Three Little Things that make a Giant Difference in Mission

Butterfly-Transformation

Three Little Things that make a Giant Difference in Mission

Here it is folks, we don’t do “Outreach”. One truth: “Outreach” done the traditional way will wreck your church. If your pews are funding your outreach, you don’t have enough money, and you will drain your budget. If your pews are staffing your efforts to do “good” in the world, you will burn your people out and have little or no fruit to show for it. Getting your congregation outside the walls is important…crucial, in fact…but it’s also not enough. Missional is not what we do. It is a way of life.

There are a lot of things that I don’t know anything about. In fact, you’d be shocked at what I don’t know. Just ask any of my teachers who have suffered through having me in their classes.  I am definitely not the sharpest crayon in the box. But there are a few things that we have invested years in and now know a few things about. Our community was a dying traditional church with empty pews and no money 15 years ago. I don’t know when the last time a disciple was made at that time. We started living missionally with a few people and literally a few dollars. Over the years, some things worked, some things didn’t. Some mustard seeds grew into bushes, and others had to be pruned. But we now have Kingdom contact with over 18,000 people a year. We are regularly seeing third and fourth generation disciples being made. Those are measurables. We have planted four communities in other cities that are thriving and doing effective mission work. Those are measurables. We also see people get clean and sober. We see souls that can only be described as “lost” be found and filled with light. We see the homeless make their way off the street. We see miracles. Those are not measurable, but we see those things all the time. So, we have learned a few things about small church transformation and missional church impact over the years.

As I listen to the woes of small church pastors trying to get their churches turned around, my heart goes out to them. I know personally the slings and arrows that they take, and the terrible price that they and their families pay. And as I listen, I hear echoes of some of the mistakes we made early on that nearly killed us, and took us away from the gospel. I think we can get at those things by highlighting three little things that can make a giant difference in living missionally.

1. The most important transformation in the people we’re trying to reach is the movement from being the object to being the subject of God’s mission.

What does that mean? It means that we do not ever try to staff our missions solely with people from our pews. We invite the world to not only be served, but to serve alongside of us. And we invite the first few to invite their friends to serve, and them to invite their friends to serve. All of our missions are staffed by people who were either once served there, or are currently being served there. Being a part of the mission of God is transformative. Our role is to help those that serve to see what they are doing through a gospel lens. And our role is also to invite them into our lives. If you are not understanding this key principle, you are not understanding what it means to live missionally. If we are doing good in order to stay out of hell, then we have missed the point of grace altogether. Yes, go and do good as a community because doing good flows out of the joy that comes from the grace we’ve received. But the greatest goodness you can do is to relinquish control of the good you’re doing, and to invite others who have never been reached to participate in God’s mission with you as equals. If you are only staffing what you do with your own people, you will burnout your people and quit the mission. I have seen it happen more times than I can tell you.

2. Missions that are solely funded from your pews are not sustainable. Sustainability comes from diversified income streams.
The needs outside of our church walls are huge. And if you’re like our community was, we didn’t have the kind of money that it takes to have a real impact on those needs. For years, folks had just wrung their hands and said, “What difference can a little church like us make? Forget it.” I went to my denomination a few times early on, because that was what they taught me to do in seminary…that was the mental model they had for everything.  The first thing I learned was that the denomination didn’t have any money to give either.  The second thing I learned was that it was extremely hard to get the denomination to give the money they did have unless we were expert in knowing the political and bureaucratic ins and outs of the system.  And lastly, I learned that the denomination has its own agenda and if we didn’t wear the right t-shirts and front the right agenda, funding would not be available. Again, the temptation was to throw up our hands and say, “I tried. I quit.”

Just like with inviting people to participate on the subject side of the mission with their hands, we have learned that the mission must also be funded from the mission field itself. There are people who have never been reached who have financial resources that they truly want to invest in doing something good. These folks often have financial resources, but do not have a lot of time. Giving to support a compelling vision of goodness might be just the thing that they have been looking for. Swap some PR for some funding. We get financial partnership from all kinds of secular sources. Biker groups, bars, local businesses, Boy and Girl Scouts, local sports programs, caring individuals, and civic organizations all help to fund what we do. And those who give end up being changed by their giving. Your pews don’t have enough money. But the harvest itself has more resources than I could ever have imagined.  All you need to do is to have a compelling vision, and the boldness to go and ask.
3.) It’s not about “What” you do. It IS about what you are participating in.
I know this is a little hard to grasp. But our food pantries are not about food. Well, they are about food, but they are also about something much bigger than the food we are able to provide. Sometimes our perfectionist and task-oriented tendencies end up alienating and subjugating the very people that we set out to reach. If we aren’t careful, we end up condescending, and condescension does not heal the world. It robs it of its dignity. Our missions are not about food or clothing or efficient processes. They are about the present Kingdom of God. In God’s Kingdom, there is always enough if we share. In God’s Kingdom, the least are greatest. In God’s Kingdom, people are treasured. It’s never about the right food or the right way to give food out. It’s always about right relationship. So, WHAT we do builds a bridge to relationship with the people that we serve and serve with. But WHAT we do is a means to an ends. The ends is participation in God’s Kingdom and being intentional about doing that. Served and serving, we are all equals and of equal value in that Kingdom.

Food, water, clothing, housing, visitation, justice…all of these are characteristics of what Jesus meant when he prayed, “…on earth, as it is in heaven”. This mission is pointing out the places where God’s reign is breaking into the world, participating in that Kingdom, and inviting others to participate in it with us.

Sometimes we have to see one in order to do one. I don’t want to come off as arrogant. If I have, I heartily apologize. We are all learners here. But I know that in my own case, I needed to get a mental model for missional church in order to envision how to live missionally here. If you’re struggling to get a mental model for what this might look like, please consider coming and spending a week with us in mission. What ends up happening in your community most likely will not look exactly like what happens here. It will take some Spirit-guided adaptation and innovation. But the principles are transferable between urban, suburban, and rural mission fields. We learned in a rural setting, and now apply what we learned to both urban and suburban mission fields. We will learn from you as well as you learning from us. And we end up encouraging each other in the process. If you’re interested, you can contact us by replying to this post, or visiting us at http://www.growingintochrist.org.

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