We are living in amazing times for ministry. There is much conversation about our new missional frontier. Someone has suggested that our world is falling apart and coming back together again at the same time. Others have suggested that when the dust settles we will see the fields are white unto harvest again. I believe the dust is settling. There are good days ahead of us as the church. Some churches are making the transition well; others are struggling with what to do. This new frontier requires new kind of leader. These new leader thinks differently. They have stop thinking like pastors and start thinking like missionaries. This transition from pastor to missionary involves a number of simple steps.
Go Retro. God is calling us back to re-imagine our core mission; the Great Commission. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV).
That’s right God is calling us back to the Great Commission. This may surprise you. You may be unaware that we ever left it. Maybe you haven’t, but many have. Going Retro means realizing we all have the same mission. This too may surprise you, especially when you consider the time, expense, and effort we as church leaders put into formulating our own mission statements. Each year church leaders spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars developing their own unique mission statements.
While this can be a good process for churches, we must realize that our core mission has not changed in over two thousand years. Jesus made it clear that our mission is to “…go make disciples…” At the end of the day when it comes to our mission, regardless of how we state it, what spin we put on it, or how creative we restate it, it hasn’t changed. When it comes to our measurements of success, it is not how many programs we run, groups we have, seats in our auditorium, or people in the baptism. All of these are good indicators of how we are doing with our core mission of disciple making, but the bottom line is how are we doing when it comes to this disciple making mission?
While our core mission is the same, our vision is often very different. God has created, gifted, and wired all of us in very unique ways. He has placed us in very different contexts that require a missional understanding in order to fulfill our mission. God has given all of us the ability to imagine, dream and even envision his Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. We all have our unique story. We all have the things we feel most passionate about. God uses our uniqueness to shape within our hearts a unique vision for how we will fulfill our mission of making disciples. For me I write books (gift, lead an organization for church planters (passion), lead others in going around the world to put in water systems, and train international pastors, etc. God has given us all the capacity for a kind of redemptive imagination that allows us to envision what our churches, families, and lives could be like if God had his way in this disciple making mission. He promises us that he is “able to do abundantly above all that we ask or think.” We call this vision. However, this vision is always connected back to our mission. This is where we must begin.
Rediscovering Jesus. Recently I spoke with a young pastor who had visited one of the healthiest church plants in our city. They are just a few months old, but have already broken the 200 barrier. It seems there is no limit in sight when it comes to their amazing growth. My friend began by describing all the things they were doing right. There are too many to list here. When he paused I asked him if the church was Christ centered. He paused and seemed to struggle with my question. He wanted me to clarify what I meant. I reframed my question by asking if their mission flowed out of a clear commitment to Jesus and his ways. He paused once again and finally concluded, not really.
I didn’t ask this question to be negative or to call what this church planter is doing into question. I asked him because of my own experience. I asked him because there has been time in my own ministry that I have been so eager to grow the church that I have left Jesus out of it. Let’s face it we all feel the tension between being culturally relevant and Biblically faithful. Some times we opt for cool, cute, or relevant over Christ centered. When we attempt to connect with the lost culture we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Over the past few decades there has been a tendency to put our ecclesiology before our Christology. Fortunately, this trend is changing. Many of us are rediscovering the centrality and the simplicity of Jesus and his ways in our churches. This is a good thing. This is a must.
Transitioning from pastoral ministries to missional ministries requires continuing to shift back to Jesus. Recently I experienced this in my life. I was so caught up in my own ministry, my own quiet time, and my own belief system. Put it on a list and I would have checked off all the stuff we call essential to our faith. At the same time I had slowly pushed Jesus out of my life and ministry. I had lost my way and didn’t even know it. Since that time I have been rediscovering Jesus and his ways.
Missional ministry is about living like Jesus, loving like Jesus, and leaving what Jesus left behind (those who live like him and love like him). When we focus our ministry on “our” church we build forms and structures that have little or no room for Jesus. It can become about nickels and noses. The difference is subtle. Both ecclesiology and Christology are required in missional ministry, but we must begin with a healthy Christology if we are going to build missional churches. Any church that puts the simplicity of Jesus and his ways first will find the balance between faithfulness and responsbility.
Be a Disciple. The Apostle Paul said, “Come follow me as I follow him.” It is a sobering reality that I’m going to reproduce what I am. This is why it is so important that we begin with a healthy Christology. This is why it is so important that we have a clear understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, along with a clear understanding that our ministry flows from the overflow of that relationship.
Recently I began a new personal spiritual practice in my time with God. I have been reading and re-reading the Gospels through this lens. In addition I have been praying a very simple prayer, “Jesus, show me your way.” With this re-engagement and emphasis I have found new life in my relationship with Jesus and my ministry as a pastor in the local church. This is vital if I am going to lead others into a healthy relationship with Jesus.
One of the key responsibilities we share as leaders of churches is setting the culture of church. When we begin with being a disciple and make it a priority, we began to set a culture that puts Jesus first and honors him. This sometimes subtle switch can and does have profound impact in our local churches. We must be a disciple in order to make disciples.
Make Disciples. Ministry in the local church, in today’s missional environment, can be intimidating and sometimes overwhelming. The field on which we play is often hostile and unfriendly toward the church and the Gospel. Many no longer have a Christian memory. Most of us are equipped to minister in a friendlier more Christian environment. At the same times pastors and churches of all types, expressions, and sizes are having incredible impact.
By refocusing on disciple making we can all participate, no matter what playing field we find ourselves on. I recently spoke to a number of different groups across the United States. I began on the east coast in a very traditional Bible belt community where many of the pastor’s greatest concern were survival. From there I went to the Midwest where I spoke to a large group of college students who face with the challenge of reaching their peers. I wrapped up my trip in the Northwest speaking to another group of pastors faced with the challenge of reaching one of the most unreached areas of our country. While there challenges were all very different, there solutions were all the same. Begin by making disciples. We can all begin at this point.
In many ways it felt as if I was preaching the Gospel to the church and it was if they were hearing it for the very first time. The truth is that many of us are hearing it for the first time in a long time. Followers of Jesus all over the country are ready to rediscover Jesus. They are embracing the message and our moving toward missional ministry with excitement and new energy. People everywhere want to know how to stop thinking like a pastor and start thinking like a missionary. They want to be a missional leader.
The good news is we are all on a level playing field. Jesus’ method for making disciples hasn’t changed. Regardless of our context, we can all begin right, right here!