“If you cut me in half you’ll find ‘Baptist’ written through me.” What a silly statement! I think if you cut me in half you’ll find a mess! However, if I was a stick of rock, I hope that you would find ‘mission’ written inside me. It’s important to know what your central purpose is and therefore how everything else exists around that priority.
I would be the first to argue that our primary reason for human existence is to know and worship God however I believe that the primary reason for Jesus establishing his church is for mission. When Jesus said that he would “build his Church” there is an implicit assumption that numerical growth will happen as others are inviting to be part of His community. More explicitly, Jesus commissions his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations” and instructs them once they have received the Spirit to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The story of the early church through Acts is clearly about the spread of the good news of salvation in Jesus across the known world. Mission it seems is at the centre of everything they do. If that is the case what would it look like if ‘mission’ was still at the centre of every church and in everything we did as Church?
This is easier to say and write but not so easy to implement but let me look at some of the main things we do as church and ask the question, “What purpose do these activities have in a church that is focused on mission?”
Worship – the inspiration for mission
For many the worship of a church can look very insular and consumerist. Being in the presence of Jesus and declaring our devotion and adoration doesn’t particularly look very outward focussed. I admit that many worship services can seem more focussed on meeting the needs of the Christian rather than inspiring the worshipper for mission. However, if worship is about being in the presence of God together and being reminded of his glory, wonder, love and grace, I would argue it is essential for mission. It is when we are before our remarkable glorious Jesus who came to search for and save the lost, of which I am one, that we are re-inspired by his love and grace both for us and others.
I would go further to argue that it is when we have been in the presence of Jesus and worshipping him that we are not just inspired but also transformed for mission. Being in the presence of Jesus means that we reflect the person of Jesus. I think this is what Paul was hinting at when he wrote to the Corinthians, “And we all who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
I remember taking an unbelieving friend to a church service. Her comments after the service have remained with me. She said, “I might not share your belief in your God but you certainly know who you are worshipping.” Authentic worship it seems to me is essential for authentic mission. It inspires and it transforms.
Prayer – the power for mission
It’s amazing how many people and churches prioritise mission and yet the prayer meeting remains the poorest attended meeting. In 2016, a group of South Korean’s arrived in the Eastleigh area. They had been making this journey for about 5 years and each year their focus was on prayer. They called themselves ‘Prayer Missionaries’ and they have responded to the call of God to pray for the UK. At their request, we allowed them access to our building through-out the night, not to sleep but to pray. They used this time to fervently pray for us as a church and the mission that we were involved in.
I am still learning so much from our South Korean brothers and sisters about prayer! I am learning that mission is empowered by the Spirit of God not by my energy and efforts. When we humbly realise that we don’t have the answers and bow before God in prayer I have discovered that God does so much more than I could have ever imagined. I have concluded that you can’t be a good missional leader unless you lead in prayer.
Small Groups – the encouragement for mission
My personal experience is that it is the small group or cells that can offer true encouragement for mission. We can hold ourselves to account, we can receive support, we can receive encouragement when we are discouraged, we can find others to pray with us when we are part of a small group.
The problem is that most of the small groups I have experienced are insular, closed and self-focused. However, occasionally in my ministry I have come across a small group that is missional in the sense that they are outward focused, hospitable and dynamic. They consider and pray for those who are not yet disciples, they intentionally search for and welcome new members and, therefore, they are constantly growing and changing as a group.
The most outward focused small group that I have seen was a group of new Christians that began meeting. They were proactive in looking for new members everywhere and mission was at the centre of their existence. The group grew and had to split into two. It was very fluid and quite messy but it refused to close its doors.
Teaching – the equipping for mission
In my previous article, “Step Out of the Door”, I reflected on the importance of missional leaders being missional teachers and I mentioned that I rarely taught on how to do mission but instead my hope was that in every sermon people were better equipped for mission. Teaching on how to do mission is different to teaching on how to be missional. When mission turns from being a noun into being an adjective our teaching becomes applicational, inspirational and correctional. It equips a person to be a missionary in their place and context and it inspires a church to put the lost at the centre. It brings relevance and it applies scripture to key areas of day-to-day living.
Administration – the facilitation for mission
“Oh! Come on Joth!” I hear you cry, “finance, buildings, systems, governance, what has that got to do with mission?” My own view is that we can make two mistakes concerning administration. When the focus is just on administration and structure mission is stifled but if we throw out the charismatic gift of administration our mission is weakened. I agree with the Wesley’s. The Methodist revival arguably was effective partially due to its methodology and particularly its organising of small discipleship groups that followed conversion.
I rescued a book that was on its way to be recycled called “Church Administration” written by Fred Bacon. Every minister should read it! In it Bacon lists eight purposes of administration including to “Facilitate the planning of the mission of the church.” Great mission needs great administration that enables, facilities and gives freedom for mission to flourish. Having said that, I have learnt that it is often administrators who need to be gently and regularly reminded that the purpose of administration is to enable effective mission rather than to restrict it with policies, systems, rules and regulations.
One of my bugbears about deacons’ meetings and church meetings is the amount of time that is spent talking about finance and buildings. The treasurer, when I was at Viz-a-Viz, used to describe money as, “the oil that kept the engine running”. He understood that the raising and administration of funds was important but that its central purpose was to enable mission. I believe that Good missional leaders understand this and that a clear missional vision always includes the missional discussion about financial giving and administration.
What about buildings? I have learnt to give thanks to God for the building at each of the churches I have lead, even though we have faced flooding, heating failure and very large maintenance bills. Although they can be a headache, buildings enable community and they can add to our mission. Many years ago, I did a mission consultancy for a church in Norfolk. One of the things we noticed was how dark the stone of the church buildings had become. The church looked dull and uninviting. We included in our recommendations that they considered cleaning the stone. A good number of years later, I was approached by the minister of that church. He told me how the consultancy had been a pivotal point in the church’s mission and how one of the most significant suggestions had been the cleaning of the facia of the building. Apparently, once treated, the dark stone turned into a light golden colour making the building welcoming and friendly. People began to notice the church and attendance of its missional activities increased.
My reflection is that missional leadership will never allow mission to be off the agenda. Not only is it at the beginning and the end of the agenda, it should also be central to every item. Indeed, it is the agenda! Yesterday, I was at the Southern Counties Baptist Association AGM. I was amused and delighted by the treasurer’s throw-away comment, “It’s about mission, stupid!” Amen, to that!
Over the past six months I have tried to spend some time reflecting on my practise, both the positives and negatives, of being a missional leader. I am trying to capture these reflections onto paper more for my benefit than anyone else but hopefully they are of some help to others. This is the fourth article of eight. The first three considered our own motivation for mission (Take a Look in the Mirror), our understanding of culture (Take a Look out of the Window) and the need to lead in mission (Step Out of the Door). This fourth article looks more at the centrality of mission and how church communities can keep mission at the centre of everything they do.