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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Should The Church See Itself As A Missional Team?

Before I head into my thoughts I should state  I know the Church cannot be reduced simply to one aspect of its nature. I'm not practicing a mild reductio ad absurdum. I understand it's the Body of Christ from all over the world comprising all who've gone before, are now,  and are to come. I know it has many functions as God's now-and-not-yet Kingdom: hospital, sanctuary, training center, worship center, community, prophetic counterpoint, defender and advocate for the poor and powerless, sojourning witness, missionary presence, spiritual household away from Home, etc. Through the church, God's redemptive purposes are learned and lived out in the world by summoned people no matter their pedigree or place.

Ever since I read about the Church's DNA being missional from the writings of guys in the last 5-10 years, I've been intrigued by what missional actually looks like, particularly in terms of how an individual church understands itself, how it develops its culture, toward what ends it uses its resources, and how its people conduct their lives together and apart. In the process of actually helping lead a church trying to be missional in Northampton, MA, I've been asking similar questions as imagine/Northampton works out its way of being missional.

As I've been fond of doing lately, let's begin with two key definitions: what is a missional church and what is a team?

"A missional church is a unified body of believers, intent on being God’s missionary presence to the indigenous community that surrounds them, recognizing that God is already at work." (Brad Brisko,
 "A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable." (Katzenbach and Smith, 1993)

Notice  both definitions include the idea that the people involved are engaged in a commonly held purpose. It means something important to them, and forms a certain identity and culture. It implies informed dedication. Being "intent" and "committed" characterize a church with a clearly-stated mission. While individual people using their gifts may work toward the mission differently,even uniquely, they will still do so being unified around its essentials and mandates. Brisko calls it being "intent on being God's missionary presence to the indigenous community that surrounds them." Focused intent and unified commitment characterize a missional team.

I also think it important to note the idea of "performance goals" and accountability. I've been in the church in one form or another for 38 years. I know accountability and performance make people gun-shy when it comes to all things church because of grievous abuses in highly legalistic or controlling churches which turn Jesus-following into communities of fear and failure. I'm not advocating anything remotely of the sort. I've had the blessing of being involved mostly with churches which live grace-filled community.

The problem I've seen is that, beyond perhaps the pastor, elders, paid staff, worship team, and folks who work with kids, other church members were not held to account regarding any sort of missional "performance." We don't like thinking that way. It feels foreign. Church is not about performance; it's about freedom, love, grace and acceptance. Well yeah, but even the Scriptures call us all to account over certain spiritual , moral and ethical "best practices." "Running the race," implies more than strolling about. We abhor pressuring anyone into stepping up the the plate

I think performance and mutual accountability are quite appropriate missionally, similar to the way someone's work can be "measured." If we have no way to examine how all of us on the Kingdom team are doing with living our agreed mission, we have little way of knowing if we're actually doing what we said we'd do. It doesn't have to be done in a ham-fisted manner at all, but I think it is healthy to periodically examine the team (church) and its individual missionaries to grow at serving God who "is already at work" in our surrounding communities.

In turn, knowing each other's "complementary skills" for the mission makes us all aware of how God has mustered a group of people to a particular church in a certain community with specific work for them to do. We can see his economy of gifts and unleash them together to pursue the goals we've been given. When we're aware of each other's gifts in the mission we can be more intelligent about how we graciously support and challenge one another to "seize the day" as the Spirit summons. Awareness is power with focus for opportunity.

With the above said, I think the Church should see itself as a missional team. As soon as you use the term "team" you suggest a unified identity with a commonly held purpose and unfolding direction. Team implies we're gathered to do something; it's action oriented, not a place or program. So church becomes dynamically more than Sunday morning worship, a place of education and nurture, or a theological bulwark against the encroaching world. If we do not think of ourselves as a missional team, it's easy to settle into being spiritual consumers just trying to get by being the best heaven-bound people we can be rather than missionaries summoned by God at a particular time in redemptive history to love and serve others while building relationships to open them to Jesus.

Well-formed and functioning teams in sports, in combat or at work have a specific mandate and everything they do serves that mandate. There is focus, clarity, meaning and belonging derived from the mandate and the team pursuit of it. Why should it be different in church culture? Our goal is not to win championships, increase profits or defend our way of life from interlopers; our goal is to follow Jesus into all the places where all expressions of death reign in this world and offer the redemptive Kingdom of life one person at a time. For the Church to intentionally shoulder identity as a missional team with that express purpose acts as a laser rather than a scattergun.

I choose the laser. I think we all should . . . and together.
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