Monday, December 5, 2016

Mission Reboot

Every now and then it seems I need to reboot, to start over, with my electronics. A return to a strong default setting is necessary and helpful with computers. If your computer is too slow, using too much memory, or has some conflicts, the reboot might just solve your issue. The reboot often fixes problems, gets the system back into alignment and communication, and allows for more effective power use. In fact, a lot of operating system and software problems actually require the restart.

So much of this make me wonder how a congregation might reboot (how ironic we apply Advent and Lent to the individual yet seldom bother the congregation with what God is doing or requiring of us). In particular, with most churches in mission, the program is a clutter of small system process (maybe too personality driven), historic activities, and seems to use a lot of energy and often it's not clear WHY the church is into particular mission promoting, giving, or serving. The activity seems rooted in some sort of church history or relationship, but may offer little rootedness or depth by way of theology, Methodist Christian witness, all church interest, or interconnection with the whole of church life or missional expression.

I've been pondering the dream mission plan if a church can start from scratch, or reboot their mission system, and have shared elements of this with a couple of clergy friends. The attempt is to have a strong foundation in missio Dei, great best practices which focus on love God and love our neighbors as we do ourselves, and the strong indigenous, contextual, sustainable hallmarks of a movement (rather than a program or project). Of course, some of this reset also has powerful implications for worship, discipleship, prayer, and all the ministries of individual and church as it draws us beyond ourselves, our expectations, and our traditions and renews the focus of both Church and Christian upon the Kingdom of God. If you are running an existing program you would do well to check out the following and consider how the church might advance in the missio Dei.

Now, it is important to say that this doesn’t intend to dismiss the "last chapter of mission" for the congregation, but it is an attempt to strategically focus the entire congregation on a bold next step of faith as we follow in the ways of Christ. Thus, by its very intention, it would be a major all-church effort at every level which would take time to unveil in both big and small ways for the church. This is why many churches may choose a word other than “mission” to define this next stage of congregational life, e.g. outreach, community building, compassion, etc. Or be ready to continually define, and redefine, this new lifestyle and practice of following the ways of Jesus.

This holistic reboot of mission would make sure it isn't projects for a small percentage of the church, but a way of life for individuals, families, and the corporate congregation. This is the church being the Body of Christ and expressing the Kingdom of God, and intentionally getting out of the building and typically closed system processes and taking the church into the street and neighborhood. So, we'd look to have local mission as the foundation, and then weave in state, regional, national, and international elements of practicing what it means for the congregation to love our neighbors as we do ourselves. We would build in some variety so that every age and stage in the church can learn, pray, give, and serve in these missional partnerships. We'd also make sure that all of these are very closely aligned to our United Methodist sensibilities and would have preference for partnering with Methodist Christian mission. While this wouldn't preclude other partnerships it would recognize that many organizations and missionaries would not have a shared theology or polity which would offer the most "take home" value for our congregation and our individual lives of faith.

You would need to do your own "community discovery" in your area, but here are a few key areas that would help many congregations awaken to their community and be of more use while also developing significant, transformational relationships. Do note that this is a two way transformation as the church needs the community and the community needs the church!

If I were designing local mission from scratch I'd emphasize 1-2 of these in EVERY congregation and perhaps all of them (& more along the same lines) in a medium to large membership church: 
  • Partnering deeply with the local public school/s nearest the church
  • Some element of local interest in Creation Care ministry
  • Being a Disaster Ready congregation ready at any moment to serve the community
  • A strong focus on Alcohol and Substance Abuse prevention & corollary ministries
  • Focus on consistently and intentionally building cross cultural relationships and competencies
  • Establishing a "Ministry With" approach with neighbors in poverty
Note there would be all sorts of "spin off" possibilities in mission based upon these relational, and ever growing relationships. Further, there can be a variety of opportunities ranging from simple to complex, from one time assistance to ongoing involvement. Of course, we'd also be advancing elements of "best practices" in mission. Do note we might partner well with organizations and groups in the community, but this is an expression of a church alive to the community, so we wouldn't rely on groups to do what the church needs to do and be in the life of the community. In the past, far too often, UMC churches have defined "missions" as giving money, doing projects, and tended toward some specialized skills, funds, time, or availability so that mission is done by a few who choose it. We want to avoid this and build deep relationships as we all follow the ways of Jesus, and give folk many opportunities to love God and love our neighbors as we do ourselves. 

In addition, in your town or a nearby city it would be helpful to establish a long term, sister church relationship with a congregation and community that is very different than your home area. This wouldn't be a hostile nor informal takeover! Instead, it would be a way to know and partner with a sister UMC in a collegial mutual partnership (50/50). This could effectively build upon developing cross cultural relationships and competencies, and may relate to other priorities a church explores locally or build around the gifts and calling of a congregation.

Note that all of the possible bullet items above and sister church partnership can then be built upon with missional partnerships in other geographic locations. So, your mission teams and disaster response teams are built at the local level where everyone is involved, and then district, state, regional, national, and international options may be added. This sort of connectivity between local, national, and international is seldom seen in the random patchwork quilt of congregational mission. It is essential for every church to have that complexity of opportunities as it is part of the biblical movement of missio Dei and the "sending" God.

Rebooting our mission system for a congregation allows us to better be in the missio Dei today and tomorrow rather than merely replicating old projects and a history of disconnected mission. A Mission Reboot can be an exciting advance toward what God wants and your community and world needs of your church!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Time Flies!


So, how was your fall?!

I continue working for the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church with Connectional Ministries AND with our UMC Global Ministries with the Center for Mission Innovation. Think of me as a field agent with focus on the very best of mission. When I'm home I'm now on a 13 acre farm and there are usually plenty of little jobs to catch up on there when I do have some extra time. So, high demand job with lots of travel and meetings means things like a personal blog seem much neglected.

I've got some thoughts percolating today based on some of my fall work that I might publish later today. You know, if I can get enough coffee and not get distracted with the day job or farm work.