Who Can Make the Shift?

One thing that came up during the missional synchroblog is the ability or likelihood for existing congregations to become missional.

Alan Hirsch says that the organizing purpose of a missional church is mission.  Brother Maynard says it is their raison d’être (reason for existing).

The organizing purpose of most churches is the organization itself and the Sunday service.  Most believe that the growth of their church and service within the church is the same as building the kingdom. They may be genuinely interested in mission, but it is not their central purpose.

By looking at where the time and money of an organization is spent, we can determine their central purpose.  Does the majority of money and time flow out, or is it consumed on the congregation itself?

The answer to whether an existing congregation can become missional is dependent on their willingness to change their central purpose.

By co-opting the term and changing its emphasis, churches who do not wish to make such fundamental shifts in their thinking can apply it to a program and say, essentially, “Yes, we’re a missional church.”  (Brother Maynard)

That isn’t missional.  You can’t have it both ways.

What will it look like for an organization to shift its focus and purpose to mission instead of the organization and the Sunday service?  Are congregations willing to make that degree of change, to pay the full price to become missional?

If not, be straight about what you are, and don’t claim to be what you are not.

But for those who truly want to be missional, realize what you will have to let go of in order to become missional.


17 thoughts on “Who Can Make the Shift?

  1. In our initial discussions for Tribe, we looked very seriously at what would happen by removing the building and professionals cost. It opened up so many possibilities for empowering people to love their neighbor.

  2. The organising purpose of a missional church is mission – I’m wondering if this is it? going back to the Eph 4 model – the gifting being for ministry, for edification, for unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of Man – that the natural outcome of the Eph 4 model could not be anything other than mission, to have the mind of Christ.

    I’m wondering if we can have it both ways – without the Eph 4 model in operation our mission would be mechanical rather than a part of our instinct.

    Making sense? Probably not, the Church at Ephesus had “labored for My name’s sake” – not a bad motive to labor, but they had a fatal flaw – I’m wondering if the organising purpose of a missional church should be to discover the love of God?

  3. I wonder if some hybrid form is more likely to happen? Sometimes when we make things so black/white, either/or, or some other binary opposition, we miss that there are gradations along a continuum.

    I know of a few churches that are committed to being ‘missional’ but are still working out, step by experimental step, what that will mean and how it will look in their own specific location and season.

  4. It’s tough for an elephant to make sharp right turns without destroying something. Not too many organizations going to be able to make that switch.

    I’ve wondered about intermediate (hybrid) steps too. Is there a way to bridge consumerism and missional? Americans understand hierarchy, titles, positions, professions, programs, entertainment, and are extremely task oriented. You can’t exactly fix a person like you do a leaky faucet – so missional doesn’t neatly coexist with much of American’s suburban culture. I wouldn’t fault an organization for trying – but I’m not sure the transition would ever really produce anything more than a consumer group pretending to be “missional”. Plenty of those around.

    In the end, I think this is going to take a pretty big shift individually and that corporately its like taking a camel through the eye of a needle.

  5. jonathan,
    Groups just starting out have the ability from the beginning to determine what things will help or hinder their missional purpose. In many cases, simplified structures allow greater freedom.

    I think you are right, and I think we discover the love of God among “the least of these.”

    Are you suggesting gray?!

    I agree that working it out will be an experimental process, not an overnight change. However, I think that the primary stance is either missional or it isn’t, and that embracing mission as the central purpose will require a restructuring of priorities for most congregations.

    The thing that my post didn’t address that I am still pondering is whether congregations should exist for other purposes. What do you think?

  6. Jerry,
    The elephant won’t turn unless the elephant decides to turn. I don’t know if very many elephants will be willing to turn because, the process will be difficult, a sort of crucifixion and resurrection. The price is high.

  7. Grace, I agree with Robbymac that I think we will have to look for and celebrate incremental changes. I think for many existing churches the best we can hope for is a “reallocation” of certain resources in a more missional direction – resources such as prayer, the use of time for everyone in the church, use of finances, calendar, use of facilities, etc.

  8. Jerry, you reminded me of an old Indian proverb:
    “It is noble to help a stricken elephant to rise from the ground. It is foolhardy to try to catch one that is falling down.” ;)

    Grace, its helpful to me to frame the question as you did: “what will it look like for an organization to shift its purpose to mission?” This then becomes a problem we can solve with specific steps, and even measure the change. It’s important that we acknowledge there are things we cannot measure. And it’s important to acknowledge that personal and internal renewal must go hand in hand with change (though frequently it follows obedience). But it’s equally important to acknowledge that structures are human inventions and are subject to human intervention. An understanding of organizational mechanics, systems theory and emergence really can help – I’m thinking of U-Theory, Appreciative Inquiry, Chaos theory and similar stuff..

  9. I am really struggling with this myself. A part of ‘love’ is not to abandon those who have been so faithful in the only model they have ever known. They served out of faith, and God honors and is pleased with faithfulness. Somehow their legacy needs to be recognized and celebrated in the process.

    I think one possibility in the evolution from institutional to missional might be found in the principles of Petersen & Shamy’s ‘The Insider’. There are missional people within the institutional attractional churches that need to be recognized and supported as they move outside of the structural church and into missional models. Perhaps the models they establish will become viral and others from within the structural church will follow suit. Cannot God build a bridge that will benefit both in the process?

    One thing I am convinced of is that the move to being missional is very organic and organic is often messy. Things that live and grow tend to move and shift and adapt as they encounter various areas of resistance and they end up looking uniquely different than what they started out to be.

    Disappontment is a result of unmet expectations. Expectations are generally born out of formulaic master plans. I believe that while moving to missional, leaders need to stay focused on the journey, not the result … I don’t think anyone has a clear picture of what that is.

  10. ahhhh, letting go

    Yes, Jeff, we are ready to “go missional”

    OOHHHHH WAIT, you mean if we do that we can’t do ….. and we will have to give up ….

    UMMMMM, I think we are comfortable where we are at.

  11. Great question Grace – should congregations exists for anyother purpose? eg) mission – is that it? – I’m sure there is and I will ponder this question this day – whatever the answer is, I think it might be tied up in those two great commandments.

  12. Grace,
    Great questions. I am reading The Mission of God by Christopher Wright. He sees our entire story through a hermeneutic of mission. I think it is some of the most helpful, scholarship out there (barring of course the missiologists Newbigin, Hunsberger, et al.)
    I am one that believes there has to be bridges. I cheer for the pioneers but I also see a great need in building a bridge for existing congregations to change. I believe (as others) that we have to give traditional congregations an imagination for mission and this goes back to what the goal of the Christian life is: spiritual transformation into Christlikeness for the sake of serving others. If we can really unpack that in whatever faith community we are serving and begin to live from a place of aligning ourselves with the pre-creation intentionality of God I think we can make changes.

  13. Me again, I absolutely agree with Robbymac, many not all will be hybrids – it seems the nature of emergence. There will need to be some “in between” steps to what will finally emerge.
    And to your question – I think congregations must exist for mission — meaning we don’t build or extend the Kingdom – we enter it, we receive it and this is not a one time event…we align ourselves the best we know to the reality of God’s intention to have the real and lasting life right now and we do that in community, together on the journey. I don’t see any other reason for any expression of the church to exist, do you?

  14. I appreciate Ken’s statement that many people are doing their best to be faithful to the only expression of “mission” that they know. And God honors that and blesses them.

    My family are very much a group of missional “insiders” in a traditional church. It continues to be interesting to see what God is up to in our lives … which frequently makes us feel a bit like “outsiders” 8)

  15. Brad, Len, and Rose,
    Changing an organization is an incremental and ongoing process. As you have all said, it is a process of measurable steps which includes spiritual formation and new standards of measurement.

    Ultimately however, that process begins with a true conversion of purpose in order to begin a fundamental shift in focus rather than adding missional window-dressing.

    This has to happen in the hearts of the leaders in order to equip the congregation with the missional imagination and spiritual transformation necessary to implement change.

    Your comments about recognizing the faithfulness of those in current models remind me of things that I have heard about from the book Tangible Kingdom. I may have to bump it up on my wish list.

    Individuals within any type of community are free and able to express missional lifestyles, with or without the support of their church community. They can certainly be an inspiration and example for the church.

    A change of priorities and focus is needed in order for the organization to become a missional church. This is an intentional and deliberate choice that will ultimately (not necessarily immediately) completely redirect the emphasis and practices of the church.

    Give up stuff? Don’t get me started.

    Mark, Rose, and Robby,
    I believe that most congregations exist as worshipping communities, not missional communities. That is the Christendom model. Many will likely continue with this as their central purpose. Worship is good, but it seems that it should result in mission.

    A missional subversive? ;)
    You are a great example that individuals can be missional regardless of their church’s stance. My post was talking specifically about the likelihood of organizational willingness to sacrifice and change.

  16. Thanks len – that advice would have been quite helpful a couple of years ago when I was trying to catch the elephant. I’m a lot taller and thinner now :)

    I hear what many of ya’ll are saying. If you just show up at a church building somewhere – say a mega-church – and sit through the service – and go home. Yeah – that’s really nothing – maybe a couple hours a week.

    However, if you are in a leadership position in that church – and sit through all the meetings and prep and all of that – it’s going to be pretty tough. What we found was that – the interest in keeping the machinery running waned compared to seeing Jesus alive all around us. I’ll quote something from Kathy Escobar’s last post:

    (our old crutches and ways of doing church) … “will no longer satisfy us because we’ve tasted and experienced the mess & glory of humanity & divinity mixed together and can never turn back”.

    Problem to most people looking in – is that it looks real messy – and most organizations would love to see Christ birthed in an extremely sanitized environment. Christ was born in a manger in a filthy bug infested manure filled stable. And that is still where He often chooses to be born.

    For the leadership group (I can’t call it a team – it was one man with 4 bobbleheads) . I was a part of – no way they would immerse themselves in that kind of mess.

  17. Mark wrote;

    I’m wondering if the organising purpose of a missional church should be to discover the love of God?


    If “God is love”, then that must be a major element in His “organising purpose.”

    My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

    That kind of mission is passionately consuming,–a vortex that draws others into the flame. No shift needed; extravagant love sucks us in together…

    Grace, good questions.


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