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Mission Shift

 

Every church reaches a point where their future is determined by choices they make and the vision they have for the future.  In Kingdom First, Jeff Christopherson says, “Sadly, when a church makes the unnatural choice of ecclesiastical birth control in order to preserve its accustomed lifestyle, the natural and exponential advance of the Kingdom of God ceases.”  When you look at the New Testament church in the book of Acts it was multiplying and increasing in number daily.  The reality is that all too often a church stops doing the very thing they were called to do…reaching the lost.

On what was the New Testament church focused? They were congregations who were seeking to provide every opportunity for every person to come face to face with the good news of Jesus Christ.  The mission/vision shift occurs when we are no longer focused on new believers, new disciples, new disciple-makers, and new relationships.  With quiet subtlety our full attention shifts to bank balances, critical mass, and buildings.  Our entire methodology revolves around them finding us instead of us building roads into the harvest.

We begin hearing the concerns of the sheep that are already in the pen as they verbalize, “We need to take care of ourselves before we go out and try to save everybody else.”  The tension is real as you strive to simultaneously care for the sheep biblically while also remaining passionate about your Kingdom assignment. The original driving force of the mission of God begins to diminish as the focus of the mission shifts.  Jeff Christopherson says it shifts, “to preserving our accustomed lifestyles.”  A deadly shift occurs when we begin focusing solely on maintenance.

InKingdom First, we are introduced to a church ministry that asks these two questions.

  • “What percentage of your non-Christian friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors would go to a Bible study or church regularly if you asked?”
  • “What’s your strategy for everyone else?”

Consider this challenging proclamation from Lesslie Newbigin, “ The truth is that we do not truly understand the Gospel if we spend all our time preaching it to Christians.”  There are a few things to consider in making sure that a mission shift does not occur that causes us to drift away from the reason we exist.

  1. We must cultivate a heart for God.  When we love Him as we should it causes us to love who and what He loves.  Compassion produces passion.
  2. We must train our people to share their faith.  Make sure your congregation knows how to present the Gospel properly and clearly.  Consider some type of evangelism training that gives them confidence to share the plan of salvation.
  3. Develop a strategy of building bridges to people who are far from God. Make them aware of the circles of influence they already have in their lives.  They need to think of family, friends, co-workers, school, hobbies, and others.
  4. You must have an understanding of the difficulty of convincing someone who is emotionally and financially stable but generationally unchurched of the need to attend a worship service or Bible study. You must realize that they are not interested in adding an event to their already busy lives especially when it’s not familiar territory.
  5. Love people the way Jesus loves people.  What is the best way to get their attention?  Even if you established and executed the best marketing campaign possible you are still very unlikely to arouse their curiosity.
  6. Realize that there is nothing wrong with being attractional but it is not enough. It is a great thing to do but it is an incomplete strategy.  Our outreach and evangelism plan must not only be “come and see” but it must also be “go and love.”
  7. Be aware that organization, programs, and systems are good things when kept in the proper perspective.  They are necessary or everything your church has done to build relational equity can evaporate quickly right before our eyes.  The challenge is to simultaneously care for the flock while remaining passionate about pursuing those who are far from God.

The mission shift is when we drift from our Kingdom assignment, the Great Commission, and settle into becoming a nice comfortable church.  Quoting Jeff again in speaking about church planting, he says, “All church plants, if they survive, become churches.  But not all churches become Kingdom expanders.”  This is not only true of church plants but can also plague existing churches.  Remember, our ultimate goal is not a worship service (an event) but rather, planting the Gospel (a movement)!  The event is a good thing but it is not the ultimate goal.

The old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” describes what so often occurs in our churches.  Consumers demand to be taken care of and we turn inward in a frantic frenzy to maintain what we have.  We hear things like, “we need to be thankful for what God has already given us.” Please notice the focus of that statement is past tense.  We are no longer moving forward, desiring to build new bridges, and develop new relationships with people who are far from God.  In Luke 15:10 Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

Our example of a the New Testament church focused on its Kingdom assignment is clearly stated in:

Acts 9:31, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

One last thought on making sure we do not allow the mission to shift to the wrong focus is a quote from Peter Drucker.  “Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

Hey Church – Are We There Yet?

Is your church any healthier today than it was at this time last year?  Have you taken effective steps toward the preferred future you envisioned? Recently I heard that the reality is that after –

  • Speeding up the music!
  • Spicing up the sermons!
  • Sprucing up our buildings!

…our church health and overall spirituality is no better off. You have to know that it is not easy to take the steps that need to be taken for your church to be what God desires it to be.  There will be challenges that will tax you and there will be challengers that will push you to your wits end at times.

  1. You should expect there to be some resistance. Not everyone will like your ideas or suggestions and to be completely transparent some will hate them.  In this process of accepting the reality of resistance you should determine the level of resistance.  Are they hostile, resistant, passive, cultivatable, receptive, or ready?  These have also been described as never-adopters, late-adopters, and early-adopters. Realize that some need time to process and there needs to be a balance between going too slow and not slowing down enough.
  2. With whom do you need to have a conversation? The temptation is to avoid and stay away from those who seem to always oppose innovation and change.  The reality is that you should pull them in close, listen to them, and see if you can discover why they are against your proposal.  Yes, there are some (the never-adopters) who will just be against it.  They can even be hostile toward change but that is actually the exception and not the rule.  Do not allow one person to hold you hostage and see if there is a way you can move forward with your team.
  3. Make sure that you are clearly articulating the vision and changes you believe need to be made.  Ask several to share with you what they are hearing and see if they are close at all.  The communication curve is sometimes very steep and is always a challenge.  Be willing to consider ways you can make the vision and message clearer.  Ed Stetzer says, “People are willing to sacrifice in the present for something better in the future.”  Make sure you cast a vision for the end result and goal and not the changes that need to be made.
  4. Develop a prayer strategy.  Listen to what Samuel said to the people in I Samuel 12:23, “As for me, I vow that I will not sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.”  It is hard to remain mad at someone you are praying for regularly.  Take time in your meetings to pray out loud for one another. Get in groups of three, ask what you can pray about for them, and then take turns praying for one another.  The work of the Lord requires much prayer.  We say we know that but we must make sure that we are intentional and strategic in implementing this prayer strategy.
  5. Determine what needs your attention first. Do not be overwhelmed by all that you have to do but instead focus on what you can accomplish and where you can make a difference.  As you look at a particular ministry, program, or area of your ministry start by asking what is working.   Then you must ask, what is missing and what is confusing?
  6. Consider thinking through the necessary steps for the change you desire to occur.  Learn from others.  An excellent resource is John Kotter’s Leading Change.  One aspect of his process is to create a guiding coalition.  Make sure you have prayer partners who are willing to speak into this process honestly and with transparency.  The team concept is biblical and it provides you strength in numbers because it gives you a system of checks and balances.  Make sure that you always remain a good listener and that you have a teachable spirit.
  7. Brace yourself for opposition because it is coming at some point or time.  Everyone will not like your ideas and they may hate some of them, a lot.  Get ready because the attacks that seem very personable sometimes are not.  They point the blame at you and the attacks are often founded upon the thought that they didn’t have the problem until you brought it up.  I recently heard it said that if no one is upset you probably are not doing enough and need to get busy.  Certainly, our goal is not to upset or anger people but when you lead it will happen.
  8. Make sure that you practice patience. The change you propose and lead your church in will not happen overnight.  We already made reference to this but you must acknowledge that some people are just going to oppose you.  Prayerfully consider what the real issue is and what questions you may need to answer for them.  We usually cannot accomplish all we want to in one year but normally we can accomplish far more than we imagine in five.  Develop a five-year plan and then begin taking the necessary steps to make it a reality.

Leadership can be lonely but remember that He has promised to never leave you nor forsake you.  Knowing that He will never abandon us as we obediently follow Him allows us to never give up, never give in, and never give out as we depend upon Him daily.

The Missing Element

Three necessary ingredients for a healthy church are to be biblical, relational, and missional.  Most churches that I am familiar with handle the biblical and relational elements pretty well.  They understand and have dedicated themselves to being a theologically sound church and strive to teach the whole counsel of God correctly.  The relational element is normally handled well also.  Churches know the importance of unity and are focused on protecting their harmony.

After blogging my article The Three P’s of Evangelism, this is what a friend commented, “Isn’t it amazing that so many are identified as evangelicals yet so few evangelize.”  That statement seems so sad and yet it appears to be so true.  In U-Turn Church the authors say, “The gravitational pull of the church naturally pulls us inward, toward each other. If we are going to move outward toward those who are lost, it will take more energy than most of us dream.”  The natural inclination of any group is to become inwardly focused on who is already a part or member.

The Southern Baptist Convention just held their annual meeting in Dallas, Texas.  They reported that worship attendance in their churches had increased by 119,772 or 2.3%. During the same time the total number of baptisms decreased by 26,651 or 9.49%.  Please do not think I am trying to make them look bad or that I think anyone else is doing any better.  There are many godly people in the SBC who are burdened and praying for this to change. This trend of “growth”, while baptisms continue to decrease, describes most churches that are not declining.

In Jeff Christopherson’s book Kingdom First (in my opinion a must read) he addresses this trend.  He states, “Evangelism is an unfinished task until those evangelized find themselves evangelizing.”  He reminds of the calling for any church striving to be obedient to the Great Commission, “The Kingdom-centric new church (applies to any church new or old) holds as its highest value the redemptive mission of God.”  Andrew Murray said these convicting words, “There are two classes of Christians: soul winners and backsliders.”

Jeff challenges us to take a hard look at how we are growing and is that growth actually expanding the Kingdom of God or are we just shuffling the Christian deck?  Here is more of his convicting conclusions, “It should be troubling to a potential gospel-centered church planter that far too often his colleagues, while claiming to be gospel centered, build their new churches on foundations of the already evangelized.”  Many churches are convinced that they are superior to the other churches in their area as they “compete” for new members.

A church promotes “better” fellowship or “better” music, or “better” programs or “better” preaching.  Jeff states, “Neglecting the lost sheep, we tirelessly work to gain our fair share of the prepenned ninety-nine.”  Is our strategy to create a spirit of discontent in the other sheep pens?  Some great advice I received years ago was, “What makes you think you can make them happy if they have not been happy somewhere else.”  Adrian Rodgers said, “A change of scenery never guarantees a change of character.”  Is our focus the redemptive mission of God?

Are our methods increasing attendance or are they also expanding God’s Kingdom?  Jeff challenges church planters with this thought but it applies to all churches, “By gathering the sacred pieces that will take us on the shortest route to self-sustainability, we may simultaneously be gathering the pieces that will lead us to evangelistic sterility.”  When we do focus on the “prepenned” sheep we must be aware of the possibility that “eventually the discontented will gather together and demand that their prophet lead them back to Egypt.”

The temptation is to always default to what we know how to do and what we have learned to do well.  We have learned to “do” church far better that actually “being” the church.  When you ask the average church attender what is in their life that verifies the Christ and the gospel they represent they will often “default” to, “Well, I go to church!”  We are thankful that they do attend but anybody can do that in a country where there is freedom of religion.  So, what evidence of my faithfulness to God do people see?

Jeff continues to challenge us by describing what truly characterizes Kingdom-centric churches.

  1. “They are convinced that good deeds and good news cannot and should not be separated from any orthodox understanding of the gospel. The good news always clarifies, and good deeds always verify.”
  2. “Kingdom-centric churches believe ministering and serving are natural expressions of everyday living out the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Yes, we must clearly and correctly articulate the gospel message but we must also verify it by our good deeds.

In Kingdom First, Jeff offers one of his most haunting and convicting observations, “First-century results rarely come from twenty-first-century priorities. What made the first-century church so potent was its absolute disinterest in itself.”  Are we more consumed with our own personal preferences and agendas than we are concerned for the lost who without Christ will die and spend eternity in hell?  Luke 15:4, “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it?”

Evangelism is the missing element is far too many churches!