“Discipleship is the holistic care of a small group of people who are consistently experiencing Jesus’ life and teaching together in a healthy discipling environment where they’re learning to submit every area of their life to his lordship.”
– Caesar Kalinowski (GCM Collective)
A Good Question
The pastor of my church posted on Facebook a great question that I think any pastor in our town or any city should want to know the answer to. The way we answer this question will, in large part, determine the kind of church ours becomes and the kind of disciples we choose to make.
The question? What does the church in Murfreesboro need to be doing for its city?
Today’s thoughts can be applied to any pastor at any church in any location around the world.
As I read through the posts, it became clearer and clearer to me that people really want to see the church impact their city, but feel powerless to do so. What both excited and haunted me as I read was the urgency and passion with which many people posted their passionate responses, all of them good things. Everything from helping teenagers find mentors to serving the needs of single parents and continuing work with the urban poor… All things that deeply affect so many people.
What haunted me, though, was that it is overwhelming to think that a few pastors from a handful of churches in our town could possibly come up with enough program ideas to meet all the needs in this city. We sometimes think that it is the leader’s of the church who are responsible to lead and organize all of the things we want to see done. The reality is that we, the people, are usually much closer to the thing we are passionate about than our pastor is.
That’s when it hit me…what our city needs is not more church outreach programs. Our city needs the people of the church, the actual people in the seats on Sunday, to see that they are the program. We are what our city needs. Our lives, our skills, our gifts, our talents, our spiritual gifts, our business sense, our love, our faith, our compassion, our hope, our words, our presence, our lunches, our dinners, our birthday parties, our holidays, our vacations, our dinner tables, our bedrooms, our vehicles, our everyday lives are what this city needs. Our pastors can’t possibly create enough services, ministries, or programs that will reach into every crack and crevice of our community. But that’s because we don’t have to.
The Answer is Missionaries
Look at the Scriptures. Whenever God wanted to do something great in a city, he sent missionaries to live among the people and communicate His gospel. People who were already integrated into their communities were the best missionaries. Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Peter, Paul, Jesus..you get the idea. God is a sending God. Jesus was the ultimate example of one who was sent. And he didn’t do it alone… he did it by making disciples, apprentices to his way of thinking and living.
What if our church began to re-orient the way it practices “church” in such a way as to equip and train its people to think and act like they are actually missionaries of everyday Kingdom advancement? We are already doing so many service projects…and these are all great things. But…What if we began to communicate to our people that it is not our responsbility as “Pastors” and church “Leaders” to keep creating programs for people in our communities to attend…but in fact… to teach our people that they are the program, and then teach and train them how to be missionaries in this community, and commission them to be sent into their neighborhoods, workplaces, schools. What if, every once in a while we just shut down our Saturday and Sunday Gatherings and challenged our people to stay at home and throw parties for their neighbors that they never have met. What if the people who drive past all those neighborhoods to get to our churches on Sunday morning would every once in a while be challenged to stay home and literally eat, drink, and be merry with the neighbors whose houses they pass by every Sunday to come to our church Gatherings.
Your people are the program you want to see your church create.
Your people are the torch bearers for the needs that God has shown them.
You people are the lights that are supposed to shine right where they are.
Pastor… learn how to teach people how to think like a missionary. Learn how to release your people not to only serve in a Sunday service, a weekend workday, a Saturday mission project, or a ministry to homeless. Give them permission to dream bigger than the four walls of your churches programs. You are already doing a lot of this…but you will hit a ceiling. Harness the power of missional community.
But send them. Don’t keep them. Equip them, train them how to be missionaries, and then push them out the door and tell them to go create that thing they want to create. How many aspiring pastors, worship pastors, missionaries, called men and women come to your church every Sunday without an outlet to serve and use their gifts in the church? What if you commissioned them all as church planters and sent them into the city? What kind of impact would this make on our town?
Turning a Church of Consumers into Missionaries
Of course, this begs the question: How do I turn a congregation of religious consumers into a thriving band of missionaries? That is what I want to begin talking about today. Here are some ideas that I hope will help as you process how to transition your church into group of missionaries to your city.
- Multiply disciples who see themselves as missionaries in their neighbourhoods, their workplaces, and their schools.
- Send teams of people into the city (not necessarily to the homeless or poor… You guys are really doing well with that…) to create gospel communities on mission, who live intuitively as missionaries to their own suburban neighbors, their own school mates, their own coworkers.
- Teach people how to discover the rhythms that are already present in their lives so they don’t feel burdened to expect the church “programs” to do all the work, which they were never designed to be…teach them how to recognize the rhythms of life that they’re already in in the community as they are going to ball games, eating 21 meals a week, celebrating birthdays, listening to the Spirit, and blessing people in everyday life…they don’t need another church program for that.. They just need permission from their pastors to be more intentional about the use of the time they’re already giving.
- De-centralizing… Still gathering to celebrate the wins from the previous week, but doing so as a response to the mission that people have been on all week as the scattered missionaries of the Kingdom.
- Create a missionary training center that teaches people how to become missionaries to their city. This involves teaching them how to contextualize, how to target a group of people for mission as a small group, how to learn the language of the culture around you, how to integrate your life as a mission, how to see your family as a missionary band sent to your neighborhood, school, or workplace, how to find a person of peace, how to balance work and home life in such a way as to mobilize for mission, the list goes on.
- Giving ministry away and teaching people that there are no professional Christians..
- Teaching people how to be ordained as full time apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, and shepherds (APEST).
- Getting out of a Christendom approach to church and moving towards a more integrated, organic approach to serving the needs of our city.
- Releasing people to be the priests that scripture says we are…teaching them the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer.
Gathered AND Scattered
A lot has been written as a critique to the mega-church vs the “missional” church. We don’t need more of that. It is not helpful. What this city needs is the church that is scattered just as much as it needs the church gathered.
We gather well. Let’s keep doing that. It’s obviously working.
I’m not suggesting we stop gathering, or stop worshiping. We do that probably better than anyone else, to be quite frank. The problem is that the people in our churches just don’t know how to be the disciples and missionaries we were created to be to our next door neighbors, our kids principals, our kids coaches, our high school and college teachers, our bosses…and on and on. We know how to attend church events and Bible studies, mission trips and weekly service projects… all of which are good things.
We just don’t know how to scatter. We know we should scatter. We know we should pray. We know we should read our Bibles. We just don’t know how.
Love Sent, Live Sent
So, now that I’ve thrown up on you pastor, I just want to let you know how much I appreciate that your heart so desires to see your church meet the needs of your city. Continue to do what you’ve already been doing, but also teach these people how to live sent.
A sent church is a church that is free to pursue and dream and create better things for the city. Teach them how to be missionaries. Be practical. Teach them how to do the things that come so naturally to you. How do I listen to the Spirit as he leads me to love my neighbor well? Teach them how to talk to people at random or how to invite someone over for dinner or how to walk next door and have a conversation with their neighbor. Teach them how to tithe, how to pray, how to endure persecution, how to make friends, how to stick with difficult relationships, and so on. This is what you are already doing everyday as a pastor… teach this to your people. This will take more than just a Sunday sermon. You’ll need to train your staff to train their people strategically until every single person in your church knows how to be a missionary to your city. This will require, not more time, but more intentionality with the time people are already giving to you.
This will require a team of missionaries equipped and trained to teach disciples of Jesus how to be disciple-making missionaries of Jesus to our city.
Love you pastor. Keep asking those questions.