October 31 – Identifying Ministry Shifts in Order to Accomplish Our Work – Genesis 12:2-3; Matthew 5:13-16
How can we cultivate a culture of evangelism and disciple-making in our churches? In order for this to happen, the church needs to make three profound shifts in its thinking and behavior (adapted from Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church). The first shift is moving from an inward focus to an outward focus. Many churches assume that “if we just did church better, they would come.” As Reggie McNeal puts it, “The culture around us does not wake up each morning thinking they would go to church if only there were a good one to attend.” The church needs to intentionally engage its communities and culture. We need to see ourselves as missionaries to our communities. It’s important to understand that the church engages the community and the people outside of the church not in order to grow membership or to increase budgets so that it can continue to exist; it engages those outside of the church because loving outreach reflects the heart and mission of God. This is why
the church exists.
This understanding comes from Genesis 12:2–3, when God says to Abram,
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. . . ; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Matthew 5:13-16 records the same theme:
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
According to Reggie McNeal, the reality is that “loving God and loving our neighbors cannot be fulfilled at church. Being salt and light cannot be experienced in a faith huddle.” The mission of God is that Christians would be gathered in community for the purpose of being equipped and sent out into the world. One of the most evangelistic things the church can do is to simply be the church. Simply put: the role of the church is to bless the world!
The second shift that needs to take place is to move from a program development focus to a people development focus. Instead of focusing on programs, entertaining people, or maintaining the institution, churches need to focus on developing vibrant and transformed disciples of Jesus. If we are honest, many of our churches in North America are program-driven and have become vendors of religious goods and services that cater to our self-indulgent style of spirituality. We measure success by how many people are involved in church programs, or how much our budgets have grown to help sustain these programs. McNeal describes our current situation with these alarming words: “We bought and paid for the lie that Six Flags Over Jesus was what the world really needed.” After years of the program-driven church, the verdict is that church activity does not equal spiritual vitality. This is evidenced by recent Gallup polls that showed that the only way to distinguish between Christians and those outside of church was not by lifestyle or behavior, but by self-identification.
There is growing murmuring in our churches from people who are frustrated with their spiritual growth and who long for something more significant, real, and transformative in their lives. This is not to say that we don’t need excellent programming, but it means we need to shift from a program-driven church culture, which measures its value by the quality of its programs instead of the quality of its people. In terms of evangelism, the church not only needs to help people learn “how to talk” but also “how to walk.” Christians need to be an “embodied apologetic,” being a witness in word and deed to the transformative power of Jesus. Evangelism and outreach must come from an overflow of a vibrant, authentic, transformed relationship with Jesus. Unless the church is focusing on developing vibrant disciples, then the shift from being inwardly to outwardly focused will become another program of community service or outreach, instead of an
authentic expression of the culture and DNA of a church.
The third shift is moving from an institutional perspective to a spiritual perspective. Here is one example: Session meetings can become business meetings instead of times where spiritual growth is focused. Are church leaders chosen based on their management and administrative ability or are they chosen because they are the spiritual leaders in the church? Another question to ask is how decisions are being made. Are decisions made simply by looking at the Book of Order or because “we have always done it this way,” or is the leadership of the church spending significant time in prayer and discernment, trying to hear the prompting of the Holy Spirit? Are decisions made based primarily on how they help the church or institution, or on how they help our community or those outside the church?
Below are some ideas to help churches focus more on these shifts. (See Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance for more ideas.) Think of how LPC’s ministries reflect these shifts and ideas.
From inward to outward focus: spreading prayer boxes throughout the community; commissioning teams to be missionaries to a specific neighborhood or apartment complex; praying for community and community leaders in worship service; adopting a school and serving it in any way you can; allowing outside groups to use your church facilities; looking for off-site venues to serve as ministry venues to engage your community; establishing a 501(c) (3) to target ministry opportunities in your community; having testimonies at worship services (this can also help make ministry shift on the next point); avoiding taking people away from their relationships outside church (that is, don’t over-program people around church activity); using technology as a way to connect with community, not just as a way to give information to your congregation; and helping people to consume media in a way that encourages them to dialogue with those outside of church.
From program development to people development focus: doing intentional debriefing with congregation members during the week and during worship (you might have a question of the week, such as, “What worries you most this week?” or have people turn to each other during
worship and describe the best thing that happened to them this week); presenting ways people can apply information, rather than just giving them information when you teach; helping people find opportunities to grow through serving others; having a mentoring network in the church; using more time celebrating faith stories; having classes available to help people grow spiritually (as in disciplines) and in their biblical literacy (as in a Greek or Hebrew class).
From an institutional perspective to a spiritual perspective: spending less time on church business and more time on spiritual development for church leadership; shifting from “committees” to “ministry teams”; spending more time in prayer with and for each other; doing prayer walks in the community.
Pray for the Holy Spirit to direct the mission of the church so that you will make a difference in your community and share freely about the source of that difference: the love of God in Jesus Christ.