There has been a lot of talk about what it means to be a “missional” church. A lot of people have written books, and a case could be put that 6 Radical Decisions was just another in that same vein.As I handed the book to Jeremy and the two other guys, I knew that what God was asking of me was to show how it might actually work. That didn’t mean the shift to being a pastor was an easy one. It was a real identity crisis. (I wrote a little about it here.)
The Second Radical Decision is the truth that we all have a mission, not just the pastors and missionaries. We are all called to be ambassadors of the Kingdom and for each one of us the way this is worked out is different. We all have a unique calling.
I remember sitting down with the Associate Pastor, Nathan, in my first week of work and starting the wrestle with how that would actually look.
The church had started “discover partnerships” which sounded a lot like what I was writing about and calling “Kingdom Cells” except that they were not focussed around vocation as much as fellowship. We chatted for a while as to what it might look like to encourage vocational fellowships and the conversation reminded me that vocation is not something that can be programmed, managed or controlled by a church structure.
Ephesians 4 talks about the role of church leadership being to equip people so that they might become mature and more fully grow up into Jesus. Structure is about control and control won’t help us get to where we need to go. I needed to trust that Jesus was already at work and that it was my task to help the congregation see what He was already up to rather than trying to whip up enthusiasm for anything new. That realization helped shape a four part strategy.
So I started to do four things. The first one was that I dug out a little video camera and started producing 4 minute stories about our people. I don’t have a background in video production so the quality wasn’t brilliant, but something started to shift as people started to appreciate each other in a new way.
One of my favourite stories was about Kevin, a guy in our church who was managing a roofing business and was starting to discover that what he thought was a business was actually a ministry.
The team could see the benefit of the videos but had a higher value for production than my limited skills could deliver on, so we found a freelance video producer who was able to work with us on producing these weekly stories. You can see some of his handiwork here: http://staalliance.org/resources/apprenticeship-stories/
The second thing we started to do, as we told more and more of our people’s stories, was that we started to use different language in our preaching. One of the things we have started to say repetitively is that “We are on a journey from being one ministry to being 600 ministries.” We started using the language of calling and vocation and did a sermon series on “Sabbath and Vocation”.
Starting to redefine mission as something that we are all called to is a shift for the church generally. As I have written about before on this site, there has been a prevailing paradigm that needs to shift if this understanding is to take hold. I used to be worried about whether the church would be able to shift. Now I’m learning to relax as I understand that Jesus is the head of his church and He is able to shift it however he wants. The more I head down this path, the more I see his hand at work.
One of the things that I had no idea about as I prepared myself for the journey of serving as a pastor in the Alliance church, was that the President of the Alliance’s University in Canada (Ambrose), Gordon Smith, had been on his own journey after growing up in the Alliance denomination with a very narrow view of what mission was about. He had come, like me to see that empowering people to discover and fulfill their God given callings was essential for the future of the church, and had written a very helpful book, Courage and Calling. We used his book in the sermon series and it continues to be a reference as we wrestle with what it means to head in this direction. I will write more about the training we have implemented, but one course, called “Stepping into your story“, that I have developed is also based heavily on Smith’s book.
The third thing I did as we tried to establish a culture where it was normal to be speaking about calling and vocation, was establish a weekly gathering for guys who were wresting with what it meant to be an apprentice of Jesus in the workplace. Building on my experience in Fusion, I knew there was power when people simply shared their stories with one another and carried each other in prayer. Men@Work (did you spot the Aussie reference?) has been going now for 2 and a half years on Tuesday mornings from 6 a.m to 7 a.m. The weekly gathering averages 15 people, with about 30 guys part of the group from time to time. Every morning we start our time together with someone reading a simple statement:
The purpose of this gathering is to be a band of brothers, coming together once a week, to encourage and equip one another in the mission that each one of us is entrusted by Jesus.
We recognize that in coming together in the name of Jesus, we are in a sacred space. In recognition of this, we commit to being as honest as we know how with each other, not avoiding the truth for the sake of comfort.
In addition we also commit to our gathering being a place of grace. We know that each one of us makes mistakes, doesn’t see the whole truth and serve imperfectly. We are held together by the grace of Jesus.
I’m not really a morning person, so getting there at 5:30 every Tuesday morning almost kills me, but as I lock up at around 7:30 it is usually with a smile on my face as I am fascinated by the remarkable diversity and gifts of the guys who have turned up.
The fourth thing we did was start to host art exhibitions in our foyer. We discovered that amongst us were talented people who were clearly called to express their creativity through the arts. The exhibitions are just a start. We want to be the kind of church that nurtures the creativity that is so important in reflecting the majesty of the creator God.
So that’s some of the ways we are working towards reframing mission as vocation in the church. Things are shifting but we still have a long way to go. As I will write about next though, I found that God wanted to expand my thinking about mission in very practical ways.