Sunday, August 24, 2008

Developing a Missional Identity

A few months ago my congregation began a venture into a missional type of ministry when we hooked up with Angel Food Ministries. I first learned about AFM through the congregation I was serving in Tulsa, and after some study and prayer our congregation up here decided it was a good thing for us, too. I'm telling you about this because I've been noticing a change in our congregation lately. At first, it was very subtle. But as of lately, it's caused a pretty major shift in our self-understanding. I've noticed that our congregation is beginning to take on the identity of a Missional Church.

What do I mean by a Missional Church? A missional church, in my limited articulation is a congregation that understands its primary purpose to be other-centered. By "other-centered" I mean a couple of things at once. Being other centered means being focused on fulfilling our calling as Christ's disciples by taking on the work of serving others. In so doing, being other-centered means primarily being Christ-centered: orienting our mission and purpose and values around the life and teachings of Jesus. It also means focusing on living into Christ's ministry by meeting the needs of people and demonstrating God's radically inclusive love.

And I can already hear you asking, "But why would you need to become Christ-centered? Haven't you always been Christ-centered?" I can only wish. If the Church had been Christ-centered all along I don't think we'd be in our current state of decline (here in North America, anyway). "And hasn't being Christ-centered always meant being others-centered?" you ask. Unfortunately, no it has not. I think some prior generations of leadership were taught that their calling was primarily to care for and pacify the people already in the pews instead of reaching out to of the rest of the people in the world. (My apoligies if my harsh critique is untrue. But in what I've seen I can see no other reason for such a broad-based acceptance of that approach.) For too many generations we've been self-oriented as the Church, preferring to use the Church as a tool to support our own political agendas, as our own sort of social clubs, and we've hired pastors to serve us rather than to reach others. It's no wonder we're in the situation we're in.

So becoming a Missional Church is quite an undertaking. It requires a lot of trust in God's leadership and provision. It requires major attitude shifts. It requires learning and development. And it's a process that takes time. Let me share a few brief thoughts with you on these subjects.

Trust--For years we've put so much trust in ourselves, how much money the church has in the bank, and the limits of our perception. Developing a missional identity requires us to think beyond those limitations and to trust that God will provide us with the equipment necessary to fulfill our calling. It means trusting God enough not to limit our budgets (are budgets really necessary?) with what we think we can afford and instead saying "This is what God has called us to do and we're going to find the resources to do it." Whether it means we need more money, more people, different facility, you name it, we've got to trust God with it. It also means dreaming big. God calls us to do things and become things that are beyond our wildest imaginations. Just because it seems impossible doesn't mean it is. If we really believe in a God who can raise the dead, then don't we believe in a God who can help us with money, people, facilities, resources, and the ability to overcome impossible odds?

Development--One of the things I've learned is that developing consensus, or at least a major core of support, is essential. One of the best ways to do this is in communal learning. We tried an online book study of Needs-Based Evangelism. The online part didn't go so well for us but the learning did happen. A major component of our congregation read together and oriented their thoughts and questions around the same concepts. I'm not saying this book is the one for you. I've found others since that we probably should have used instead. But the key is to engage as many people as possible in simultaneous critical thinking about the nature and purpose of the Church. It's also necessary to practice missional preaching. The sermon is the main learning opportunity for the critical mass of the congregation. It is essential to capitalize on this opportunity to teach people how to think differently about the mission and purpose of the Church and give solid teaching for taking specific steps towards making it a reality. That doesn't mean you have to develop a "Special Sermon Series." But it does mean making a very present lens of interpretation.

Attitude--The only thing I can really say about this is that practice is key. I have to admit that when we began this ministry here some people weren't entirely sold on the idea. But they were willing to give it a try. Some of those people have undergone major attitude shifts, and it had nothing to do with the book study or the preaching. It had everything to do with practice. There's something about interacting with God's people face to face that makes us more aware of God's presence. And that awareness leads to transformation.

I'd invite comments on any thoughts you may have. I'm by no means an expert on this subject. I'm just a learner on the journey. Share your learnings, your findings on developing a missional identity. And share with us any resources you have found to be valuable.


DennisS said...

Dan - that's exciting. Truly it's sad that we need to become missional - that it hasn't been our modus operandi throughout all generations. "Missions" has generally meant sending money to another country. Being missional recognizes the need to live and spread the Gospel here.

This was in our local newspaper as part of a brief mention of a graduate... "ORU is preparing its students spiritually, mentally, and physically to go into every person's world." If they live up to that, then ORU is certainly a missional university.

I'd like to comment on one thing you wrote: "we've hired pastors to serve us rather than to reach others".

This could be taken to mean that pastors should be hired to reach the community. I'm coming to the conclusion that the pastor should help equip the congregation to reach the unchurched, marginally Christian, and those who haven't heard of Christ.

In reaching out to others, we serve Christ (though we certainly benefit as well). Certainly, people are going to consider living in a missional way if the preacher lives what he preaches. But it seems to me that the focus is correctly placed within the full congregation to be missional - to invite folks, to love folks, to visit and care for needs of unchurched, etc.

Good post, and good direction of the congregation. What joy it is when people catch the vision!

Dan Mayes said...

"the pastor should help equip the congregation to reach..."


I agree completely. Perhaps I was being a bit hyperbolous. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the Church has been self-serving and has hired pastors trained to "tend to the flock" above and beyond anything else.

And, yes, it is it joyful when people catch the vision!

Dennis Muse said...


I posted a chart on my blog showing some differences between a missional church and an attractional church you might find of interest.

You can view it at

Dan Mayes said...

Thanks for the chart, Dennis. I hope you don't mind me sharing the link.