Churches Becoming Missional Churches 1

I’ve been serving as a Preacher/Minister for the Randolph Church of Christ since July 2010.  Over all it has been a great experience and one I hope will continue for sometime.  There are many great things about the congregation.  The make-up of the congregation for the most part is both economically and ethnically diverse which is a reflection our our geographical context.  The congregation is a generous people willing to make necessary sacrifices to help others.  The church also is full of people who, though faithful Christians, are down to earth people filled with love and humility.

This is not to say that the congregation is perfect.  After all, we, as a church, are still people and people will always have struggles and challenges.  What we are is simply a bunch of ordinary people who confess faith in Jesus Christ and want to live by that confession.

And yet, we are also a congregation that was established a little over fifty years ago among a cultural era that has passed by.  Along with that we are a congregation with inherited traditions (neither good nor bad) that has experienced decline in recent years.

Out of a courageous faith, the Randolph Church of Christ asked me to come and serve as their preacher/minister believing that God still has a role for the congregation to play in his grand mission.  My family and I moved from Denver to Jersey believing the same thing (which I still believe).  But I also recognize (rightfully, I believe) that I am no congregational messiah who has all the answers needed for renewal.

I have learned some things about the scriptures, theology, ministry, and missional church, which I believe helps me to be a leader.  One of the things I have learned is that we are living in the frontier era of postmodern and post-christendom culture which is why there is such a need for the church to be the missional church.  However, being in a frontier era means wading in unchartered waters.  Though the literature on missional church is quickly becoming vast (perhaps too much) and can serve to help provide insight as the ship is steered in unchartered waters, it can only take church leaders so far.  Or to use another metaphor, the literature can provide a very rough map to follow but the journey is still full of many surprises.

So where are we at?  As a congregation we have discerned our mission in this simple phrase Living, Loving, and Leading like Jesus.  That is too say that we want to be disciples ourselves and teach others to be disciples of Jesus as well.  We do this by living, loving, and leading our lives like Jesus so that we can help others to do the same.

But what is next?  What does it look like for a church to live this mission out in the new cultural context we find ourselves in?  I don’t know the answer to the question yet.  What I know is that after the first disciples received their mission to “…be witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Act 1.8), they came together in a time of prayer.  We are told “They all joined together constantly in prayer…” (Acts 1.14).

The role of prayer cannot be overlooked or underestimated.  It was a vital component of Jesus’ life as he lived out the mission of God and that same importance was carried over in the life of the first disciples.  The Gospel of Luke and Acts makes that clear.  Individual prayer or informal prayer gatherings among a few Christians are nice and needed.  However, the language of Acts 1.14 conveys the purposeful intent of the entire community.  It means that joining together in constant corporate prayer as a church is the first step in participating in God’s mission.  Without that time of prayer and the continued prayer, whatever efforts we try simply become our work rather than God’s work.

That is what I am learning.  My job right now is to lead our congregation into a season of prayer.  I am confident that God will bless us with the power and wisdom through the Holy Spirit to live out his mission if we first join together in constant prayer.

For those of you who find yourselves on the same journey, I hope this has been helpful.  I also would appreciate your own thoughts if you care to share.

******************

I’ve been very busy and have not been able to keep up the dialogue with Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins.”  I hope to pick that back up in a day or so.  I just wanted to drop this post since it has been burning on my heart and mind for a day or so.


13 responses to “Churches Becoming Missional Churches 1

  1. You are answering God’s call. Lean on him. My prayers are with you.

  2. Thanks for sharing your good thoughts. What does a “season of prayer” look like in your congregation?

    • Thanks Peter. Right now we have been having 2 Sunday evening devotional per month that meet at our building on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month. That is being transitioned into a gathering for the specific purpose of prayer. We’ll see where it goes from there. I have some other ideas about gathering a church together in prayer but didn’t want to start with so much that it seems overwhelming. I hope that helps.

  3. Rex, I think you are doing a great job at Randolph , honestly leading with your heart and studies, and seeking wisdom and guidance via the Holy Spirit, and illuminating the importance of prayer in our worship and lives.. I know and appreciate how you not only preach God’s Word, but also walk the talk, the best you know, in all that you say and do. Praise God, who is with us.

    However; I’m not quite sure about all of the new “Missional Church” dialogue. Maybe, at age 73 I am hard to change, or I need to attend more of your classes and study groups.

    I do not agree in your saying: “we are living in a frontier era of a postmodern and post-Christendom culture which is why there is such a need for the church to be the missional church. However, being in a frontier era means that wading into unchartered waters. Though the literature on missional church is quickly becoming vast …” (and so on).

    I believe we do need to work on being a more missional congregation, but the mission is nothing new. What applied in the early church is no different than what applies today. That is why the Bible New Testament, the good news, has been forever sealed by the blood of Jesus on the cross, for all generations. Just read, for example, Romans 1:22-32. Is this not like reading today’s newspaper?

    Jesus made it very clear what our mission is, when He told and commanded His disciples: “…All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

    But, then you go on to say: “So where are we at? As a congregation (by your teaching?) we have discerned our mission in this simple phrase Living, Loving, and Leading like Jesus…” This is nothing new to our congregation. For many many years, we had our own “Mission Statement” along those same lines, until I pointed out that we already have a Mission Statement commanded by Jesus, in Matthew 28:19-20. Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my commandments”! Jesus is the perfect example of a willing obedience to the Father. Our obedience to God is favored over sacrifice. We have no business changing or diminishing the mission that Jesus Himself spelled out for us. The fruit of the Spirit is not a commandment, or a mission, but a fruitation, or natural result, of being a follower of Christ.

    Young preachers of today, it seems to me, often carry on like the word “evangelism” is a dirty word. I believe they wrongly teach that in order to bring people to Jesus Christ, a disciple must first become close friends with a person, in order to be listened to or accepted or allowed to talk about Jesus or salvation. And I say, that is exactly why the church at Randolph of late has had a growing problem. Our mission should not stop at just being Christians, but to carry out the mission commanded to us by Jesus. That means all disciples, not just the preacher.
    Remember what Jesus said to the fig tree that did not bear fruit. Yes; it was indeed a fig tree, but it was not bearing fruit. Was the mission of the fig tree to just be a fig tree, or was the mission to bear fruit as Jesus commanded it?

    And, how on earth could we ever take the gospel to all nations, “one person at a time,” as so many preach” ? Did Jesus, as a man, personally know everyone in the crowds that he taught? Did the Apostles? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. God’s Word has the power to stand on it’s own, thank you. Here is one example; which comes to my mind, when I converse with people of the Muslim faith: I simply ask them how could their ‘holy prophet Muhammad’ possibly be a true prophet of God, supposedly writing down exactly word for word what Allah (God) dictated to him, –when so many falsities, untrue things, about nature are written down in the Quran? Did Allah not know the truth about what he has supposedly created? Or, was Allah (God) limited to only the knowledge of men of that day? Surely, a basic test for identifying a true prophet would be that he is never wrong. Compare the Quran with the Bible for a clear authenticity of source. Truth will stand on it’s own merit. Being a personal friend, or what I (or we) do, or don’t do, or say, has nothing to do with it. Christians need to put on the complete armor of God, and carry out the true mission that God has commanded, no substitutions, and nothing less. That is the way I see it; your brother in Christ, –Don Cole

    • Don,

      I think the comment below by BMS explains well what I mean by living in a frontier era. You are right though that mission is not anything new to Christianity. In fact, having some mission from God goes back to Adam and Even when God gave them the responsibility of being caretakers of his creation. Since then God has been calling his people to his mission as it unfolds within history. The text which you mentioned (Matt 28.19-20) is one of those calls but it is far from the only call. Just within the New Testament there are numerous calls to mission expressed in numerous ways (i.e., Matt 4.19; 5.13-16; 28.19-20; Mk 1.17; 8.34-38; 16.15-16; Lk 5.1-11; 24.46-49; Jn 13.34-35; 17.15-18; 20.21-22; Acts 1.7-8; 4.23-29; Rom 12.1-2; Heb 1023-25; 13.13). Those are just some passages of scripture that come to my mind at the moment. What are we to do with them? Not one passage is more important than the other. My belief is that we recognize the totality of the mission we are called to (it is bigger than just preaching or personal evangelism) and own that mission in our own words which is what we are trying to do with the statement “Living, Loving, and Leading like Jesus.”

      I hope that helps explain a bit more. Take care and see you on Sunday, if not before.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

      • Rex, I think some of the difficulty comes from the subtle distinctions between the terms: Mission, Missional, & Commission.

        I’m sympathetic with the familiar please of “Scripture only”, and “Bible names for Bible things.” However, although I like to think of myself as a “big picture” guy I find that God’s picture is always bigger than my mind can handle. I suspect it’s human nature to seek to break things (ideas, concepts, Scripture) down into simpler “bite-size” pieces.

        We see this simplification at work any time we choose one verse to summarize a chapter, a book, or the Gospel. Sometimes we use Bible verses to simplify ideas, other times we just summarize Biblical teaching in our own words. For instance, the word “commission” doesn’t actually appear in the Great Commission, but we all know what it refers to.

        My church doesn’t have a Congregational Mission Statement, but each year we use a Congregational Theme that helps us concentrate on and explore a particular spiritual thought for the year. This year our theme is “Love and Rescue”, last year it was “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen 18:14). We find this simplification to be very helpful.

      • When we can put things into our own terminology – whether in a word or a phrase – it helps us understand it better. That is why people a long time ago chose to speak of “the great commission” regarding Matthew 28.19-20. Whether a church has an expressed mission statement or a theme, I think it’s helpful for them to have it in their own terminology.

        Also, there’s a bit of irony in the phrases “scripture alone” (sola scriptura) and “Bible names for Bible things” in that neither phrase is actually in scripture. But both phrase demonstrate the rationale for restating faith convictions in one’s own terminology. Both phrases helped previous generations to clarify in part what they believed their mission to be (rejecting Catholicism, restoring NT Christianity). Of course, the other irony is that I don’t believe there has or ever will be a generation of Christians who consistently take either phrase literally.

        Any ways…I hope all is well for you in Rochester, NY.

        Grace and Peace,

        Rex

  4. Corporate Prayer- in the book of Acts we have comments that indicate that the Apostles continued the Hours of Prayer they inherited from the synagogue. The history of the Church reflects the same things. There is the daily office that is comprised chiefly of Psalms and also the Prayers that put the Psalms in New Covenant, Trinitarian, and Christological Context. Praying the Psalms is to pray with the mind of Christ.
    So Pray the Hours. I love the Eastern Rite. It is more full of mystery and wonder, and draws one inexorably towards Theosis if one’s heart is engaged.
    Weekly Cycles of Prayer- Fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. You’ve read the early History. All the ancient Churches have continued it from that time. Formed Prayers shape the mind of the people so that they can pray extemporaneously in the Spirit. Just as formed hymns shape the mind for singing in the Spirit.
    Seasonal Cycles of Prayer- The Church has been redeeming Time for two thousand years, and has seasonal cycles of prayer.
    These are all rich resources to shape congregational prayer.And to pray such prayers is to pray in agreement with people in all areas and all times of human existence.

    • There is actually some momentum gaining traction within some Evangelical churches to restore the hours of prayer. As always, I think Christians who historically exist on the Western branch have much to learn from our fellow Christians in the “East” but I know that where I preach, it would take a lot of work to even get to a place where we could hear insights from Eastern Orthodoxy and understand it.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  5. Don, I appreciate your heart and love for God, the church and Scripture. It’s obvious that you and Rex share a passion. I don’t know either one of you, but I ask that you allow me share some of my experiences.

    I am a young person (younger than Rex, even) who did not grow up “in the church.” I grew up around it, but not in it. I eventually came to Christ in high school, and God has since lead me into ministry. I spent my undergraduate years in a leading public university, that attracts students and faculty from literally all over the globe. I studied sociology (which is the study of people and societies), but I was actively involved in a dying church of Christ campus ministry.

    It wasn’t long before I realized that it wasn’t just the campus ministry that was dying, but it was the church of Christ that sponsored it—and according to the research, this church isn’t the only that is dying.

    It is a sociological fact that cultures in America today are vastly different than they were even a generation ago. All of us can feel the ways cultures have shifted since the 50s. Compare “Leave It to Beaver” and “Two and a Half Men.” The world (particularly the Western world) has been radically impacted by The World Wars, the Cold War, by Vietnam, the Gulf War, and by the current world on terror. People now are increasingly weary of trusting—they’ve seen too much violence to trust any assertions of power. Absolute truth claims are assertions of power. The 20th Century was supposed to be the most Christian age in history, and it was supposed to be the age of progress. The wars, the AIDS epidemic, the increasing wealth gap between the rich and power the world over have all lead to a hermeneutic of suspicion. People have seen the “the Christian age of progress” and have found it lacking. Because of this, Christianity has quickly lost its place of prominence in the world. It used to be that when someone was planning to start a new town, the two key structures where the courthouse and the church. The two were inextricably linked. That’s just not the case anymore. This is what is meant when people talk about the decline of Christendom. Christendom is state of prominence Christianity has had since Constantine. Again, its sociological fact that Christianity does not have the same place of prominence in the world.

    So when encounter people who are all too familiar with the pain, death, disease of the height of Christendom and its “progress,” we can’t use the same methods of evangelism that we used during the height of the Christian age of prominence.

    We are forced to go back to the witness of the early church, when the church lived on the underbelly of the empire. Their witness is what some have called “missional.” It is the understanding that we are not on top of the world, but at the bottom of it. It means entering into the suffering of the world, identifying with those “outside the gates” (Heb 13) and engaging the world through suffering love—not dominating a culture that already believes mostly like we do. We have been too much like the Pharisee and not the tax collector in Jesus prayer-parable.

    It needs to be clear that Christendom is still holding on to its last breaths in a few places around the Western world. They process is not complete just yet, but if the church doesn’t accept the cultural, sociological shifts, then we will cease to exist as we know ourselves, and God will raise up a new, faithful community—as he always does.

  6. Pingback: A Reply—Why Missional? | missional mustard seed

  7. Pingback: Mission, Prayer, and the Randolph Church of Christ (with a Sermon) « Kingdom Seeking

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