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Thursday, November 4, 2010

We're Not Looking to Get Members; We're Seeking to Catalyze Missionaries


Someone who belongs to a social group or an organization, especially individuals who have joined and participate in some manner. Members are entitled to the benefits, privileges, rights and responsibilities of membership.


A person, often in response to a compelling call to open people to one's deeply-held beliefs and convictions,who is sent on a mission to spread his or her faith, and/or provide educational, medical, or developmental help which enhances well-being: spiritual, physical, relational, and cultural. 

Last Saturday, I was graciously invited by Keith Tolley to participate in Vision ONE'S Leadership Intensive: Taking disciple-making to a HIGHER level. Vision ONE is dedicated to "Equipping and Connecting Local Church Leaders (in New England), for Disciple-making and Evangelism." It was expertly presented and chock-full of helpful concepts central to establishing a discipling culture as a way of life in the local church. As a result, I'm going to be applying this stuff in my role as Spiritual Formation Catalyst at imagine/Northampton.

Since the 2007 when I led a gathering called Conversations in our living room at the Center For Renewal in Simsbury, CT when missional concepts began to revolutionize my understanding of the nature of the church, I've been firmly convinced all Jesus-followers are by definition missionaries. At the end of December, 2009,  and into January of this year I wrote 4 blogposts on developing a missional mindset. Tricia and I are thinking about teaching the material from those posts in a Spiritual Formation group in January to help people develop their primary identities as a Jesus-followers committed to his mission in Northampton. Jim has taught about it on Sunday, and we talk about it all the time in our Leadership Team meetings. We've see it as part of imagine/Northampton's DNA since its inception.

So when we think about growing as a church, our main motivation isn't merely to add to our membership rolls: membership growth in and of itself is not of interest to us. By it's definition membership is about belonging, being a part of something. It doesn't necessarily imply being active in promoting the core values or spreading the mandate of the group to which one belongs. I can be a member of an organization such as AAA or the Musician's Union and not see it as my prime directive to get others involved. It's more about what I get from belonging.

To my point, one of the most vital conversations the Church has been having in the West for over a decade is about what it means to be the Church in a post-Christendom culture. It's no longer enough to be a friendly place where people go to receive spiritual services, whether they be great teaching, great programs, great worship or small groups. Consumer Christianity is being increasingly scrutinized by believers who are becoming convicted we're missing the mark in making a difference to people who want little to do with Christians today. It's no longer about attracting people with great stuff on Sunday or during the week; it's all about becoming an engaged, caring part of the community in such a way that we build true relationships or friendships with people who do not share our worldview. We love and serve them with passion, integrity and creativity, and pray like crazy Jesus will open their hearts so they can see him through us, and then maybe want to find out about this "God who is far more than they imagine.

imagine/Northampton has no "pathway" to becoming a member, in fact. We do not separate people into seekers, attenders, or members. We're looking for something more vigorous from people who cross our threshold and stick around:

1. We want them to become captivated by Jesus: what he's done for them; how he loves them beyond how they've ever been loved, and what he's calling them to.

2. We want them to be fascinated by the Kingdom of God: what it is; how it functions, and how they're invited to be a part of its unfolding.

3. We want them to be completely sold on the subversively redemptive mission of Jesus and the Kingdom: what it is; how it happens; and how they're called to be a missionary wherever they are.

4. We want them to see life as a missional Jesus-follower is their primary identity (all their other roles are platforms through which being a missionary takes place), and living in the Kingdom as a missionary is their WAY OF LIFE not just "my religion. faith or worldview."

In sum, imagine/Northampton as a church is working to be a supportive, creating culture of missionaries, a mission-infused community of people who love Jesus with abandon, love each other and love people around them with insight and abandon, including the "least of these," Jesus's brethren. We want to invite, heal, train, develop and support anyone who has decided to follow Jesus as their chosen way of living, their deepest longing and greatest joy.

I know we don't have it all worked out, to be sure, but we're underway, and glad Jesus has been so generous in letting us try to live this way with him in Northampton.

BTW: I'm not saying we'll pressure people into some sort of mold we call missional. You can come to imagine/Northampton and take the time you need to heal, understand and decide whether you'll dive into this way of life or not. We'll do our best to love, encourage, teach and support your unique journey. We won't downplay our mission, but neither will we force anyone into it. You'll simply have a clear opportunity to explore with us.
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