has been limited in understanding. It has been seen as either pastoral (caring for God’s people, counseling, and spiritual care) or entrepreneurial (the leader knows where the church needs to go and has the vision, passion, and strategy to take it there). Pastoral leadership has its roots in scripture. Entrepreneurial leadership has its roots in the sociological aspects of the culture. Both models have their strengths and have met particular needs at particular times.

Because of the cultural shifts being experienced today, the time has come to rethink our leadership models. Most of us have been trained to be good caregivers and caretakers of the people entrusted to us. As we seek uniformity and stability in our congregations, we have learned that good pastoral care helps to get better results. I agree that good pastoral leadership is needed, but it is not enough to navigate the shifts taking place.

Because of the sharp decline in church membership and worship attendance, we have decided to rethink how we develop congregations. Some of you have special gifts of vision and development. You know how to start new faith communities and grow new congregations. I agree that leaders with entrepreneurial gifts are needed, but entrepreneurial leadership is not enough to overcome the shifts taking place.

Please hear me, I am not saying we don’t need pastoral and entrepreneurial leadership. But I am saying neither are adequate, by themselves, to lead through the cultural shifts of today. Both models have their place in providing effective Christ-centered leadership. But, even together, they fall short of the leadership needed to navigate the shifts being experienced today.

Cultural Shifts and the Role of Missional Leadership

Several years ago, I read a story about Halloween Mischief Night in a Philadelphia neighborhood. Two boys broke into a store. They didn’t steal anything, but they did something worse. They went around and changed the price tags on everything in the store. The next morning, people found televisions selling for $10.00, while phone adapters were selling for $1200. What had been made valuable was made cheap, and what was cheap had been made valuable.

That story is a silly illustration of what has happened in our culture over the past several years. It is almost as though someone has broken into our culture and changed the price tags. What we once thought was really valuable and precious does get as much attention as what has always been considered frivolous and worthless. The ground seems to be moving under our feet, and there is no firm place to stand. We are in the midst of some sharp cultural shifts.

The Call for Missional Leaders

The followers of Jesus have navigated cultural shifts from the very beginning. In the early church, the followers of Jesus were sent to serve and convert the world, to care for the sick, the prisoner, the widow, the children, and the poor. They knew they had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry on his loving service in the world.

They were to engage the world, not withdraw from it. In the middle of a hostile environment, they were to witness to God’s love The front door was the frontier into mission. They were compelled to take the life they shared in the congregation and cross over the threshold into the hostile world outside.

Baptism was a powerful symbol of death to things of the hostile culture and a new birth into the way of Jesus. It was their call to be missional leaders. It meant that they put their lives on the line for the love of God they had experienced in and through Jesus. (The Greek word translated for “witness” is the same word for “martyr”). Leaders put their lives on the line for the love of God.

Living Out the Mission

Then with the conversion of the Roman emperor, Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of the empire. The church was no longer in a hostile environment because the church and the culture became intertwined. The followers of Jesus were no longer called upon to witness in a hostile world because everyone in the culture was Christian.

Over time the church shifted from a community of convinced, committed, believers supporting one another within a hostile environment to a community of good, law-abiding citizens, who paid taxes and supported both religious and secular institutions. Unity was no longer centered upon Jesus but shifted to administration, theology, and politics. Institutional structures were developed to minimize discord and to reconcile differences.

To become a follower of Jesus was to be born into the church. Baptism was no longer a call to mission but an affirmation of your place in the church. People became organizational leaders who became loyal and obedient to the institution.

Today, we no longer live in a culture where we can assume everyone is a follower of Jesus. We can no longer assume that the church is part of the community or vice versa. Although the culture is not totally hostile to the good news of God’s love, A new way of living out the mission is emerging. The shift is back to the mission field being just outside the front door of the church, of the workplace, of your home.

A New Way of Leading: Missional Leadership

In a time in which the mission field is changing, pastoral and entrepreneurial leadership alone are inadequate. The cultural shifts call for more than transitional change. There is a deep need and yearning for transformation. There is a call for a new understanding of leadership. Although pastoral and entrepreneurial leadership are part of it, a new way of leading is emerging. The orientation of leadership is different.

For the sake of clarity, I am calling this new leadership orientation missional leadership. It is not a new leadership concept or model, but it is a new and different orientation for most Christ-centered leaders today.

Missional leadership has its roots in the love of God. At the very heart of missional leadership is the development of a congregational environment where God is the center of conversation and where God shapes the focus and work of the people. It is about a cultural change that is powered by curiosity and imagination more than new techniques or programs.

Shaping Cultural Imagination and Embracing God’s Love

It is about shaping cultural imagination in order to create an environment where people, both in the community and in the church, are embraced by God’s love and set free to love others as they have been loved. It is a missional orientation that cultivates the practice of searching scripture, discerning prayer, and Christian conversation for the purpose of discovering places of God’s life-giving future in Jesus.

Missional leaders know the difference between transitional and transformational change.

They know that transitional change is focused on maintaining stability. What changes are made are reactions to what has caused a disruption or discomfort. The ultimate goal, whether intended or not, is stability at all costs, while transformational change names current reality, focuses upon the goal of new life, and leads the necessary change to build upon the fundamentals that bring about new life.

Differentiating Transitional and Transformational Change

They understand that transitional change is concerned with creating as little pain as possible, while transformational change is “ripping off the band-aid” and moving toward a new reality.

They recognize that transitional change works to maintain the status quo, even if by a different name, while transformational change works to adapt to the changing world and is willing to pay the cost to become effective and fruitful.

Missional leaders have a growing understanding that the church, which is made up of Jesus followers, lives the gospel message that not only embraces personal salvation for individuals but also embraces salvation for communities, cities, social systems, and all of creation. They lead by putting God’s mission at the center.

With entrepreneurial gifts, they develop relationships that assist people in understanding that God’s mission is not about personal preferences, pleasing people, or promoting prosperity. With the care and compassion of the pastor, they lead the shift from program-focused ministry to people-focused ministry. They model leadership by engaging with the community, adapting to societal changes, and helping people become followers of Jesus. They highlight the need to understand and embrace the local community, moving from attractional models to celebrating what God is doing in the community and in the lives of the people.

Engaging the Church and Community

Missional leaders engage the church in God’s active healing and wholeness, leading people to break down the barriers and navigate the obstacles to God’s mercy, equity, justice, and reconciliation. They engage the church and community to “scatter across the countryside” with the love of God experienced and known in Jesus.

So, said in another way, missional leadership isn’t about getting people to a church building on Sunday mornings; it’s about meeting people where they are and forming genuine connections. These connections are the catalyst for healthy and mutual transformation.

In a culture that feels like the price tags have been changed, missional leaders help the church be who God created the church to be at unexpected times in unexpected ways.

A few years ago, in a small rural community Presbyterian church, a young single mother brought her baby to the church to be baptized. On the day of the baptism, she stood alone before the congregation, holding her baby in her arms.

The pastor had not recognized the awkwardness of the situation. He came to the part in the baptismal service when the questions were asked, “Who stands with this child to assure the commitments and promises made here will be carried out? Who will be there for this child in times of need and assure that this child is brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?”

It was then that the pastor realized there was no grandparent or godparent to answer the questions. But without hesitation, as though on cue, the entire congregation stood and with one voice said, “We will.”

Missional Leaders Embody God’s Love

At the very heart of missional leadership is God’s love for all people. Missional leaders develop a congregational environment where God shapes the focus and work of the people. They help shape the cultural imagination in order to create an environment where people, both in the community and in the church, are embraced by God’s love and set free to love others as they have been loved.

Although there is much more that can be and should be said about missional leadership, I will end with this: How do you understand the concept of leadership? Who will stand with the community to ensure the love of God is experienced and known in and through the church? Will you be present and available in times of need and assurance to nurture and guide the community to become who God has created the community to be? Who is ready and willing to be a missional leader? Who you are is how you lead.

Who or what comes to mind when you hear the word “missionary”? Is it someone who leaves everything behind and enters a foreign cultural context to serve God? Is it someone who crosses cultural barriers to share the good news of Jesus? Is it someone who goes beyond their natural environment and into a new one motivated by the love of God?  

Who or what comes to mind? Traditionally a missionary has been seen as someone who enters a culture different than their own, develops relationships with the people, and shares God’s love by serving and working with the people. They share the good news of God’s love by learning the traditions and activities of the culture and by developing relationships of trust and compassion with the people. A missionary is a cross-cultural worker, immersed in a culture different than their own, to discover and understand the needs and assets of the people they are called to love and serve.   

Are you a missionary?

Who or what comes to mind? Have you ever considered yourself to be a missionary? Maybe you can think of it this way. Wherever you are called to serve, you have the opportunity to enter a new community, learn the traditions and activities of the community, and to develop relationships of trust and compassion with the people. In the truest since, wherever you are, you are a missionary of the love of God you have experienced in and through Jesus.     

On Mission for Jesus

The early followers of Jesus were missionaries. They found their identity in his mission. They understood themselves as evidence of the resurrection and that they became part of the living, serving, and dying of the Risen Christ. Their witness was seen in their loving, serving, and caring for the sick, the prisoner, the widow, the fatherless, and the poor. 

They engaged the world and witnessed to the work of Jesus in the midst of a hostile environment. Whether it was living in tension with the established religion (Judaism) or being persecuted by the government (Roman), they did not withdraw from the world or forsake their mission. They were missionaries of the Risen Christ.

They understood themselves as called to ministry through their baptism. As baptized followers of Jesus they lived out their call to ministry with the people they encountered each day in the area in which they lived. As they worshiped, they listened to the stories of Jesus and how he interacted with people. It was out of their developing relationships and their experience of Jesus that their understanding of mission emerged. 

They put their lives on the line for Jesus as they witnessed to God’s love across boundaries of race, nationality, and economics. The mission field was at their front door. In other words, they became missionaries of Jesus with everyone they met.

Prepared to Be Messengers

Those early followers were missionaries of the Risen Christ. In the bible, you can read about the Acts of the Apostles. I’m being a little “biased” here, but some of my favorite stories are of people like Philip, Peter, and Ananias meeting people along the way. God has prepared them to be God’s messenger as they meet those who have been pushed to the edges of society and cut off from the community of faith, who are theologically and religiously misaligned with the new community of Jesus followers, and that Jesus is greater than cultural norms and religious laws.

As missionaries, they saw themselves as evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. They told everyone they met about Jesus. When the religious council heard of what they were doing, the followers of Jesus were told to stop. But they persisted. So, the religious council had them arrested and beaten. 

Then the followers of Jesus were told not to speak in the name of Jesus again. Read the words for yourself from Acts 5:33-42

As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah” (Acts 5:41-42).

Worship as a Celebration of Christ

Worship was the celebration of their experiences of the Risen Christ and of what God was doing in the lives of the people they met each day. To be considered worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus was reason to worship and to continue to witness to the mighty acts of God. So, these early missionaries, freshly beaten, walked down the road with their heads held high, smiling, giving each other first-century high fives, because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus.

To our modern-day ears, being a missionary does not sound very inviting. You and I have been shaped by a different worldview. Those early followers were part of a missionary age while we have been influenced by Christendom. In a missionary age, the mission field was wherever you were at any given moment. In Christendom, the mission field moved to countries beyond the borders of the empire or country in which you were living.

Specialized Ministry

The shift came with the conversion of Constantine. He declared that all the empire was Christian. With that edict, the identity and mission of the church shifted from being a voice and force in a hostile culture to becoming the official religion of the Roman empire. With that shift came a different understanding of being a missionary. As a follower of Jesus, you were no longer a missionary as you stepped out the front door. Being a missionary became a specialized ministry that carried the good news to countries outside the empire.

Baptism was no longer a call to ministry but became a rite of claiming new followers of Jesus for the empire or the institution providing the baptism. The shift was from being centered upon Jesus to being centered upon a particular culture, theology, and worldview.

Most of us, if not all of us, have been shaped by the idea that being a missionary means you pack up your belongings, travel to a foreign culture, to serve God by crossing cultural barriers to teach people about Jesus. There is a kernel of truth to that idea, but only a kernel.   

A Christ-Centered Missionary

When I ask the question, “Who or what comes to mind when you hear the word “missionary?” We have been shaped by a worldview different from those early followers of Jesus. So, take a deep breath in, now let it out. You are not going to be beaten for your faith in Jesus today.  But you are not off the hook.

What does it mean to be a Christ-centered missionary today? We are living in a new missionary age. Although most of us still believe we live in a Christian culture, we can no longer assume everyone is Christian or assume that the community is part of the church. A new way of living out the mission is emerging. The mission field is, once again, just outside the front door. And you, as a follower of Jesus, are a missionary in the places you live, work, and play.

Follow Jesus in the Every Day

So, being missionary today means you are a follower of Jesus in everyday places. You are learning about the traditions and activities of the community. You are developing relationships of trust and compassion. You are listening to and learning about the hopes and dreams of the people, while at the same time being the evidence of God’s love in every situation and circumstance. Your witness is seen in your loving, serving, caring for the sick, the children, and the poor. You are engaging your community and witnessing to the work of Jesus in an environment crying out for connection and care. You don’t have to have special training or go “overseas.” You are a missionary of the Risen Christ right where you are at this very moment.

Oh, there is much more to be said about being a missionary today. I will go deeper in the meaning and purpose of being a missionary in the blogs that follow this one. But for now, let this story illustrate what it means to be a missionary today.

Go to Jesus

Will Davis Campbell was a minister, author, and activist. He was a supporter of civil rights in the southern United States during the 1950’s and 60’s. He is best known for his book, Brother to a Dragonfly.  I wanted to introduce him to you to tell you this story.

As a preacher in the tradition of “altar calls”, he preached a sermon critiquing “the invitation” given in at the end of the sermon.  The preacher in most southern churches invited people, who wanted to commit their lives to Christ, to come down the aisle to the altar of the church to indicate their desire.

In his sermon, Will Campbell said, “I hope that someday there will be an evangelistic service when the preacher gives the invitation and people start coming down the aisle, and he yells back at them, ‘Don’t come down the aisle! Go to Jesus! Don’t come to me! Go to Jesus!’

“Upon that declaration, the people who are coming down the aisle will turn around and exit the auditorium, get in their cars, and drive away. He then yells at the rest of the congregation, ‘Why are you hanging around here? Why don’t you go to Jesus too? Why don’t you all go to Jesus?’ The people will rise quickly, leave the church, and soon the parking lot is empty.”

We Want to See Jesus

Campbell continued, “What I imagine is that about a half hour later the telephone at the police station starts ringing off the hook, and the voice on the other end says, ‘We are down here at the old folks’ home and there are some crazy people at the door yelling that they want to come in and visit Jesus. I keep telling them Jesus isn’t here. All we have in here is a bunch of old lonely and forgotten people. But they keep saying “But we want to visit Jesus. We want to visit Jesus.’”

“The next call is from the warden down at the prison.  He is saying, “Send some police down here. There are a bunch of people at the gate yelling, ‘Let us in there. We want to visit Jesus. We want to visit Jesus.’ I keep telling them that all we have in his place are murderers, rapists, and thieves. But they keep yelling, ‘Let us in. We want to visit Jesus.’”

“As soon as the phone is put down it rings again. This time it is the superintendent of the state hospital calling for help.  He is complaining that there are a bunch of people outside begging to be let in. They, too, want to see Jesus. The superintendent says, ‘I keep telling them Jesus isn’t here. All we have a bunch of sick people, but they keep yelling at us, “We want to see Jesus.”

Follow Jesus into the Community

As much as the story is slanted, it reflects the truth. As a missionary, you follow Jesus into the community to meet his friends who are sick, lonely, broken, lost, hungry, homeless, imprisoned, marginalized, and forgotten. As a missionary, when you worship, you gather to celebrate where you have seen God at work, where you have experienced Jesus and his love for people and the community.

In the day in which we live, in the context of our culture, you are a missionary where you are at this very moment. The question is, “Where are you seeing Jesus in the lives of the people?” As you reflect upon that question, consider this: Ask yourself, “Where am I experiencing Jesus in the community, at work, on the golf course, and at the ballpark?”

Look for Jesus in the Lives of People

To be a missionary is to get outside of the walls of the church building and look for Jesus in the lives of the people God sends your way. As a follower of Jesus, you have the opportunity to love others as you have been loved, to serve others in Jesus’ name, and to become the leader you were created to be by leading others into the mission field. 

As a missionary, you have been given the power to communicate across the barriers taught and experienced over centuries. You are a witness to God’s love in Jesus which is greater than the prejudices that keep people out of the community of faith. You have been given the power to address the barriers of biblical and theological ignorance rooted in the misunderstanding of who has received God’s grace and who is included in the community of faith.  

Communicate Beyond Barriers

You have been given power by God, through God’s holy spirit, to be a witness, starting where you are, in the church, in the community, and in all the world. It is God’s power given to you that communicates beyond the barriers. 

So, put this blog down and get out in the community to see Jesus. Look for him everywhere you go and when you gather with other believers, tell them where you have seen Jesus and what he is up to in loving, caring, serving, and forgiving. Put this blog down and get out there. Your community is crying out for the love of Jesus that holds them and will not let them go.

Be the leader you have been created to be. Because who you are is how you lead.

What does it mean to be the church today? 

There are several answers to that question. 

For some people, it means being a member of a religious community that shares common beliefs and practices. It involves participating in worship services, engaging in spiritual development, and contributing to both the missional and social activities of the congregation. Although the makeup of the church varies based upon location and beliefs, the congregation is held together by the involvement of its members in the programs and activities offered.   

For other people, it means being a member of a religious social club that shares common political and social views. It involves participating in worship services and in the activities and services that best reflect the political, theological, and missional preferences of the majority of members. It implies that membership has its privileges. 

And for others, it means being a follower of Jesus in relationship with other followers of Jesus in growing together in faith and in engaging the community in love, particularly God’s love. It involves worship, spiritual development, and growing in God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus. The congregation is held together by an intentional focus upon Jesus and less by common activities, political views, beliefs, or preferences. 

Rooted in Christendom

Each of the three answers is rooted in Christendom, but the last answer best reflects what it means to be the church today. Confused? Let’s put it into context. 

Regardless of your definition or understanding of church, we all consider ourselves to be Christian. With our formation rooted in a culture assumed to be Christian, we understand ourselves to be born into the church. So, what is the problem? We are good, law-abiding, tax-paying, moral, God-fearing, Americans. For too many of us, being Christian is more about being a good citizen than it is about being a follower of Jesus. 

As church members, we are products of a culture that has less to do with God’s love than it does with believing the right beliefs and behaving in socially acceptable ways. 

Have You Replaced Jesus?

How has this happened? In many churches, we have replaced Jesus with theological beliefs, denominational structures, political views, preferences, and even the Bible. Each of these things are extremely important and have their place in our lives, but the church, at its best, is a community of grace-filled Jesus followers seeking to put their faith into action. By God’s grace, we seek to love people and to love the community in which we are located.   

I believe we want to be that community of Jesus followers, but we are blinded by the culture that has shaped our faith and our living. 

For example, our churches live with the idea that everyone is Christian when in reality up to 60% of the people in our communities have no Christian connection or memory. That means you can no longer assume that your neighbor is a Christian or that your community is living out values derived from the Gospel. This has been a reality for a long time, but our assumptions have not changed. 

Fall in Love with Jesus Again

How do we reconnect with the people in our communities?

To reconnect with the people in your community, fall in love with Jesus again. As a follower of Jesus, Jesus informs who you are, what you say, and how you act.

Jesus is our focus in the church. This is a shift from Christian faith being faith in general to a particular faith centered in a person, Jesus. It is a shift from Christian faith being a philosophy to being a way of living in relationship with others. It is a shift from faith being a system of moral ideals to a way of loving others the way God has loved you. It is a shift from faith in a set of biblical beliefs to faith centered in the person of Jesus, the anointed one of God.

It is Jesus who makes possible a right relationship with God, who properly relates you to your neighbor, and who helps you establish a healthy relationship with yourself.

Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The implication is, you and I love others as God has loved us. He teaches, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The implication is, Jesus is the way to understand the way, the truth, and life of God.  

Fall in Love With Your Community Again

What does it mean to be the church today? It means you learn about, love, and follow Jesus. You love others as God in Jesus has loved you. You live your life in such a way that others experience God’s love in and through you. 

To reconnect with the people in your community, fall in love with your community again. As a follower of Jesus, you follow him into the community, and you look for what God is doing in the community. 

So, in the church today, your community is your mission field. This is a shift from the mission field being somewhere outside the borders of the United States to being at your doorstep. This is a shift from doing something to and for people in need to developing relationships with people who can help you become more who God created you to be. This is a shift from competition with community activities to compassion for the people who live in the community. This is a shift from doing mission at an “arm’s” distance to loving others, even in your community, as God in Jesus has loved you.   

Get to Know the People in Your Community

What does it mean to be the church today? It means falling in love with your community by getting to know the people who live and work there. It means praying specifically for neighbors.  Take a walk, visit the businesses, and speak to the people you meet along the way. 

Ask the people you encounter what they like about the community and what they would change if they could change something. Listen closely. God will be inviting you into a relationship with those you encounter. Pay attention. God will lead you to places that especially need love, care, and compassion.

As you reflect upon the people you meet along the way, ask yourself, “Where did I experience Jesus today? and “Where did I see a need for God’s love?” Then pray, “God, make me an instrument of your love and peace in this community. In Jesus’ name. Amen”

Falling in love with Jesus and falling in love with the community are only two aspects of the church today. To fall in love with Jesus, the church has to take the initiative to teach the ways of Jesus.

Seek to Understand: Who is Jesus?

Here is one way to fall in love with Jesus again. John Wesley called it “searching the Scriptures.” You and I call it Bible study. To fall in love with Jesus is to understand who Jesus is in relationship to God and to the people around us. Because we have assumed all the people are Christian, we have also assumed everyone knows the truth of the Bible, the holy scripture.

Most people today are biblically illiterate, including many of us sitting in the pews of our churches. So, what does it mean to be the church today? It means paying attention to the teachings of the scriptures in the context in which they were written, discovering the truth, looking at the truth through the lens of Jesus’ teaching, and living that truth in relationship to God and to our neighbors. 

Reality

I am sure most of you have heard of the game show “Jeopardy.” It is one of the most-watched television game shows in the United States. It is a game that challenges one’s knowledge and quickness regarding answers to questions from a variety of categories. In a recent episode, there was a question from the category “The Bible.” The question was, “Matthew 6:9 says, “Our Father, which art in heaven, (THIS) be thy name.” 

When the camera cut to the three contestants, not one of them buzzed in with a response. In fact, the question went unanswered. 

The words “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” are from the most recited Christian prayer in the world and all three contestants were stumped by the clue.  We can no longer assume everyone is a Christian nor that everyone knows the Bible. 

Understanding the Scripture

Along with Christians not knowing the Bible, there are conflicting views regarding understanding the scripture. One way is to interpret scripture through the lens of your life and experience. The other is to interpret your life and experience through the lens of the scripture. 

The difference is significant. The first way is called “proof-texting.” You have an idea, perspective, or political view and you look for scriptures to support your idea, perspective, or politics. 

The second approach is called “contexting.” You study and search the scripture within the context in which it was written. Then you look at the truth of the scripture through the lens of the life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus to apply its meaning and purpose to your context today. 

What Scripture is NOT

Scripture is not a link to recipes, principles, or directives. It is not a book of philosophical ideas or of moral teachings. In reality, it is a window to the truth that interprets our lives. To experience the truth, you have to look through the window. At other times it is a mirror that reflects back the reality of your life. You have to look into the mirror to see and experience the truth. 

The church today is a community who teaches, encourages, and supports us in experiencing and living God’s love in everyday relationships, situations, and circumstances

Become A Learning Center

So, how does the church help people fall in love with Jesus? 

Become a learning center of Christian faith: With the understanding that more and more members of the church start with no understanding of the scripture or of Christian values and that many young people and adults have no previous experience with any religious group or tradition, help your church become a learning center of Christian faith. 

Instead of having “new member” classes that introduce people to the systems of the church, have learning experiences that bring the scriptures to life. Provide opportunities that allow people to experience the truth and challenges of the scripture. Introduce people to Jesus and to how Jesus leads them into the community. 

Become a Birthing Center

How does the church help people fall in love with the community? 

Become a birthing center for baptized believers and doers. With the understanding that we have assumed people are born and nurtured into the church, help your church become a birthing center for baptized believers. 

Baptism of infants made sense for the Christendom mindset. But we cannot assume that our children are being nurtured within our churches. It is time to rethink what it means to be baptized and what it means to grow into a mature follower of Jesus. This rethinking involves more than tinkering with the age of baptism and when one is permitted to receive holy communion. It involves more than a ritual event that is scheduled when out-of-town families can attend. 

Call to Ministry

Introduce people, new followers of Jesus, the parents of infants, and the congregation, to baptism as a call to ministry which automatically leads to loving the community and to loving the people that Jesus loves. 

Improve the acoustics so that baptism becomes the clear call to the mission field, the community. Teach people that baptism is the doorway through which they put their faith into daily living.   

Think of baptism this way. Through baptism you are sending missionaries into businesses, schools, and day care centers. You are sending missionaries into police cruisers, delivery trucks, and courtrooms. Wherever people go, it is their mission field. Remind them of this, “as you go, look with the eyes of Christ, listen with the heart of Christ, and speak with the love of Christ.” 

Pay Attention to God’s Movement

Send people out to pay attention to God’s movement in their lives and in the life of the community. Teach people to pray with co-workers and to bless one person each week. Teach people to ask themselves at the end of each day, “Where did I see God’s presence today?” Teach them to give God thanks for what they have experienced and ask God to “do it again tomorrow!”

Embrace the Challenge 

Over time, you’ll become a birthing center for baptized believers and doers, because people will begin to see ways to live out their faith at work, in their homes, and even at times of recreation.  People will begin to love the community the way Jesus has loved them, and they will begin to embrace the challenges of the missional church.

So, what does it mean to be the church today? It means falling in love with Jesus and with your community. It means building relationships, living your faith in daily life, and being faithful to God’s call upon your life. It means encountering the living God we know in Jesus. It is God who has called you and gifted you to be who you are, and who you are is how you lead. 

For Further Reading and Listening

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church – Part One

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church – Part Two

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church – Part Three

Listen to Episode 285: Then and Now – A Call to Missional Leadership

Listen to Episode 286: Church and Society – A Call to Missional Leadership

Listen to Episode 287:  Missional Leadership – Define Your Mission Field

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? 

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.

Christ-Centered Leadership

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.  

We do a lot of talking about mission, especially the mission of the church, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” My perception is that you, as a leader, keep that mission in mind in most of what you do. My question is, do you feel connected to the mission? Do you feel what you are doing really makes much of a difference? 

You might be doing all the right things. You love the people entrusted to your care. But you just don’t feel the spark any longer. What’s happening? What’s going on? 

Bring Meaning to the Mission

What I am learning is a sense of fulfillment is needed to bring meaning to the mission. The question is, what brings that sense of fulfillment? 

You might think of it this way: goals are good and necessary. You can define and track your goals and you can show how you have reached your goals. Yet, you can feel disconnected from a larger sense of purpose. Chasing goals day after day, week after week does not bring the engagement needed to bring a sense of fulfillment. 

Interrelated Leadership Models

Over the years, I have identified and defined at least three models of leadership. Each model is needed to be an effective and courageous leader, but it is only when the models are intertwined and focused upon the mission that they are effective. Refining your leadership skills in each area will help you become the missional leader needed today. 

Qualities of the Leader

One model of leadership is defined by the qualities of the leader. Are you a person of integrity, transparency, and empathy? Do you inspire loyalty, communicate clearly, and develop relationships? These qualities are necessary and vital to effective leadership. But you can learn all the right qualities and do all the right things and still feel disconnected and unfulfilled. 

Servant Leadership

A second model of leadership is servant leadership. It is best seen in how you care for the needs and interests of those entrusted to your care. Have you developed an environment of support in which people can flourish? Are you providing what followers want from their leader: trust, compassion, stability, and hope? These qualities of servant leadership are necessary and vital to effective leadership. But you can care for the needs and interests of people and still feel less than fulfilled as a leader. 

Missional Leadership

A third model of leadership is missional leadership. When grounded in a mission, people become both leaders and followers. They lead by living into their strengths and by offering their expertise. People follow by learning how to work in partnership with others. They share the values of the group and share a mutual sense of purpose. Missional leadership is an integration of servant leadership and the qualities of the leader. The three together provide what is needed for leading in the times in which we live. 

Many of us do well in leading by the criteria of models one and two. We offer clear direction and guidance, stay connected with people, and care for their needs. Yet, in midst of all the good work, we do not feel fulfilled. We can articulate the mission with little connection to it. 

More to Explore

You will find these blogs to be helpful in becoming a missional leader.

 Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church-Part 3

Mobilize for Ministry

So, what do we do? Below are seven questions that will assist you and the leaders of your church to brainstorm, reflect, and mobilize for ministry. They will require prayerful reflection, dialogue, and discernment. Some of the questions will require you to move beyond the walls of the church building and to talk with people in the community. Others will require you to explore the areas of overlap between the mission and the responses to the questions. 

These questions are simple and challenging. I can promise that, when you take these questions seriously, you will find meaning and purpose in your leadership. For a more detailed explanation and direction click here.

The 7 Missional Questions 

1.      God’s Presence: Where have you witnessed God’s presence in your community? Neighborhood? 

This is a good question to ask at the beginning of every meeting, with small groups, and at the end of each day. It is one of two foundational questions that contribute to congregational health. People who follow Jesus should be able to articulate God’s movement in their lives and identify God’s presence in their communities. 

2.      The Church’s Mission: What is the mission of the church? 

This question is not about mission projects or service opportunities. The question is about purpose. What is the purpose of the church? Does everyone know the mission? Do they not only repeat it but embody it? 

This is the partner question to naming God’s presence. Recognizing God’s presence and embodying the mission of the church are essential for healthy disciple-making movements. 

3.      The Mission Field: What is your mission field? 

Your mission field is the geographic region in which your church is located. Once you have decided your geographic region, define who lives within the mission field. After you know who lives there, define their habits and interests. Listen to their stories. Pay attention to their symbols. What do you need to learn about the people in your mission field, the people entrusted to your care? 

4.      Assets: What are the assets of your community? 

Make a list of the assets of the people who live in your mission field You are identifying skills, resources, and relationships. Other assets to explore include property, service, businesses, a community focus or physical attributes like a beach, a park, etc., and financial assets. 

To identify assets, take a walk through our community and meet the people in your mission field. Ask people this question: “What do you love about our community?” Neighborhood? City? 

5.      Needs: What are the needs in your community? Neighborhood? 

Make a list of the needs of people in your community. Remember that food, water, and shelter are the most basic needs. These are followed by safety, love, belonging, self-esteem, and respect. Recognizing and realizing your potential, learning, faith, and service round out your list.

To identify needs, when you take your walk through your community and meet the people in your mission field, ask this question, “What do you love about your community?” This question follows the question you asked in #4. 

6.      Relationships: What relationships exist with leaders in your community? 

Who are you and other church leaders in relationship within the following areas of your community: education, business, government, social agencies, first responders, faith/religion, arts and entertainment, health (hospitals, doctors, nurses, clinics)? What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, and re-established? 

A good place to start building relationships beyond the walls of the church building is with the principal of your local elementary school. 

7.      Collaboration: What is one way you can collaborate with another church? 

Develop relationships with other church leaders. Listen to their stories and how they express their mission, and what disciple-making loos like in their faith communities. Even though theology and practices might differ, you are on the same team. How do you join together to cover the community with God’s love? 

What Overlap Exists?

Now, here is where your missional leadership is most needed. What is the overlap between the mission and the responses to the other six questions? 

Your overlap might be where you see God at work in the lives of children, or in community leaders of in service organizations. Begin to tell the stories of God being at work in your community and invite people to participate in what God is doing. 

You can also go to the LeaderCast podcast for helpful information. Here are episodes that will help in becoming a missional leader. Purpose and Presence  Set the foundation for missional leadership with these two questions. Needs and Assets Bridge the needs and assets of your community with these questions. Relationships and Partnerships Leverage the people and connections of your community for kingdom impact.

It is time to move from talking about the mission to becoming the missional leader needed to have influence in the world today. I can promise you and the people entrusted to your care that once you are focused on the mission of the church, you will find the meaning and purpose that has been missing in your life and in your church. 

It is my hope that you can and will begin to build a file of resources that assists you in becoming the leader that makes a difference. 

Remember, who is are is how you lead.

You are a disciple of Jesus who leads. Sounds simple enough, but sometimes you lose your connection to the source of your leadership. It is easily done. Have you ever prepared a sermon without reading the scripture text? Have you ever experienced prayer as a practice that could be cut if you were running short of time? And what about holy communion? Has the celebration of the Lord’s Supper become so routine that you are glad when the service is over?

Tend to Your Soul 

Hey, it happens to the best of us. Sometimes in the busyness of ministry, you can forget the most important thing you can do as a leader, tend to your soul.

I remember reading a confession by Mother Teresa. She wrote, “Pray for me that I do not loosen my grip on the hands of Jesus even under the guise of ministering to the poor.”  

That says it, doesn’t it? Isn’t that our primary calling as Jesus followers? Isn’t that the only way we become who God created us to be? We grip the hand of Jesus with such firmness that we cannot help but follow his lead.

Leading with Grace

Following Jesus in this way requires discipline. It is not easy. But to be the leader needed for today, you must learn to receive and to give God’s gift of grace freely given to all. I know this will sound narrow-minded but being a follower of Jesus is impossible without God’s grace extended to you.

The good news is, God has already given you the grace needed to be who God created you to be. Take a moment to think of an experience of grace in your life. As you think of your experience, I will tell you mine.

Noticing God

Over the years, to help people recognize God’s grace, I have challenged groups, whether a church council, finance committee, personnel, or trustee committee, to recognize God in their midst. I would ask questions like, “Where have you seen God this past week?” or “Where have you experienced God recently?” 

I was convinced that if individuals could recognize and experience God in their everyday lives their lives would change and the people around them would experience God’s love through them.

Everyday Faith

Please understand, I was not taught by the church or my parents to look for God in my everyday living. As a child, I learned to put my best foot forward when it came to the church. I was on my best behavior on Sunday mornings. I dressed differently, I did not run in the sanctuary, and I was in awe of people who were leaders. At age 14 I felt a definite call to be a preacher. That urge never left me, but I did not understand it until ten years later.

Everyday Grace

I was a student in seminary, serving my first congregation when God’s grace broke through to me. l was 24 years old, in my fourth year as the pastor of two small churches, preaching, teaching, providing care and instruction, when I learned that my father, who I wanted to love me and who I had worked to prove to him I was worthy of his love, had adopted me. 

At that point, the reality of God’s grace came rushing into my life. My father had chosen me to be his child, given me his name and loved me from the beginning. I realized that day that what God had done for me, God had done for all you reading these words. You have been chosen by God, given a name, and loved from the beginning, and the reality is, there is nothing you can do about it except accept it. That is the gift of God’s grace. 

The Means of Grace

It was a few years later, after graduating from seminary and serving as a pastor that I felt like I had little to offer to the people around me. I felt empty, like a well that was going dry. Although I had studied the means of grace, I confess I did not use them to nourish my soul. 

I had preached sermons, taught Bible studies, led work teams, helped build a hospital, and started schools. Not only did I do good things, but I was also a good human being. But something was missing. At that moment I realized that what I needed was to be connected to God’s grace.

The Means of Grace in Daily Life

I realized that I was not strong enough or good enough on my own to become who God created me to be. That is when I began to utilize the means of grace. 

I had experienced God’s grace, but it was the practice of the means of grace that kept me connected and mindful of God and that allowed me to experience the joy and fruit of following Jesus. 

Practice the Means of Grace

This is what I have learned:

  • The means of grace give access to God’s presence in the world.
    • Ask yourself the question, “Where have I seen God at work today?
  • The means of grace keep you on the path to becoming who God created you to be.
    • Ask yourself the question: “How have I been growing in my faith?
  • The means of grace keep you close to God. Ask yourself these questions:
    • Do I want a more vital relationship with God?
    • Do I want to grow as a follower of Jesus?
    • Am I paralyzed by fear?
    • Do I feel isolated and alone?
    • Do I want to become who God has created you to be?

Following Jesus is not easy, but God has the means of grace available for you to stay connected with the One for whom all things are possible. 

Leading with Grace

There are times the means of grace work like this. A large prosperous downtown church in London had three mission churches under its care. On the first Sunday of the New Year, all the members of the mission churches came to the city church for a combined communion service.

In those mission churches, which were located in lower-income areas of the city, were some people who had experienced God’s grace in life-changing ways. Some of the people had been arrested for drugs, some were recovering alcoholics, and some were convicts who had served their time in jail. Yet, they all came to the same table, kneeling side by side at the same communion rail.

Kneeling Next to Grace

On one occasion the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England. This judge had sent the burglar to jail where he had served for seven years. After his release, this burglar had been converted and became a strong Christian witness in one of the mission churches. As they knelt beside each other, the judge, and the former convict, neither one was aware of the other.

A Grace-filled Conversation

After the service, the judge was walking home with the pastor. He said to the pastor, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the communion rail this morning?”

The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.”

The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.”

The pastor nodded in agreement, “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace.”

And then the judge turned and asked: “But to whom do you refer?”

And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.”

The judge said, “But I wasn’t referring to him. I was thinking of myself.”

The pastor was surprised and replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.”

Receiving Grace

The judge explained. “It did not cost that burglar much to get converted when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him and when he saw Jesus as his Savior, he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help.

But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, go to church, take communion, and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar, and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on a level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me for all my pride and self-deception, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that convict that I had sent to prison.”

Then after a moment of silence, the judge said, “Pastor, thank you for being a means of grace for me this morning.”

Offer Hope

Following Jesus is not easy, but you have the opportunity to offer hope as you become a person of grace for the people entrusted to you care.

What one step will you take toward caring for your soul this week? Perhaps this week you’ll take toward practicing the means of grace? What one step will you take toward becoming more who God created you to be? Just imagine what could happen if you, simply a person of grace, shared grace.

I will be praying that you don’t loosen your grip on Jesus. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Learn more about Hope Throughout the Year

The last 22 months have added a whole new level of challenge to your leadership. To state the obvious, it has been difficult at times. In 2020 you had to pivot without warning. You poured your heart and soul into leading others. You gave God your best, waiting for things to return to normal. Then 2021 came and nothing changed. In fact, you faced even more discouragement and frustration. Now, as you enter 2022, you might be asking yourself, “will this year be any different than the previous two years?” 

The Hope of New Possibilities

Although much of what you have experienced has been beyond your control, it is possible to go through life with your own repeated and frustrated attempts at effectiveness. It is possible to find yourself exhausted and miserable, and at the end of each day with little or nothing to show for your efforts. It is also possible to be hanging on to “how you wish things were” so tightly that you are unable to see the hope of new possibilities. 

Christian hope is not fleeting wishful thinking. It’s also not pie in the sky dreaming. Christian hope is grounded in the love of God we know in Jesus and our belief that the worst thing is never the last thing. We are resurrection people and as followers of the living God, we are people of hope. 

Take a minute to read this story and reflect upon how God is working in your life with new possibilities of hope for this year. Notice where Samuel finds the presence and power of God

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-13

     The LORD said to Samuel, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found[a] my next king among his sons.”

     “How can I do that?” Samuel asked. “When Saul hears of it, he’ll kill me!”

    “Take a heifer with you,” the LORD replied, “and say, ‘I have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will make clear to you what you should do. You will anoint for me the person I point out to you.”

     Samuel did what the LORD instructed. When he came to Bethlehem, the city elders came to meet him. They were shaking with fear. “Do you come in peace?” they asked.

     “Yes,” Samuel answered. “I’ve come to make a sacrifice to the LORD. Now make yourselves holy, then come with me to the sacrifice.” 

     Samuel made Jesse and his sons holy and invited them to the sacrifice as well. When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, that must be the LORD’s anointed right in front. ” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart.”

     Next Jesse called for Aminadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The LORD hasn’t chosen this one either.” 9 So Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “No, the LORD hasn’t chosen this one.” 10 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD hasn’t picked any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?”

     “There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”

     “Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”

     So, Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The LORD said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” 

     So, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The LORD’s spirit came over David from that point forward.

Reflect

The Main Character

The Lord sends Samuel on a mission to anoint the next king of Israel. Samuel reluctantly responds to God’s call but proceeds with his own preconceived ideas about the new king. 

Notice, even though there will be a new king, the main character in this story is God. The critical decisions are made by God. The mission directions are given by God. Samuel, Jessie, and his sons and especially David, are actors in a story where God produces, directs, and plays the lead role. David is not asked his opinion, asked to produce a resume, or asked if he wants to be king. He simply shows up. This is God’s mission and Samuel has been invited into it.

God’s Presence and Power

The story reveals that God’s presence and power are easily overlooked by Samuel. His ideas and perceptions get in the way. 

It is interesting that Samuel, being from northern Israel, was more familiar and comfortable with the northern context. He expresses his fear of going to Bethlehem, a city in southern Israel. 

God’s presence and power are in the new and unfamiliar places, as well in encounters with people we do not know or even care to interact with.

God Sees Into the Heart

Samuel uses a common act of worship to bring Jesse and his sons together. Samuel, remembering his mission, looks at each of Jesse’s sons, noticing their physical stature, strength, and appearance. 

In Samuel’s mind, one of those good-looking persons would be the next king of Israel. But God did not choose any of the persons Samuel would have chosen. God says to Samuel, “God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

In other words, the situations, and circumstances in which you are living are not the last word on your life or upon your living. Just because you have not perceived it does not mean it is not true or good or hope-filled. 

Where is the Presence and Power of God?

So, where is the presence and power of God? Just as God had a mission for Samuel and provided guidance for Samuel, God has a mission for you and sends you on your own life journey. In whatever situation or circumstance, God is with you and is providing for you. You can trust God’s action on your behalf. 

Remember, God’s presence and power can and will be found in new, risky, and scary places. 

Samuel went through the unfamiliar and encountered strangers to complete what God had called him to do. God was with him all the way helping him carry out what God had planned for Israel’s future. 

Inside Your Heart

God’s presence and power are deep inside your heart. It is God’s presence within you that prepares you to enter the new and challenging encounters that lie ahead. 

So, what do you do to get the Lord’s presence and power? Well, you do not have to do anything to “get it.” God gives it. David did not say anything at all. In fact, he did not even do anything except show up, “and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13).

Receive the Gift

God has given you God’s presence and power in and through Jesus. Your response is to receive God’s gift. Just like Samuel, God is with you, providing for you, and guiding you in the mission you have been given. In whatever situation or circumstance, you find yourself, your hope is in the presence and power of God. When God calls, God provides what is needed to live into the call. 

Respond

Become aware of God’s presence in the situations and circumstances you find yourself in today. Look for God’s presence in the lives of the people you meet today. Take note of how God surprises you. Remember, God has called you into mission, God is with you, and God is providing what you need to be the person and the leader needed for this time.

Pray

O God, help me be aware of the people around me today. Help me not only be a blessing to someone but help me experience your love in and through the people I encounter. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in every situation and circumstance of the day. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus, who is your presence and power with me each and every day. Amen. 

Return

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. How did you experience God’s presence and power today? Who helped you experience God’s love? Where did God surprise you with God’s presence and power? Together, what do your thoughts, feelings, and actions tell you about God’s call upon your life? 

So, let me remind you that God is with you in whatever situation or circumstance you find yourself. In fact, God will surprise you in the lives of the people you encounter along the way. It is through God’s presence and power that you find hope for new possibilities. 

I am grateful to be with you on this journey of Hope Throughout the Year. May you experience God’s presence and power this week in life-changing ways. And remember, who you are is how you lead.

Learn more about Hope Throughout the Year

How are you doing this week? Over the past several months we have talked about navigating a pandemic, addressing the evils of racism, and becoming the leader God has created you to be.  We have not focused as much upon our mission. So, my question today is related to our mission, “How are you doing with leading and nourishing Jesus followers to make a difference in their communities and the world?” 

Our Responsibilities

Maybe a better way to ask the question is, “How are you leading the people entrusted to your care in responding to the pandemic and to racism?”  One of the misunderstandings of Christians today is to think that the Gospel offers us salvation while relieving us of responsibility for the life and well-being of the people in our communities, neighborhoods, and cities.

The pain and sorrow we have experienced over the past several months is interwoven into the fabric of our culture and deeply influence the thoughts and actions of all of us. Our mission, as Jesus followers, is to invite and equip people to not only address the pain and sorrow but to address the evil, the root causes, of the pain and sorrow. 

How are you doing in leading your congregation in reaching out and receiving people, introducing them to God’s love in Jesus, practicing the teachings of Jesus, and engaging them in God’s love as they navigate the pandemic and respond to racism? 

It’s NOT About a Political Position

To make disciples of Jesus is to call and equip people to be signs and agents of God’s justice in all human affairs. An invitation to accept the name of Jesus but fail to call people to be engaged in God’s love in everyday life is not Christian and must be rejected as false. 

How are you leading the people entrusted to your care in responding to the pandemic and to racism? Another misunderstanding of many Christians in our culture today is to think that the Christian faith is a particular political position.  People tend to politicize everything from “wearing a mask” to “Black Lives Matter.”

Our mission is not a political mission, it is a Gospel mission. A mission of love. Another way of saying it is, “Jesus didn’t call it ‘social justice.’ He simply called it love.  If we would only love our neighbors beyond comfort, borders, race, religion, and other differences that we have allowed to be barriers, ‘social justice’ would be a given.  Love makes justice happen.” (Bernice King in response to the death of John R. Lewis). 

Jesus Moves Us Beyond Self-Interest

Now let’s be clear, the uncomfortable and unsettling conversations we are having about racism, white privilege, and white supremacy are not on the same scale as what many in our marginalized communities have experienced.  Yet, the conversations are necessary.

The mandates to wear masks for the health and well-being of the people around us are not on the same scale of Constitutional rights. Yet, the wearing of masks is necessary. Our mission moves us beyond self-interest to moral conversations and actions. As uncomfortable as any conversation or action might be, loving our neighbors is enough to motivate us to change our behavior for the sake of God’s love and care for all people.  

To make disciples of Jesus is more than inviting people to the church.  It is to equip them to be signs and agents of God’s justice in all aspects of human life. To invite people to accept the name of Jesus is not an invitation to a particular political platform but is to immerse people in God’s love and to engage them in developing life changing relationships in their communities and the world.   

Reminders

So, as you are leading the people entrusted to your care, remember:

  1. We are all created by God.  No one is created to be superior or inferior. Each of us, as human beings, regardless of color, race, nationality, or gender is created by God.
  2. As Jesus followers, we know that to love God is to love our neighbor and to love our neighbor is to love God.  Regardless of political persuasion, to love God is to love neighbor.  Regardless of color, race, or gender, to love God is to love neighbor, to love others, and to love one another.
  3. Each human being, regardless of race or color, is created in God’s image and is called to faith.
  4. To love one another is one-way people will know that we are Jesus followers and that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  5. The way we treat one another we treat Jesus.

Your Next Step

How are you leading the people entrusted to your care in responding to the pandemic and to racism? Take a moment to think of the people entrusted to your care. With the people God has given to you to love in mind, I want you to do the following: 

  • Give God thanks for the opportunity to live and work in this time of chaos and confusion.
  • Confess your need for a relationship with God and with the people entrusted to your care.
  • Place the people, situations, and circumstances into God’s hands.
  • Ask God to use you as an instrument of peace and love.  

O God, thank you for the opportunity to live and work at this time in history. I confess that I do not know what to do, but I do know I need you and I need the people you have given me to love and to serve. As I place my relationships, the church, and the people around me into your hands, I pray that you will use me as an instrument of your peace and love. By your grace, I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus.  Amen.  

If you need and want help, contact us, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are ready to assist you in leading the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world.    

Leonard Sweet, in his book Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, writes, “We know how to save the world.  We just don’t realize that we know what we know.  The way to save the world is not through more rules to live by, but through right relationships to live for.  People are fast losing the art of being with one another.”

I experienced this recently in a church meeting (of all places).  It was a meeting where information was being shared. The people in attendance were giving their opinions and offering their advice.  The group was seeking direction.

Although everyone in attendance had something to say, not everyone in attendance was heard.

One of the people who offered, what I thought was a good direction, was not even acknowledged.  In fact, it was as if this person was not even present in the meeting.

Although there was nothing malicious, my attempts at getting this person recognized were dismissed as the group discussion moved on to other topics.

As I reflect on this experience, I know this is not new for those historically marginalized.  People have been fighting for a place at the table, struggling to be heard, to be taken seriously for too long.

  • Why is it that we recognize some people but not all people?
  • Why is it that we look over some people without even noticing we have done so?
  • And, if we do this with individuals, do we do this with the community and our neighborhoods as well?

 

Is Anybody Listening? Transforming Mission

Are You More Willing to Talk than Listen?

From my perspective, we live in a time when we are more willing to talk than we are to listen.  As I write these words I am aware that I am talking through this blog.

If you can give me a moment to offer my “bias” opinion, I want to enter into dialogue with you regarding our disconnection with one another and the disconnection between our local churches and our communities.

I want to find out if anyone is listening.

Is Anybody Listening? Transforming Mission

Five Reasons We Don’t Listen

Is it too harsh to say that we don’t listen because…

1.We are too busy. It is not even about time.

We seem too preoccupied with our own thoughts, needs, technology, worries, and problems. Perhaps we’re too busy talking about ourselves to listen to others.

2. We don’t know how to listen.

Listening is the ability to relate to people with a genuine interest in them and compassion for them. It not easy and it takes practice. It does not come naturally.

3. We think faster than we talk.

Our brains can receive spoken words and still have time for thinking.  Anyone sitting through a sermon on Sunday morning knows that to be true. Too often we go on mental sidetracks and miss what is being said or we are formulating our opinions without taking seriously what is said.

4. We don’t hear what we want to hear.

When someone hits upon one of our issues or prejudices, we stop listening and begin rehearsing our objections, without listening to what is being said.

5. We don’t particularly care for the person speaking.

In this situation, we form our opinions and dismiss someone without giving them the opportunity to be heard. I think that is what happened at the meeting I attended.

Too_____.

I’ve grown to understand that when we don’t listen, we fail God.  I think it is important to remember that God has given us two ears and one mouth.  Could it be we have opportunities to listen more than we do to speak?  God has given us the capacity to listen, but we misuse that capacity when we are too busy, too distracted, too preoccupied, too privileged to hear what the other person is saying.

When we don’t listen, we shut ourselves off from one another.  We give up the opportunity to learn from one another, to understand one another, and to love one another. We give up the opportunity to develop the relationships that help us become who God created us to be.

I think Sweet is on to something when he writes, “The way to save the world is…through right relationships to live for.”

Is Anybody Listening? Transforming Mission

Five Characteristics of a Good Listener

I offer the following to assist us in developing the relationships that make a difference? I believe listening will help us connect with one another and connect our local churches with our communities.

What does it mean to be a good listener?  A good listener is a person of:

1. Compassion:

The word compassion literally means “to suffer with” or “to empathize.” To listen with compassion means to relate to persons as individuals and not as “types” of persons who we have classified and labeled. To listen with compassion means to relate to the community with an open heart and mind, not telling the community what it needs, but listening to what the community says it needs.

2. Concentration

This means focusing attention, eyes as well as ears on the person, concentrating on what is being said and not on what we want to say next. This means focusing on the community, learning the assets as well as the needs, in such a way that the church interacts within the community and not interjects into the community.

3. Control

This involves patience and self-control. We learn when to speak and when not to speak. As individuals, we do not need to have an answer to every question.  As the church, we do not need to be experts on all the issues.  We don’t need to feel threatened when church and culture collide. But we do need compassion to be with the community in uncertain times.

4. Comprehension

The responsibility of the listener is not to agree or to get others to agree with him or her. As the listener, it is your responsibility to seek to understand “what is going on” and “what is being said.” The same can be said for the church.  The responsibility of the church is to understand the dynamics of the community and to engage in the life of the community, connecting assets with needs and developing relationships of trust and care.

5. Commitment

Good listening is built on love and care. As Christians, you and I do what love demands. If we are genuinely concerned for others, then we make ourselves available.  As the church, if we genuinely care about the community, then we make a commitment to listen, to interact, and to respond with the appropriate action.

Let me ask you again, is anybody listening? Let’s see if we can listen to a conversation between a pastor and church leader and discover our response.

Is Anybody Listening?

Is Anybody Listening?

There once was a church who developed a community meal for the neighborhood.  The people of the church, most of whom lived in other communities, wanted to help feed the people who seemed to be hungry and who lived close to the church building.

Over time, the guests who came on Thursday evenings to the community meal started to attend Sunday morning worship.  The people in the church began to feel a little uncomfortable.  They had moved out of the community because it had changed.  The one thing that had not changed was their church.

Eventually, one of the leaders took the pastor aside and asked him, “Do these people have to here with us.  Can’t we provide a special service just for them?  You know, on Thursday evening when they are here to eat?”

The pastor answered, “Well, I think everyone should have a chance to meet Jesus face to face.”

The leader replied, “Of course everyone should have a chance to meet Jesus.  I think they should have the same opportunities to meet Jesus as we all do.”

The pastor responded, “I’m not talking about them! I’m talking about you.”

We know how to save the world.  We just don’t realize that we know what we know.

Is anybody listening?

 

Your Next Step

Pick one action below to act on in the next three days.

  1. Explore the LeaderCast Podcast Episodes and listen to one episode in the next three days. Here’s your opportunity to practice what you’ve just read!
  2. Download the Workbook for 7 Missional Questions and listen to one of the accompanying LeaderCast episodes below.
  3. Sign-up to learn the skills to lead with courage – and yes, that includes the skill of listening!

Transforming Mission exists to help you transform your relationship with Christ, with your congregation and with your local community. If you can’t find a resource on this site to address your needs, please contact us. We’re here to help!