As our diocese continues to develop our common life Nancy Bryan has helpfully begun a regular e-newsletter of sorts to ensure we stay connected one to another. Included in these e-newsletters will be a brief article from me. Being our first such newsletter I thought I’d write you about that which is closest to my heart; developing healthy missional congregations.
Over the course of my ordained life I have continually observed that when a congregation goes flat it is usually because one aspect of their life is out of balance. As Anglicans entrusted with the great treasure of a rich liturgical life, we tend to do worship well. And, as I’ve traveled from parish to parish across our diocese we tend to love one another well. Most commonly it is the missional focus that has been lost.
So, how can you – and your parish – develop a heart that will grow an outwardly minded (mission minded) church? Here are five suggestions:
- Adopt the “apostolic” attitude found in Romans 1.5-6: “Through Him (Jesus) and for His name’s sake, we (you) received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles (unreached people) to the obedience that comes from faith.” Paul says that each one of us who has received grace for salvation has also received apostleship – meaning we have all been sent into the world as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5.20).
- Find neutral ground to reach out to the community. The possibilities are limited only by your creativity. In the Diocese of the Carolinas the Village Church in West Greenville, SC partners with other community volunteers to serve their neighborhood by offering free bicycle maintenance, bike learning (and bike earning) opportunities and community development. Called the Village Wrench they set up in a neighborhood of West Greenville on the first Saturday of every month. It is a tremendous bridge into the community giving pre-Christian people an opportunity to rub shoulders with Christians in a non-threatening atmosphere.
- Cultivate an evangelistic mindset. Think person-to-person, friend-to-friend, neighbor-to-neighbor, colleague-to-colleague. This, in fact, is much more important than any program or event your parish could implement. Twenty years ago George Hunter, the author of How to Reach Secular People, suggested that in our secular climate it takes twenty contacts(!) to build a bridge between your friend and Christ. The point is, stay engaged. Folks will want to see your faith lived out and that takes time.
- Spice up your evangelistic life with a little variety. Again, the evangelistic opportunities are endless. For example, if you hear a single mom has a sick child you could: bring her dinner, mow her lawn, bring in the mail, visit the child and pray for him/her, share how your faith helped you in a hard time, invite her to church – or a home group, be a friend, have coffee – build a bridge.
- Meet people where they are. Increasingly, the bankruptcy of our secular/pluralistic culture (materialism, atheism, skepticism) is being made clear. Our society has moved from pluralism (many truths) to relativism (no truth is more true than others) to post-post-modernism (what is truth?). Many in the church panic and become ashamed of the Gospel, feeling that the Bible is irrelevant to our modern world. NOTHING could be further from the truth. In fact, this kind of thinking reflects more clearly a worldly analysis than a biblical one. The Bible is still living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword – able to penetrate soul and spirit and judge the thoughts and attitudes of people’s hearts (Heb. 4.11).