I write a great deal about “missional church.” One of my close friends, Pastor Stan Wiedeman, serves a congregation in the metro-Chicago area. He has been in this ministry for 13 years. Stan recently wrote a vision-casting document to his elders asking them to consider the future of their ministry more carefully. He sent me a copy to read, seeking my counsel. I liked this short statement so much that I asked him if I could share it on this blog once the elders had been given time to process the content. I believe this is a “model” paper in terms of showing how a pastor can provide real vision to a church. Whether or not a church accepts such a vision will always depend upon the leadership structure and how ready they are to lead their church into a very different future. I commend this paper as an excellent vision statement. I hope this might be helpful to some of you who are wrestling with what a missional church should really look like.
Our church has a rich history of church life. One component of that life vital to its early existence as an ethnic church was fellowship or community. In the early years, that community was easier to sustain because most of the members lived close to one another. As members migrated to the suburbs, community required more effort.
Another sustaining factor to community was size. Because the church remained small, most people felt connected to everyone in the church. As long as the number of new members remained small each year, the time of assimilation into the community on some level of intimacy could remain short.
Having served as the pastor here for over 13 years, it has been my interpretation that the value of fellowship has hindered the value of mission. The desire to retain the sense of closeness as an entire church community makes it difficult to grow. As we began adding new people from different ethnic backgrounds, the gap in familiarity increased. I have heard a few comments like, “I don’t even know these new people who are coming,” as if they were a threat to the communal nature of the church.
Many of these new people have commented to me that assimilation into the community of our church has been difficult. They don’t understand the structures or the long-standing traditions. We have not been good about keeping them informed or about working hard to make them feel included in every aspect of our ministry.
I personally believe that we need a paradigm shift in our church culture. We need to elevate the value of mission to a primary role in vision and plan for fellowship to grow out of the fruit of mission. I am not saying that fellowship is not important. I am saying that it needs to be a by-product of a community that is growing as the gospel wins more people to that community.
This paradigm shift will not happen suddenly, but it needs to begin at the leadership level. The leadership team needs to examine our hearts, our structures, our strategies and our habits to assess the balance between mission and fellowship.
I would like to see this congregation become a place that welcomes and seeks those whose lives are broken because of their separation from God. I would like this desire for healing and restoration to become the passion that identifies us as a church. I would like it to become the driving force in strategic programs. I would like us to intentionally seek the broken, the outcast, the oppressed, the enslaved, the disenfranchised, the hurting.
I realize this is a very wide target. It leaves room for a variety of outreach efforts. We have already implemented some of these kinds of ministries, such as the soup kitchen, the food pantry and the ministry to the homeless. Alpha also serves in the scope of this vision.
I believe that we will attract other believers who want to join in this vision. Growth is inevitable and will likely be messy at times. The fellowship will be strained by the lack of familiarity with these people and we will certainly lose that sense of an intimate community. Special attention to create structures to assimilate new people will be necessary, and will need to be adapted to their needs.
Five Years from Now
To accomplish this, the leadership team must give priority to strategies for outreach over strategies for fellowship. Obviously, fellowship cannot be ignored since it is vital to the Christian life and discipleship. But the mission must take precedence over the community. (“The Church is the only organization that exists for people outside its membership.”)
Having said that, there are at least two things that I think should be implemented in the next few years. The first is a new structure. I have proposed a prototype of one that is fully open to evaluation and editing. But we need a structure that is simpler and more relevant to our current ministry. It needs to be one that reflects the priority of mission.
The second is a discipleship/leadership training program. I have also proposed a model for this. Discipleship is not a program, but it does included certain markers of training and experiences that promote spiritual growth. We need some program that gives people goals to achieve in their growth process, and criteria that we can use in preparing people to lead hereåç.
I would like to see some of the mission include greater participation in social justice ministry. Breaking Ground is an excellent option for this ministry, but the food pantry is an excellent local outreach where we can increase our involvement.
Within five years, I would like us to begin to consider finding a larger facility. If we are faithful to the mission, we will very likely increase in size. As soon as we see signs of growth, we should begin saving for a move. This might be a solution to our capital improvements issues.
I have written this as if I was going to lead in this vision, but it does not require me. It can be a vision that the leadership team adopts and pursues with, or without, me, in which case, the first person pronouns would apply to each of you reading it.
Thank you for inviting me to share this with you. I hope it helps you in your pursuit of identifying a vision for our ministry.
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It is so true, especially for a small church that “the value of fellowship has hindered the value of mission. The desire to retain the sense of closeness as an entire church community makes it difficult to grow.” We become more concerned about how we in the church make each other feel, than about truly reaching out to others.