Across the western world we see the institutional church facing significant decline together with loss of moral and ethical influence in their host countries. The vast majority of local churches struggle to maintain their current membership let alone reach those outside who cope with the challenges of life, purpose and meaning. What would it take for your congregation to missionally engage with people in your local community?
In this blog I’ll be presenting three critical elements for shaping and developing a local church culture that is a sign, foretaste and instrument of the Kingdom of God. A church that helps ‘outsiders’ experience the love of God and discover personal, life-transforming faith in Jesus Christ.
1. Visional, Pastoral Leadership
As the spiritual leader of your congregation you are central in helping to shape a missional culture for your people. You are called by God to help your Faith community connect passionately with the heart of God’s mission and discern how that image is shaped and expressed in your local context. Together with your leadership team (for small churches this might include the whole congregation) you discern your church’s missional DNA – a foundational theological understanding of the nature of mission; clarity re your church’s basic beliefs, both theological and cultural; the core values that arise from your beliefs and bind you together as a community in Christ; and then weave that all into a vision – an inspirational image of the future your believe Jesus is calling your church to embrace.
Through personal modelling, leading worship and preaching, teaching, coaching and pastoral conversations you equip, encourage and hold yourself and your people accountable to move towards realising that vision. And that’s not easy! Inevitably there’ll be opposition and challenges to face – it takes deep spiritual commitment to stay for the long haul.
2. Effective Systems
Systems are like the banks of a river that channel and enable life giving water to flow where it’s needed. One of the key images of the church in the New Testament is the ‘Body of Christ’. Drawing on Paul’s favourite metaphor I’ve identified 6 systems (in reality, 6 suites of systems) that empower local churches for ministry and mission:
- Prayer & Spirituality – These are the counterpart of the Respiratory and Circulatory system in the human body that enable the life of the Holy Spirit to flow throughout the church.
- Incorporation – Just as the human Digestive system absorbs food and drink to nourish cells and provide energy, the Incorporation systems in the Body of Christ helps both new people and established members find belonging and discover their ministry roles, especially through various size groups.
- Coaching & Support – Similar to the Musculoskeletal system which holds the body together, enabling it to move and function while also protecting vulnerable organs, these systems enable the church community to be held together in faith and love, equip, support and release members for ministry and mission as well as providing functional resourcing in such areas as finance, property, IT, equipment and supplies.
- Communication – No organisation can function without adequate and effective communication systems. For the human body this is provided via the Nervous system. In the Christian community such systems convey information and feedback in multiple ways throughout the congregation.
- Leadership & Teaching – The faithful teaching of God’s Word together with empowering, inspirational leadership that navigates the church according to a God-given vision and the exercise of sensitive discipline serves a similar function to the Immune system. That system is designed to defend the human body against bacteria, viruses and toxins.
- Reproduction – Just as vital, healthy human bodies are able to generate new life, healthy churches with intentional systems around Evangelism and Mission experience new people coming to faith and becoming an active part of the Christian community. Creative missional initiatives and small groups that engage people outside the life of the congregation are launched, new congregations are planted while church members are equipped, supported, confident and motivated to graciously share their faith in both words and action in their everyday lives.
How many such systems can be identifed in your church and how effective are they?
Creating a missional culture doesn’t just happen through effective systems and inspirational leadership. Most of us grow and learn through experience together with visual symbols and rituals that reinforce words and actions. The critical issue here is that such symbols must be aligned with the vision, values, behaviours and beliefs that our church professes. For example, if a congregation portrays itself as a welcoming, inclusive community but has no way of identifying newcomers to worship or even worse simply ignores them altogether, new people won’t believe the church’s words – they’ll believe their experience.
As I affirmed at the beginning, shaping a missional culture is not easy and it takes time, usually 7-10 years of focused pastoral leadership inspired by a Godly vision – one that is owned and supported by the pastor, the church board, staff and other key leaders. If you would like to explore further what this might mean for your church you’re welcome to contact me.