Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Church as Mission Center

I've recently had a number of clergy friends talking about what a congregation as a mission center looks like. Now, these are well read and well traveled Methodist Christian pastors, so I know full well they have pretty solid ideas of what such a creation looks like. But, it's an intriguing issue as many of us know what such a church should look like, yet it is a challenging church to implement. So, take this as a working draft and discussion starter which may be useful in your setting.

First, it mission must be defined. I find that everyone has a certain picture, certain concepts about mission. At this point a thorough study/ discussion regarding mission from scriptural, theological/ doctrinal, and historical perspectives may be helpful. Most will be prone to skip this crucial step as it may be seen as too pedantic. At a basic level, if we focus on the missio Dei we will help our cause of establishing the congregation as a mission center. The great challenge may be that we all bring our particular soap box and perspective to the table and don't focus on our call, as a group, to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves in the ways we must to become a mission center. It is most likely that we will repeat the great mistakes of the past if we skip this step.

The second issue is to do an honest assessment of our congregation and community. At this point it is useful if most US churches recognize we have leaned heavily upon models of attractional worship and program ministry as driving forces for the way we have done church over the last generation or two. The value of this will be to again focus us and reorient toward the individual and congregation in missio Dei. Our priorities have tended toward attracting people like us, keeping those folk happy and in the club, maintaining the property and finances of the club, and a certain style of worship and program that fuels everything mentioned above. Most churches do mission as project and as one programmatic option of church ministry. It could be possible to create a church as a mission center as one disconnected element of congregational ministry, but this will result in practical challenges which will only engage part of the church and likely create divisive tension. Creating a congregation as a mission center will be tougher work though it may have more transformational results for everyone touched by such a ministry.

The last issue I'd mention in this quick overview is that your congregational context and call should define who you are as a mission center. You can't possibly be everything to everybody. You don't have enough funding, skills, energy, or time to be that. Nor do you want to manage hundreds of non-profits. You are called to be the Body of Christ. What does that look like, sound like, and appear as a group process in your setting. This contextualization means that while there are certain consistent principles that mission centers will look different depending upon the setting. So, no easy cookie cutter answer to this.

I see church as mission center in many international settings. Here in the US there are a few mission centers separate from the way we do congregational life that are worthy examples for congregations. So far, my experience has been that small and medium membership churches are the ones most likely to become mission centers. It may be that they have run a certain course in their life cycle, or that is driven by the neighborhood situation, and they can't be an attractional or programmatic church. The congregation that dies to itself and gives itself away completely is one way of defining a mission center. Realizing a church is dying, or called to die, is still not an easy thing to accept and embrace.

I'd lift up Haywood Street Church and St. Luke as two different examples of mission center churches. I could mention a handful of others that are early in the process though it is uncertain if they will live or die at this point. A key element in the above churches is that they have partners and partner well. This can be a great challenge as the "other" can have some struggles to know and accept the context of the mission center church. That's an issue for another day.

A resource that may help your congregational leadership in this is a study of missiological principles as a guided study of your context. Check out Lazarus Church  and see if there might be a piece or two that lends itself to your context, to study or sermon, or in some way engages your church in the higher call of being a missio Dei center.