Over the past two decades, one of the most popularized words has been the word, “missional.” A Google Ngram on the word missional produces the kind of spike you wish your stock portfolio would generate. The phrase “missional church” has been the subject of books, blogs and conferences and has almost become a cottage industry. To describe a church as “missional” seems like an oxymoron. Of course a church should be missional-it is built into the DNA of a church to be missional. The early church was clearly missional but in an age in which the dominant paradigm of church has been that of an institution of organized religion, what does it mean to be a missional church? And how do you discover the pathway to once again becoming missional?
Becoming missional has very little to do with the size of a church or its age, location, facilities or budget but it has everything to do with its identity, purpose or mission, vision, leadership, context, and focus.
Becoming missional is a journey – a sequential series of steps – that begins with identity, from which come core beliefs and values. For a church, its identity is rooted in relationship with God and its unique Kingdom role. Its beliefs and values are based upon the Biblical revelation of God, His ongoing missional purpose and His people. From this foundation of identity, beliefs and values flow a church’s vision and Kingdom purpose or mission that establish the strategic direction and focus for the church.
Often becoming missional requires a re-discovery and new understanding of the Biblical narrative and the nature of the Kingdom of God rather than accepting the existing cultural and church traditions. Becoming missional is not the simple adoption of slogans and statements that can be printed in the church bulletin or posted on the website. It involves a much deeper process of changing the internal culture of the church with respect to the understanding, beliefs, and actions of what it means to be missional and Kingdom focused.
No church, or social organization for that matter, rises above the level of its leadership and missional leaders lead missional churches. Effective church and ministry leaders in the 21st century have an awareness and understanding of their own wiring, gifting, skills and passion as well as others on their leadership team. Missional leaders lead out of their strengths, focusing on their highest and best use and likewise those of their team. There is a “fit” between the leader and their role and responsibilities, not only for the pastor but everyone on the leadership team.
Becoming missional means you understand the changing context of your community and the world. With the exception of the Spirit of God, the greatest forces of change to a church are external, not internal. Mission and ministry today are carried out in the context of an increasingly fragmented, pluralistic and inter-dependent world. Local, national and international issues and events define and shape the context in which a church functions. To be engaged in mission without an accurate understanding of the external context is akin to trying to fly an airplane with only one wing.
The sixth step to becoming missional implies a new strategic focus or intentionality on the part of the church. Adopting a strategic focus requires a recognition that there are some initiatives and ministries more important than others that will lead in the long term to becoming missional. It means using the word focus as both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it means having a central point of attention. As a verb, it means to concentrate the activities and resources of the church on a limited number of strategic issues. Adopting a strategic focus requires intentionality about every decision, program, ministry, activity and staff that will lead to alignment with the church’s mission and whatever unique Kingdom role God has assigned to your church.
The seventh step to becoming missional is the simply the implementation and execution of the strategic focus and specific directional plans. Vision and plans without execution are but idle dreams. The final step is an authentic and ongoing evaluation of a church’s progress toward fulfilling its mission and making any necessary adjustments.
Becoming missional is a journey. The foundation of identity and core beliefs and values leads to purpose and mission. Creating an internal Kingdom culture is essential. Authentic missional leadership flows from one’s wiring, gifting, skills and passion and is aligned with role and responsibility. Context is shaped by both internal and external issues and events. Strategic focus identifies the most significant initiatives and requires intentionality that leads to alignment. Execution of the strategic focus and directional plans produces results aligned to the church’s purpose. Authentic and ongoing evaluation offers an opportunity for adjustment and necessary re-alignment.
At the end of this journey, a church and all of its resources including people, facilities, and finances will be aligned to its purpose. For a church, that purpose is centered in its relationship to God and His mission.
God has a unique Kingdom role for every church. The specifics of that role are changing as He is re-shaping His world to accomplish His redemptive purposes. The task ahead is for a 21st century church and its leaders is to hear His voice, trust His direction and walk obediently into the future He is creating.