Many conversations about fresh expressions of church, understandably and appropriately, center around pioneer-types. We extol the innovative, entrepreneurial, courageous souls who, by the power of the Holy Spirit and little else, bring to life amazing things from scratch. We marvel at their grit and ingenuity. Of course those pioneers deserve every word of encouragement, every journal article, and every accolade they receive. Theirs is a rare, lonely, and daunting calling. It is remarkable how God uses those present-day apostles. Soon we will talk about those heroes (and I don’t use “heroes” lightly). However, first I want to ask for a round of applause for missional pastors of inherited churches. These are the people with their feet—and hearts—in multiple worlds. Their job descriptions are astonishingly broad.
These missional pastors navigate complex congregations through hot-button social issues and shepherd families through divorces and deaths. They hold the hands of the elderly and bless the arrival of the young. Emergencies torpedo their golf outings and nasty letters ruin what otherwise would have been good days. The demands of creatively communicating biblical truths every week are grueling. Many of them are painfully aware that this year’s worship attendance average is lower than last year’s, and know there are fingers of blame pointed in their direction.
Yet these missional pastors tenaciously encourage distracted congregations to look outside their walls. They model personal evangelism and compassionate ministry to the marginalized. They fight for money in strained budgets for the homeless ministry. They plead annually for people to support the fund for international missionaries. They hear stories of congregations that have cast off the shackles of traditionalism and wonder how they could stretch their congregations in that direction. They pray earnestly for spiritual renewal that will impact their cities. They patiently and lovingly lead their congregations toward a new worldview.
It does not come without personal cost, and it does not come quickly. Yet, eventually, they not only lead their church to pursue missional activities, they help the congregation to orient itself outward. With time, their church becomes a church whose identity and organization reflects its role in God’s mission to the world. With time, people see themselves as envoys of God’s kingdom, agents in God’s mission to the world, instead of church customers.
Of course not all pastors are missional pastors. Some pastors think little of the world beyond their church’s walls. They are NMPs (non-missional pastors). Some of these NMPs are more interested in the liturgical colors than in the reading levels at the local elementary schools. They craft eloquent sermonic works, but no one can remember them pleading from their hearts for new disciples. NMPs’ desire to please every church member trumps their desire to hear “well done” from the Lord of the mission.
They either don’t believe in, or don’t care about, the lostness of people without Jesus, and so evangelism is of no interest them. Let me not be too hard on all non-missional pastors. Some have the gift of shepherding and find it hard to stretch themselves toward missional leadership. Some have beat their heads against irresponsive walls so long they have merely grown tired. Some are so embroiled in petty conflicts, and so drained by malicious assaults, that they have no energy for anything else.
And let me not in any way disparage the role and duties of the pastor in caring for the flock. An unequivocal calling of the local pastor is to the sick, the dying, and the hurting. “Missional” is not the descriptor for a person who is so singularly focused on projects outside the congregation that he or she does not represent Christ in the lives of the congregation. The appropriate descriptor for the pastor who callously ignores the needs of the congregants is “negligent,” not “missional.”
Truly missional pastors are both missional and pastoral. They pray for church members as the apostle Paul prayed, “I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ” (Philemon 6).
Missional pastors understand that to be ingrown is to become flabby and weak as a congregation. Missional pastors love their congregations and know that turning their attention outward will be healthy for the people of the church as well as for those with whom they will interact.
Enjoy this entry? You’ll find Travis Collins’ book, From the Steeple to the Streets: Innovating Mission and Ministry Through Fresh Expressions of Church helpful. It is October’s Book of the Month, which means you buy one copy, you’ll get a second one free! Get it from our store now. In From the Steeple to the Street, Travis Collins addresses the cultural realities behind the Fresh Expressions movement, as well as the movement’s theological underpinnings. From practical experience, Collins offers insights to local church leaders on how this might unfold in and through your church.