Most evangelical churches in the UK do mission. They believe that doing mission is part of their evangelical responsibility as gospel people. They send money for mission, mission personnel are mentioned in their prayers and they sometimes arrange an event to hear about what is happening in another part of the UK or the wider world. But doing mission is not the same as being missional. Churches that do mission may well make a significant contribution to building the Kingdom of God, but the underlying ethos of most well established UK churches is not missional and certainly not intentionally missional.
There are certainly spiritual and discipleship issues that are behind this problem. If Christian individuals and churches were to grasp and live out the mission of God as it is proclaimed through the whole of the biblical record, we would have no problem. But there are at least two historical and structural issues that result in churches doing mission rather than being missional. Firstly, the Church lost its missional way and secondly, the UK church, more recently, has not been allowed to be missional.
The church lost its way missionally
From the beginning of Christendom, services have been the primary evidence and event of the church. We have buildings for services (many of our church buildings are suitable for services and nothing else), furniture for services, officiators for services, clothes for services, music for services, utensils for services, special words (liturgies) for services, biddings and benedictions for services. In most UK churches today, the majority of effort, practice, rehearsal and leader's time goes into preparing the Sunday morning 'service'. And that 'service' is primarily for those that belong. We are making the 'in crowd' feel important, comfortable and accepted. Our experience each week shows us that the church is about the bums of the faithful on seats!
It is a pastoral model of church. A church leader's key task should be 'to prepare God's people for works of service' (Eph 4:12) but we call many of them 'pastors' and that indicates the way we think about church. Pastoral care is important, but it should be a management role in the church. Leadership should be missional.
The church is not being allowed to be missional
For the last hundred years the UK church has not being encouraged to be missional because other organisations have been set up with the express purpose of doing mission. Mission agencies, evangelistic organisations, mission halls and various outreach groups have been focused on preaching the gospel and sharing the good news in a great variety of creative ways. Some have specialised in a particular approach and become experts in their ministry. Many have been very effective and many Christians look back to a 'para-church' group and are thankful for all they learnt through its ministry.
But simply because they have existed, the church has continued to be sidelined in its missional role. How does a church now begin to get involved in a particular ministry when an organisation has many years experience and is well known for expertise?
For most of the last 200 years, churches have been expected to 'do mission' through the 'pay and pray' approach. Organisations have done mission on behalf of and in the name of the church, with the church's financial and prayerful support. It will take time and a lot of persuasion to change the perception.
Mission the 'organising function' of churches
As Mike Frost explained so clearly during his visit to the UK in 2008, worship has been the 'organising function' of churches under Christendom. An intentionally missional church will have mission as the 'organising function'. Many new and young churches are establishing themselves with mission as their organising function, but there are two major problems we still face.
Firstly, changing the culture of a church from being pastorally centred to being missionally centred is almost impossible. Very few established churches have managed to make the change. Secondly, churches that have been recently founded as missional churches have very often rejected the valuable experience that para-church groups can offer. They often assume that if they have any contact with an organisation, it will take over and dominate them. There will always be an important and valuable role for specialist agencies in supporting, advising and serving the churches in mission.
The characteristics of an intentionally missional church
1. Vision – the dominant and priority vision of a missional church is to see the Kingdom of God expanded by gospel proclamation and social action. Mission is not limited by geography or method. How healthy a church is, how much it has achieved in the past year, its aim for the coming year and its 5/10 year goal will all be determined by mission.
2. Decisions – all decisions at every level will be made of the basis of mission opportunities and prospects. "If it does not involve mission, we will not do it."
3. Equipping/Empowering – the church will make it a priority to train, equip and mentor its members in mission. This will involve helping Christians identify where they can naturally do mission and giving them confidence to make the most of these opportunities. Secondly, it will also involve identifying new circumstances where they can be involved in mission together and thirdly, decide which mission projects will be supported by the church.
4. Preaching/Teaching/Learning – the Bible will be taught through a mission hermeneutic. This means that it will be assumed that mission is the over-riding message, focus, fabric and structure of the whole Bible – Genesis to Revelation; that all the issues that the Bible covers have to be understood in terms of their affect on and contribution to mission. The Bible will be taught not just as valuable spiritual wisdom but to equip Christians to respond to the questions and issues that they face as they do mission.
5. Worship – worship will be inspired by missional concepts:
- Firstly, the glory of God which is enhanced when people come to acknowledge him as Lord through mission.
- Secondly, the prospect of worship in heaven when people from every tribe, language, people and nation will gather round the throne. (Rev 7)
- Thirdly, worship will be enhanced and invigorated by the testimony of those come to faith and being blessed by God through mission as it is in heaven. (Luke 15:7)
6. Community – Fellowship will be vital because of the challenges, pressures and attacks that Christians are facing as they reach out in mission. People are drawn together when they unitedly attempt a task or face a challenge.