Missional Pattern 8: Missional Authority
Leaders of missional congregations together practice the missional authority that carries the vision of missional vocation in the community and cultivates the practices that embed that vocation in the community.
Shared authority. Missional congregations may have one or more pastors or ministers. But at the core of the congregation is a small community of leaders, paid and/or unpaid, ordained and lay, who may have a diversity of functions, roles, and titles. This authority is not to lord it over others. Instead, this authority is given by the Holy Spirit. Congregational leaders serve under God, the ultimate authority. In missional congregations, this core group of leaders is in the vanguard of thinking about and participating in God’s mission in the world. Congregational leaders welcome contact and collegiality with leaders of other congregations that are seeking to be more missional.
Carriers of vision. Leaders of missional congregations may help to discern and formulate the church’s missional vocation. But effective and faithful leaders always carry that vision and help hold the congregation accountable to the vocation to which God has called the congregation. Carrying the vision means keeping it before the congregation, reminding people of it, holding people accountable to what they said they would do, discerning whether what the congregation is doing now is consistent with its vocation. It is said that most visions are under-communicated by a factor of 10! Missional leaders are redundant in communicating the congregation’s missional vocation. They know that vocation so well, they embody it.
Cultivators of missional practices. Leaders of missional congregations intentionally cultivate the practices that embed its missional vocation in the life of the community. These leaders understand that carrying out missional vocation is more than developing a strategic plan, good as that is. Missional vocation is supported by practices (regular habits developed over time that demonstrate the way things are done in the reign of God). Practices like hospitality or bearing one another’s burdens do not become second-nature in the church unless people are trained for them, reminded of them, and encouraged in them. Missional leaders not only cultivate these practices in others, but they perform these practices themselves. Leaders who preach a simple lifestyle that is friendly to the earth, practice a simple lifestyle. Leaders who encourage hospitality, are hospitable. The core leadership group practices right relationships in its dealings with each other, in the same way that it expects others in the congregation to practice right relationships. Leaders pray for each other as they train the congregation in prayer. Leaders forgive each other as they teach others to forgive. Leaders are to live out the implications of being a missional church.
Missional Pattern 6: Dependence on the Holy Spirit
The missional church confesses its dependence on the Holy Spirit, shown especially in its practices of praying together and waiting on God.
Missional congregations spend a lot of time, together, in prayer. Missional congregations pray together on Sunday. They pray at committee meetings. They pray at small group meetings. They hold special prayer services. Some congregations commission people for specific prayer ministries. Some congregations hold prayer walks through the neighborhood. Some have prayer meetings early in the morning before work, or during the noon hour, or in the evening. Some congregations spend a lot of time in silent prayer. In some congregations, a group is meeting for prayer almost every day of the week. One congregation periodically cancels all activities for a week, except Sunday morning worship, so that its members can come together to pray.
The missional church seeks to put itself completely into the hands of God. It joins in Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying to God, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” Effective prayer sheds our own wishes and wants, and wants only for God’s will to be done. Prayer is not about getting what we want, but desiring what God wants. It can feel risky to put ourselves, our congregation, completely into the hands of God. But we remember that God is a loving God, who has created us and called us to participate in God’s mission in the world.
Dependence on the Holy Spirit calls the church not to rely on its own strength. The God who has given the church a missional vocation also gives the church the strength to carry out that mission. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant, giving blessing to the “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), who know that they cannot do everything by themselves. They need other people, and they need God. They are the ones who understand the kingdom of heaven.
The church expects the Holy Spirit to act in the world and in the life of the church. Prayer praises God for what God’s Spirit has already done, and prayer anticipates God’s further action. This expectation of God’s action includes God’s leading in congregational decision making. When the church practices decision making in dependence on the Holy Spirit, it expects that the Spirit will help the congregation to align itself more closely with God’s action and purposes in the world.
The Holy Spirit will continue to lead us in the direction of Jesus Christ, as we know him through the Scriptures. Dependence on the Holy Spirit is not an alternative to biblical formation. Rather, we can count on the Holy Spirit to “remind you of all that I have said to you,” quoting the words of Jesus in John 15:26. The Spirit’s message to us in the present will be consistent with the witness of Scripture. Likewise, our encounter with Scripture and our attempts to carry out our missional vocation should lead the church to depend on the Holy Spirit even more than before.
Missional Pattern 5: Worship as Public Witness
Worship is a public witness demonstrating the church’s allegiance to the one God, known in Jesus Christ, and experienced in the Holy Spirit. Far from being an internal activity of the congregation, worship is essential to our witness to the world.
Worship is an act of allegiance. In its most concrete form, the Hebrew word for “worship” means to fall down on one’s face in front of the ruler. So when we say or sing, “O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Ps. 95:6), we are declaring our allegiance to the one true God, above all other allegiances.
The triune God is the center of worship. The center of worship is not about “meeting my needs.” It is true that God does meet our deepest needs, even the ones we did not know we had until we became a part of the Christian community. But worship is not primarily about us, it is about God. Worship is addressed to God, and worship announces to the world what God has been doing. Styles of worship and styles of music can vary according to culture and location; the important thing is putting God at the center of worship.
Worship can be missional. Some congregations think of worship as a part of the internal life of the congregation, almost entirely separate from the church’s outreach and witness. Other congregations think of worship primarily as an evangelistic tool or as an opportunity to recruit people to social action. Missional congregations think of worship as performed before the watching world, announcing who we are and whose we are, as the people of God—it is public!
The New Testament words for “worship” are public words. “Church” (ekklesia) is an assembly gathered to make decisions, a kind of town meeting. “Preaching” (kerygma) was a public proclamation that the king or other high official was coming to town. Liturgy (leitourgia) meant a public works project, works on behalf of the people and their public good. Missional worship is a public assembly of the people of God. Missional preaching announces the past, present, and future of the reign of God. Missional liturgy is on behalf of the people of God and on behalf of the world.
Baptism is a public statement of a new identity, as a disciple of Christ, a participant in the people of God, the church. Baptism initiates new Christians as citizens of the reign of God. In the Lord’s supper, or Eucharist, the fellowship around the table, God makes God’s presence and God’s future visible to the church and to the world.
Worship is the central, public act by which the Christian community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and God’s promised future.
Missional Pattern 4: Practices That Demonstrate God’s Intent for the World
The missional church understands that its life together as a community is to be a sign of God’s future. Its way of life is to demonstrate what God intends one day for the whole world. So, it is not just outreach activities that are witnesses to the reign of God. The life of the congregation itself is also a missional witness.
The way of life of the reign of God can best be seen in the congregation through its practices. Practices are regular, habitual activities of the community, developed over time, that give the congregation and those outside it a glimpse of what it means to be a citizen of the reign of God. Practices help people experience the reign of God—where they can see, hear, taste, and touch it in the life of an actual Christian community. These practices help form Christians in the congregation. These practices also witness to the world. These practices include:
• Listening to one another, taking enough time to be with each other so that speaking and hearing can happen.
• Listening to God in regular prayer, both individual and corporate.
• Active helpfulness to one another. Members are willing to be interrupted and diverted from their plans be the requests and claims of others. They want to “love one another as I have loved you,” in the words of Jesus to his disciples.
• Bearing with one another through difficulties, irritations, and hardship.
• Hospitality, engaging those who are different from oneself. This will undoubtedly involve crossing boundaries of ethnicity, class, economic status, and culture.
• Loving accountability, being willing to give and receive counsel in the congregation.
• Forgiveness and reconciliation. Learning how to forgive one another in the congregation is vitally connected with forgiving and loving enemies.
These practices are carried out before the watching world. It would be possible to do most of these things within the congregation in an isolated way, and not be missional. A missional congregation understands that these practices are not just about the internal life of the church. These practices are done “in public.” Others outside the church are watching the church. What kind of life do they live? Do they practice what they preach? Would I be welcome there? How are these people different because they are Christians?
The church’s life as a community is a demonstration of what God intends for the life of the whole world. A missional church is indicated by how Christians behave toward one another—with the world watching!
Pattern 3: Taking Risks as a Contrast Community
When a congregation discerns its missional vocation, it will probably discover that it is becoming different from the dominant culture around it. It is learning how to be different from the world for the sake of mission to the world.
We’re not in Christendom anymore. The missional church recognizes that it no longer lives in “Christendom,” if it ever did. It cannot expect the society around it to be Christian and to adopt all the church’s values. It understands that the church is called to be “in the world, but not of the world.” It raises questions about the church’s cultural captivity.
The church discerns what of the culture it can affirm, and to what of the culture it must offer an alternative. Some aspects of the dominant culture are helpful and commendable. Other aspects of the dominant culture are hostile to the way of Jesus. For the sake of the world and its salvation, the missional church practices “nonconformed engagement” with the world—engaging the world, but not conforming to the world, conforming rather to the reign of God. One pastor said, “If we are faithful Christians, we will be out of step with the culture.”
The missional church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death, and resurrection of its Lord. Jesus Christ lived a life of conformity to the God’s mission in the world. That life led to his death on the cross. The early church understood that God was calling it the same mission as Jesus: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” It also understood that it was to share Christ’s sufferings and thus participate as well in Christ’s resurrection victory. It grapples with the ethical and structural implications of its missional vocation.
The missional church knows that witness to the gospel often involves risk. If doing God’s will and living out one’s missional vocation is the most important thing, then everything else is worth risking. Risks can be small or large. One congregation decided to spend money for a project important to their missional vocation, even though they didn’t yet know where the money would come from. Another congregation took a public stand on a controversial issue and arrived one Sunday morning to find red paint had been thrown against the front door of the church building. Some risks for the sake of the gospel may even be life-threatening; we take inspiration from the witness of Christian martyrs throughout the centuries.
The missional congregation is learning to deal with both internal and external resistance to the gospel. It engages conflict in healthy, reconciling ways. It knows that living out its missional vocation will not please everyone all the time. It deals with conflict in Christlike ways.
Missional Pattern 2: Biblical Formation and Discipleship
The missional church is a community in which all members are involved in learning what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ. The Bible is essential to this discipling process, because the missional church takes the Bible as normative for its life and witness.
Discipleship means following Jesus. During his earthly ministry, Jesus was physically present to teach, guide, and form his disciples. Now we not only experience Jesus’ presence through the Spirit, we have the testimony of these first disciples in written form in the Bible. This witness as recorded in Scripture can continue to teach, guide, and form disciples of Jesus Christ.
Christians need training. Missional congregations don’t assume that anyone automatically knows how to be a Christian. No one automatically knows how things are done in the reign of God. Becoming a citizen of the reign of God requires a naturalization process, learning a new vocabulary, learning new practices. Missional congregations train converts through some form of intentional catechesis. They continue to disciple new Christians after baptism. They assume that all Christians can continue to grow in discipleship. No one is ever “finished” with learning how to follow Jesus.
Missional formation can happen through Bible study. Not all Bible study is missional formation. People can approach Scripture with a “what’s in it for me?” attitude, rather than looking for how the Bible can transform us as individuals, and transform us as a congregation. Authentic Bible study leaves open the possibility that the scriptural text we are reading or hearing might challenge and change us.
Small groups are important to the discipling process. Discipling happens best in living-room-size groups of people in which people develop significant relationships over time. Such small groups can:
• Study the Bible together, letting the Bible challenge their lives and the life of the congregation.
• Share issues of their lives with each other in the light of the Scripture. Some small groups practice a “review of life,” in which one person each meeting tells the group about their lives and listens to the group’s response and guidance. Other small groups have a practice of sharing spiritual pilgrimages with each other annually.
• Care for each other and hold each other accountable to their baptismal vows.
Committees and other regular church meetings can be shaped by the Bible. Some congregations begin and end their committee meetings or congregational meetings with listening to the Bible. They expect the biblical text to guide them in their process of becoming a more faithful church.
The missional church is a community where all members are learning what it means to be disciples of Jesus. The Bible has a continuing, converting, formative role in the church’s life.
Missional Pattern 1: Discerning Missional Vocation
How is God calling and sending your particular congregation? A missional congregation knows its vocation. It knows why God has called it into being. It knows the tasks that God has given it. Missional vocation is not just an annual plan of action. A missional vocation is lived out over many years.
Many congregations practice the discernment of the gifts of individual members, and this is a good practice. The Pattern of missional vocation goes beyond individual gift discernment, to discerning the gifts of the congregation as a whole. How has God gifted this congregation in particular? How is God asking the congregation to use its gifts?
Congregations that know their missional vocation have spent significant time in discernment.
• Time. A process of discernment may take several months—and continue as the congregation understands more about its missional vocation.
• Prayer. Discernment means listening to God as well as speaking to God. The congregation prays with an attitude of openness to whatever God will ask of them. In prayer, the congregation asks for God’s will to be done through them.
• Discussion. Discernment means learning from other members of the congregation and testing whether what one person may have heard from God is of God’s Spirit or not.
• Understanding the congregation’s context—in its neighborhood, city, nation, ethnic group, etc.
• Action. The congregation can try out the actions implied by its missional vocation. After acting on the missional vocation, the congregation may understand more about that calling.
Congregations that know their missional vocation decide what to do—and what not to do—and what not to do—based on their missional vocation. Discovering a missional vocation does not necessarily add to the activities of the congregation. Some new activities may be added. Some old activities may be dropped. All the congregation’s activities and programs should be evaluated in light of its missional vocation.
Often a missional vocation can be stated very simply. Holy Ghost Full Gospel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, understands that their job is to “love everybody.” Transfiguration Roman Catholic Parish in Brooklyn, New York, has stated their missional vocation thus: to be present with Christ in the Eucharist, and present with the poorest of the poor. Spring Garden Baptist Church, York, Ontario, understands their vocation as presenting and representing Christ in the city. Boulder Mennonite Church in Colorado is shaped around a ministry of peace and reconciliation, both locally and globally.
A missional congregation is discovering together its missional vocation as a community. It is redefining “success” in terms of faithfulness to God’s calling and sending. It is seeking to discern God’s specific missional vocation for the entire community, as well as for all of its members.