So it turns out that the mission of the church is a huge topic. How does an eldership respond to this in their leadership of the church? Here are some thoughts. I’m open to other suggestions. After all, I can’t claim to have done all this and seen how well it works in action.
Step 1: Encourage God’s reign within the church
- While the atonement, Plan of Salvation, and such like should be preached, these should not be at the center of preaching and teaching to the church. Church is not about going to heaven when you die. It’s about the the Kingdom becoming more fully realized, beginning with the church. It’s about the “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” coming true in your church. It’s about the church learning to live the Sermon on the Mount, Rom 12 – 15, and other central, ethical teachings. It’s about the church becoming the church.
- To accomplish this, I’d look closely at the sermons, Bible classes, and small group materials to be certain not only that these kinds of questions are addressed, but that they’re addressed in terms of life in the church as a community, rather than solely as individual virtues.
- I’d particularly point out that if we were doing our jobs as leaders, our oldest members would be the most sacrificial, most submissive, and most willing to serve others. I’d make becoming like Jesus a stated goal.
- Teach the biblical story — from beginning to end. Teach the kingdom in narrative terms. (It’s great story and easy to tell.)
- Teach your members to think in terms of mission rather than going to heaven. Being forgiven is an accomplished fact. We are saved to become like God and to join him in his redemptive work. We’re on a mission from God and with God. And like God, even though we can’t take away all the pain and suffering in the world, we can enter the world to be with the pained and suffering.
- I’d keep having weekly, congregational communion, but I’d ask the small groups to celebrate communion as well, as part of a love-feast. The idea would be for the group to eat together and to treat the bread and wine (or Welch’s) course as part of the meal — with a special blessing by the host, and the emblems taken at the table as part of the meal.
- No matzos. No flavorless, tasteless bread. I’d try to have bread fresh from the kitchen — even though unleavened. The NT church met in homes and would have baked their own bread. It would have been served hot out of a brick oven. It would have been sensual, flavorful, aromatic. (The choice to use leavened or unleavened bread is not automatic.)
- I wouldn’t worry about the group’s choice of alcoholic wine. The early church used alcoholic wine. Why do we want to make up rules not found in the Bible? Let the group decide.
- I’d pour as much elder and staff time as I could muster into the small groups ministry. I’d have elders visit around and participate in teaching. If it’s not important enough for the elders to visit, it’s not important. All staff would be required to participate — even if not leading a group.
- I’d invest in training my leaders.
- I’d expect groups to change dramatically as they become more sacramental.
- I’d modify the congregational Lord’s Supper just a bit.
- I’d talk about the Kingdom, not just the death, burial, and resurrection. I’d talk about unity and being a single body. I’d recognize the body.
- But I wouldn’t attempt the impossible. You can make a communion service with tiny cups and crumbs of bread taken in silence accomplish what bread and wine can do over a meal in someone’s home. That’s what small groups are for.
- For the church to truly be the church, it must meet as one. Invite other congregations in town to joint communion services. Swap pulpits. Have a city-wide communion celebration. Put someone in charge of inter-congregational relationships, go to the local pastor prayer lunches, but push for greater unity, more joint events, and joint missional work.
- Be irreverent in church. Well, not actually irreverent, but what some people call irreverent. Encourage your members to mingle and meet and greet before and after services — loudly. Boisterously. Family-reunionly. Church should be like family coming over for Thanksgiving — no suits and ties and no rigidly enforced quiet. Rather, it should be hugs and handshakes, congratulations and commiserations.
- I’d refocus the invitation on members. Sure we’d be thrilled to have a baptism! But we need to offer prayers and consolation for hurting members. The assembly becomes a time of nurturing and healing. When someone comes forward for prayer or to confess sin, my church likes to have a few dozen members come sit with the person who came forward, to hold their hand, wipe their tears, and hug them as they weep. It’s powerful. It changes the church in a way nothing else can.
- I’d have testimonies regularly. We need to hear others’ stories. If we confess faith in the Son of the LIVING God, we shouldn’t be surprised when he acts, you know, alive.
- This should all be visitor friendly, but it’s no show for visitors. Rather, the idea is to create a cross-shaped community — and that will itself be not only attractive but so exciting our members will talk to their friends about this wonderful church they’ve found.
- I’ve not mentioned this in the series, but try setting up voluntary accountability groups for four or fewer — men only or women only. The idea is for the group to be small enough to share and confess sins as they study the Bible together. (The three-column study method is popular.)
Step 2 You Gotta Serve Somebody
- Set up a formal system for caring for your members’ financial needs.
- Appoint someone to serve as the sole point of contact.
- Don’t enable. Don’t pinch pennies.
- Teach classes on financial planning.
- Teach classes on marriage and parents.
- Find a community project that your entire church can be involved in — sacrificially. Maybe it’s helping out at a shelter for abused women. Maybe it’s a 12-step program. Maybe it’s cleaning up a local creek. But get outside of the building and serve.
- The adults MUST take the lead, and they should invite the teens and children to participate when appropriate. Let teens see that Christian adults have a passion for the oppressed and suffering in their own town.
- Don’t just plan a summer of painting houses. Too impersonal and usually not a good idea (often results in the person “helped” having to pay higher rent.) Find a place where you can invest yourselves in the lives of people who meet. Don’t see it as an evangelistic effort — but do in the name of Jesus.
- Share testimonies about what happens.
- Share the project with the other churches in town.
- Talk about the world that God made as needing redemption and freeing from the curse of Gen 3. Part of that curse is humanity’s abuse of the planet.
- Find a project that even your Republican members can get excited about.
- Stop passing around petitions and talking politics. Get out your work gloves and go make a place better for God’s people having been there.
- Don’t go off into a year of closed-door sessions to talk about mission with just elders or just elders and staff.
- Have a Sunday morning class where the elders are part of the class and teach all this material and discuss it with staff and elders and everyone else there.
- For a bigger church, break it up into two or three classes, each focused on a different area.
- Use your best teachers — not necessarily your elders. Teach your elders how to participate as students without making “blocking” declarations — language that forecloses further discussion, such as “As long as I’m an elder, then this will never happen.” Or “How can you possibly mean …?” Really: some elders don’t know how to talk to the church without sounding like a banana-republic dictator. Coach them to encourage the members to talk — and for the elders to really listen — while also sharing their own thoughts. Don’t be tinpot dictators. Be disciples.
- Do the above stuff, and I don’t think evangelism will be a problem.