Four years ago I started dreaming about church in a different kind of way. I tried to picture what it would look like if the people of God actually took on the identity of a missionary no matter where they were. What if the people of God actually died to themselves in order to serve others? What if they went to great and radical extremes to live differently so that the world would know we were God’s children? There were 2 people that I looked to the most as role models who were pioneering movements that were pursuing these things. One was Jeff Vanderstelt who started a Missional Community movement in Tacoma, Washington. The second was Hugh Halter doing something similar in Denver, Colorado. Both of these guys were putting action to many of thoughts I had around church. They were actually doing it! After “drinking all of their Kool-aid” I began to share and implement some of the things these guys were doing.
However, the more I shared the more I felt like I was the crazy one in the room (and lets be honest, I usually am). And believe me when I say I don’t blame anyone who thinks of me as crazy or naive. Some of the stuff these guys propose require a complete paradigm shift in how one thinks about church and disciple making. I’d be lying though if I said I wasn’t disappointed in the reactions of many people I talked with. Not disappointed that they didn’t get it right away, because it takes time, but their lack of desire to even try. Which always left me walking away asking “If we know the current church model is failing more and more to affect North American culture, why would you not want to change? Why would you not want to try something new?” Then something changed for me this year.
In the span of two months I’ve had the privilege of bringing one of my pioneering heroes, Hugh Halter, to Atlantic Canada, not once… but twice! At one of the events we had close to 180 people. At the second event even we had close to 60 people with their teams digging in to what it means to shift their missional paradigm. I mention this not to name drop (lets be honest I am a little) but I mention it because of the hope it brought to my heart. For years I have felt alone and then to see this many people from various age groups, denominations, and church backgrounds hungry for a new way of engaging our culture as missionaries gave me hope for a new day in Atlantic Canada. Many people from those two conferences expressed a strong willingness to change but had a lack of knowledge on how to do so. Many people were asking “Where do I even start?”. Whether you attended or not here are three ways (adapted from Todd Morr) you can start to change the culture of your church to a disciple-making, missionary focused one. Be warned, these are not easy and do take patience and time… but trust me its worth it.
1. You Need New Language// Our language is one way to identify what we truly believe. Until our language changes we will continue to live in the paradigm of a church model that is ineffective. We need to begin to train our people how to speak differently. For example, I annoy my family and Rooftop friends for a lot of different reasons, and one of those reasons is my incessant correction of phrases such as, “It’s time for church”, “Lets go to church”, or “When are we having church”? Instead, I insist, “We are not going to church, we are the church”. I know for a fact that some of you are even now rolling your eyes as you read this. Stay with me. If God’s people don’t see themselves as the Church who are sent by God as witnesses in their every day rhythms, but just view church as a place, what happens? Who do they go to when their friends need Jesus? Who do they go to when they think of a new initiative for their neighbourhood? Who do they expect to run it? Who do they go to go to get their only taste of God’s truth in a week? Who do they go to when their co-workers marriage falls apart? Should I keep going? They go to the pastor. And if the pastor attempts to do all these things for every member of a whole congregation, you and I both know he/she could not possibly keep up with it all in an effective way. If everyone in your congregation truly saw themselves as the Church no matter where they go, and believe that they have the ability to do “stuff for God” too, imagine how that would change everything? Language matters. A new language can lead to a new identity and a new identity usually leads to new action.
What language needs to change in your context? What could radically change in your ministry if people began to speak a new language that led to new action?
2. You Need New Stories// We all know stories are powerful. We all know they cut right to our hearts and they capture us. Many times they inspire us and push us to consider things we have never considered before. Why do you think Jesus was the master story teller? He too recognized the importance of stories. I think a lot of times we get in the habit of telling the same stories. These are the stories of program launches, new building initiatives, the number of people we have attending our churches. These stories, while at times appropriate, do not inspire myself and I’m guessing others to live as a missionary where I live, work and play. We need new stories. A great story that I hope most of you have seen are the Rocky Balboa films. These are great stories because they hit you ‘in your humanity’. I’ll never forget when I first saw Rocky and (spoiler alert), Rocky loses! The main character loses! But the story wasn’t about him winning or losing but about the journey and dedication to even get to that point. People celebrated with Rocky in the end because he got further than anyone ever expected, “ADRIAAAAN!” … sorry… had to. Imagine if we told more “Rocky stories”? What if the new stories were about the victories, AND failures of people journeying with God to be a missionary to their neighbour? I think we need more stories of failure. If we only tell stories of victories we will always give people the impression that they have to be perfect in everything. So lets tell new stories of how someone tried a new way to engage their neighbourhood and it failed miserably! Lets tell more stories of how awkward it was to invite our co-worker over for a board game or BBQ! Win or lose, let us celebrate the journey God has put us on to be disciple-makers and let us tell these new stories with our new language.
What new stories do your people need to hear? How can your story telling times inspire and motivate people to claim their missionary identity?
3. You Need New Experiences// Oftentimes I forget how little the 12 disciples knew. I forget they were young, apprehensive men who were told to go do things they had no idea how to tackle. Jesus only hung out with them for only 3 years. Think about how short of a time that is! Now think of all things He SENT them out to do without him around pre- and post- resurrection? These were new experiences for the disciples. They were doing things that were not part of their tradition. If anything they were seen as doing things that were in complete conflict with their tradition. It was in the front lines of mission that we see the famous 12 only begin to wrap their minds around what it meant to go and make more disciples. How often do we create large nurseries for immature disciples rather than pushing them out of the nest and helping them grow into maturity? We will continue to grow adult babies if we don’t encourage new experiences. The best way to do this is not by providing them more Sunday School classes but by giving opportunities for new experiences that involve ‘getting their hands dirty’ on mission.
Examples could be to divide people into their geographical neighbourhoods and challenge them to throw a block party in their neighbourhood. Maybe some people have never ever served the poor and homeless and once a month get them to walk the streets and pass out coffee. Challenge your people to invite one non-Christian over for a meal, not to do any preaching or saving but with a simple agenda of just getting to know them. Or have people go through our 30 day neighbourhood challenge (cbacyf.ca/1month). Get people to meet and identity each neighbour who lives around their house and make it a routine to pray for them daily. Get people to identify an individual’s need in their neighbourhood/work place and actually meet it.
Lets not forget that Jesus had many disciples when he started, and the more they were thrown into experiences where they actually had to follow Him… well… lets just say not everyone stuck around. *Heart check* Is the reason why you don’t create new experiences because you don’t know how or because you don’t want to lose people (even though Jesus did)?
What new experiences can you create to help people get out of the nest? As you think of your people, what experiences can you create for the novice to the navy seal? Are you willing and able to take the hit? How can you incorporate your new language, and use your new stories to celebrate these new experiences?
My desire is that you start somewhere. Don’t do all of these at one, but just do one of them to start. These take time and patience and there will be times where you will fail as a leader implementing these. Lets not shy away from those failures but rather shout out to Adrian and celebrate the journey we are on. Because if there is one thing I know about the future of the church and the rapid change of culture… we can’t go back. Go get ’em Rocky!