My Growing Vision for a Missional Church

After more than three decades of ministry as pastor and then consultant servant to church leaders, I came to realize that most churches in North America were highly active yet minimally effective in impacting their world. I spent years assisting churches in identifying ministry opportunities in their communities, pathways through which congregations could serve unchurched persons in ways they would receive. We believed churches that matched gifts and skills of their church members with ministry opportunities in the community would establish relationships with people who were open to the Good News of the Gospel.

In reality, only a handful of people in most churches would become part of those servant ministries. Most would applaud developing ministries, provide financially to enable those ministries, but few would become servants in these new “touch points.” New ministries were “added” to the already busy schedule of activities in most churches. Many members were already involved in as many church events as they deemed possible with their busy schedules. Adding something else was just not realistic. And because the other activities were deemed important, discontinuing these was not an option. So, the church calendar continued to fill.

I became convinced that no amount of corporate ministry initiatives would ever result in true effectiveness. Further, I knew that most churches struggle to define effectiveness in the first place. For many, effectiveness is measured by comparing attendance in Bible Study and worship this year with attendance in preceding years. Or perhaps, some might compare annual baptismal numbers. Hardly any churches think in terms of measuring the impact the church is actually having in its community. Few measure the number of new disciples who are equipped.

I saw clearly that churches must not simply do what they do better, but be different. Continuing existing programs would doubtless continue to produce similar results. Without new ways of thinking and acting churches would be isolated from and irrelevant to many people in their communities. 

Unless the church began to impact the lives of those in the community at the points where they naturally intersected, it was doubtful that they would have significant influence and impact on those lives.

While corporate ministries are important and needed, true impact would only be realized through the everyday influence of members living as servant reflections of Christ in their own spheres of influence. True impact will not be linked to more calendared events, but to greater care and involvement in the lives of people at the office, in the classroom, on the course or field, and across the fences that ensure our personal privacy.

Instead of isolating ourselves from the world, or spending more hours talking about how we might reach the world, it is time to be Christ in the world. Not a select few, but all members of the Body of Christ are to live as sent ones.

Please share your thoughts: As a follower of Christ, what do you need most from your church to equip you to live as Christ’s servant and messenger among your friends, family, work associates and neighbors? As a church, how do you measure effectiveness? What is your best practice in preparing followers for effective mission lifestyles?

What is Simplicity?

There is no missional living apart from simplicity. Jesus was not caught up in the accumulation of stuff. Nor did he allow the tyranny of the urgent to catch him in its controlling grasp.

Too often, I struggle to remain free from things that want to thwart my pursuit of His mission. Simplicity is a prime asset in missional living. When I am controlled by neither calendared events nor costly things, I am free to prioritize my life according to the will of the Other.

Every so often, I need to go back and read Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity. The rereading is not because I have forgotten, but because I need to be reminded of the possibility of living in a way that runs counter to contemporary culture.

Whether I am reading Foster or going back to St. Francis, I am reminded that value has little to do with cost. In fact, some of the most valuable things in life are those which money cannot buy and death cannot take away.

I am thinking again about my lifestyle. I am inventorying my calendar and possessions. I am asking myself what I am holding on to that has become a stumbling block to my pursuit of God’s purposes.

Cluttered closets and busy calendars may be symptoms of a deadly spiritual disease. I am not at ease without simplicity. That is a place where I evidence faith in the Father’s capacity to meet my needs. It is the place where the song of a common bird becomes valuable. It is the place where my library card is as important as my Visa card.

It is the place where I can set aside a day to be alone with God in Sabbath rest. It is a Quietplace of simplicity that frees my soul of any pursuit that separates me from knowing God.

Living Missionally

Consumerist and missional lifestyles are opposite ends of the cultural perspective. One seeks to obtain more, the other gives itself away. While culture at large may applaud a giver, it does so because giving is considered atypical. If all people were placing the desires of others first, seeking to give rather than to receive, any uniqueness would be lost. The applause would dissipate in light of what would be typical behavior.

Of course, that typical behavior was Creator’s intent. The missional lifestyle is learned from the original Giver, not from consumerist culture. It consistently disregards personal comfort in view of pleasing the Other. The missional lifestyle serves Christ by serving others. It is expressed through a sacramental personality in which Christ is allowed to have His way. Those seeking to live missionally, relinquish their own desires to Christ. His will matters more than their own. They pray with Jesus, “nevertheless not my will, but yours be done.” And they mean it.

As I think about people who have influenced me through their own missional lifestyles, I think of humble servants whose countenance and behavior reflected the character of Jesus. They are those who have abandoned themselves to Him. They loved to serve others. Oswald Chambers said it best, “If we are abandoned to Jesus, we have no ends of our own to serve.” He is the end …and the beginning …of the missional life.

Encouragement When I Fail

The repeated failures of Peter, as he learned to follow Jesus, encourage me.

“Well, that didn’t work” is a practical commentary on failure. Not that failure is accepted. Failure as a follower of Christ is never accepted, but it must be acknowledged. When confronted in repentance, failure gives way to restoration, to a renewed walk that, because of the experience, is better prepared for similar situations in the future. Colloquial wisdom calls it “Learning from our mistakes.”


Peter was exposed to endless hours of instruction as he journeyed with Jesus, living in community day after day, night after night. His instruction clearly included the stories of Israel, the heritage to which his own story was being added. When confronted with the “kill and eat” dream on the rooftop of Simon Tanner’s home in Joppa, Peter’s reaction was informed by the theology that was the fabric of his own story, “By no means. I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”Obeying God’s direction, Peter went with those who had extended him an invitation to visit a gentile home in Caesarea. As result of Cornelius’ prayer and God’s response, Peter encountered a community of people who were waiting in the soldier’s home to hear good news from God.

At that moment, Peter made an interesting statement,

I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality
— Acts 10:34

“I most certainly understand now.” To what did the “now” of Peter’s statement refer? It must have referred to the total experience of the last twenty-four hours: a dream on a rooftop, an argument with God, relinquishing tradition to obey God’s direction, entering a gentile’s home, hearing how his being there was God’s answer to Cornelius’ prayer, responding to people who were waiting for God’s promised message.

The totality of that experience, all the parts combined, became Peter’s “now.” Apart from the “now” Peter had only words of instruction; propositional truth. But as he obeyed God, theological propositions became experiential truth for him. Let me be clear, I do not mean to imply that the theological propositions alone were untrue. Their truth was activated by obedience. As he confronted his own failure to fully grasp the truth of God, as he repented (turned around, going where he thought he would never go), restoration brought him one step closer to being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. And that is God’s intent for every disciple.

A New Song

Sing to Him a new song…Psalm 33:3

Every experience of God’s love and kindness should give melody and words to a new song. The oft repeated phrase “Sing to the Lord a new song” is more than a trite statement. It is the expectation of God for praise appropriately erupting from grateful hearts that are aware of His provision and interaction on behalf of His creatures.

Only those who have eyes to see, who don’t just pass through life but who truly observe are capable of composing new songs. Whenever one is conscious of God’s loving kindness in the minutiae of the moments their heart yields line upon line of music in praise.

We sing the songs of those who have gone before us, joining our voices with theirs to remember what God has done in history. So the victors of Revelation 15 sing the song of Moses. But it would be a tragic silence if the people of God were only to sing again the song of others, failing to give voice to their own products of praise. In fact, “praise is becoming to the upright” (Psalm 33:1). A waiting soul will produce a rejoicing heart when God is the focus (Psalm 38:20). It is the soul that actually sings when the realization breaks upon us that God has done for us that which we could never do for ourselves (Psalm 30:11-12).

Every nation and people should join in singing the historic hymns of the ages. At the same time, every nation and people should be scripting its own indigenous chorus of praise; their own “new song.”