Almost every church that I speak at these days has a "vision statement" or something like it that is called a "mission statement." These statements are often the result of good work done by people who wrote them after spending considerable time and thinking in creating a carefully written short sentence or two. It appears to me that there are several reasons why churches write such statements. Sometimes it might be purely because of trends and/or expectations. I can recall, in the 1970s, when no one wrote such statements. Churches just did what they did and there was no serious discussion about why or how. Things were pretty simple back then. We had a flock, a pastor or two (if the church was quite large) and we conducted the various services and rituals of the Christian faith weekly and seasonally. Our community saw the church as an integral part of life in the town or city. We did not have to do a lot to keep people happy and involved. I came along, as a teen, in the early 1960s when the idea of an actual youth minister was first taking hold on people's imaginations. It seems that following World War II parents wanted "more" for their kids. The church was an important place where they wanted them to get this more. Keep them out of trouble, teach them the Bible and help them move from adolescence to adulthood as morally pure as possible.
Following the decade of the 1960s this all began to change. By the time I became a pastor in 1971 the expectations were generally increasing. There were still only a few mega-churches but the pressure to keep people happy and their kids involved was growing. Then by the 1980s it all changed rather powerfully. I felt that there was continuous pressure on me to "keep up" with the churches around me. If we lost members that was a sure sign that someone else was likely getting them. Somewhere along the line our churches began to realize that real mission was not about "transfer growth." I first heard this term from C. Peter Wagner, who was my professor at the time. I became a church planter and my passion for evangelism was deep and genuine. But I still did not think in terms of a mission statement. I just knew Matthew 28:18-20 was the mandate that Christ gave to his people.
Now we have church boards and strategy groups that will spend months on writing new mission statements.
I note this because I preached at Community Fellowship Church (CFC), a non-denominational congregation located only about two miles from my home, on December 28th. CFC began in the 1990s when a group of people left a larger church in Wheaton. Some of the issue, at that time, was about philosophy of mission and worship, as has often been the case since the late 1980s. CFC met in Carol Stream, in the local high school, for many years. Finally the congregation built a facility a few years ago in nearby West Chicago. The second pastor in CFC's history also happens to be a very good friend,
David McDowell. David pastored College Church in Northampton, Massachusetts, for well over twenty years before coming to CFC. He is serving what will likely be his final full-time pastoral ministry since he is a few years older than me. He is still very fresh, filled with great vision and a true pastor. He is a real leader and his work will clearly benefit CFC in the years ahead. He has a "missional" mindset so this is why I felt inclined to preach on this subject on the last Sunday of 2008. My text was from John 20:21 on the church as the "sent people." This truth is clearly rooted in the doctrine of the incarnation. I challenged CFC to enter 2009 with a strong vision of their mission as a community of people, not just as a collection of individuals.
To my pleasant surprise CFC had a "vision statement" printed on the bottom of their bulletin. It says: "As a church, we desire to imitate Christ, to tell His story, and to relationally engage our neighbor for the glory of God." I began my sermon by explaining what this statement meant in the light of my text. I then stressed the last part of it, i.e., "to relationally engage our neighbor for the glory of God." My stress was on how "we" (as a community" are meant to be the "sent people" of God just as the Father had sent his son into the world. We are sent as a people, not simply as individuals.
This emphasis is really at the heart of what I mean by the term "missional church" theology. A missional church sees itself as the "sent people of God" and not simply as a program or an institution. If CFC, and a multitude of other congregations, were to understand and practice this kind of theology in 2009 we would begin to see some major changes in how we do church in America. I pray that this is what will happen. ACT 3 exists to help this happen by stretching the vision of leaders and congregations to embrace this incarnational theology of mission.