The commission that Jesus gives His Church demands that she remain on missionary footing “to the very end of the age.” [Mt 28:18-20] The Lord’s command is a cycle of preparation and movement, two ongoing actions: spiritual preparation and the spread of the gospel. When a church experiences the pressures and discouragement of plateau or decline, the missional footing becomes less sure, and the temptation is to retreat from the frontline to regroup. In most cases, this retreat becomes the norm. The revitalization pastor facing this reality has no choice but to nurse the spiritually wounded back to health and lead them once more to their community and the world beyond. A healthy church is consistently missional.
Being missional in ministry and outlook is not an innovation reserved for the younger churches in the family. The term describes the expected qualities of every church as they view their role in the larger Family of God. Every church is a citizen of both a locality and the kingdom, and the way this looks is unique to every context. Mission is not exclusive to foreign fields or underserved communities; the charge given by the Lord starts right where a disciple finds him or herself. [cf. Acts 1:8] Ignoring this local context while sending disciples across the ocean or to distant neighborhoods, the church finds herself out of place, disconnected from her parish while believing that she is playing her part in the kingdom mission.
“The gospel always comes as the testimony of a community which, if it is faithful, is trying to live out the meaning of the gospel in a certain style of life, certain ways of holding property, of maintaining law and order, of carrying on production and consumption, and so on. Every interpretation of the gospel is embodied in some cultural form.”Lesslie Newbigin ‘Gospel in a Pluralist Society‘
In a church looking toward renewal, mission is often narrowly defined by the support and celebration of foreign missionaries, without equal attention to the neighborhood the church calls home. Revitalization begins with a restored vision of the community, a renewed belief that God was intentional in placing your church where it is. The demographics of the neighborhood may have changed over the years, the economic measure of a place may have shifted in one direction or another, but two things remain consistent: the mission of the Church and the power of the gospel. A fresh vision of what both mean for your community should be a chief topic of prayer among the faithful remnant. Challenging the church’s view of “the other” is a hard conversation that needs to be had. Loving those others must once-again be viewed as a debt [Romans 13:8-10] owed. A firm missional stance is the footing from which the first steps of renewed life in the church can be taken.
In an earlier post [The Inner Shaping of Mission], I emphasized the inseparable nature of discipleship and mission. The Missio Dei cannot be accomplished other than by disciples who are growing in spiritual maturity. [cf. Hebrews 6:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18] The axiom that we cannot give what we do not have applies here. The mission of the church requires vision and action, gospel vision developed through discipleship and action motivated by the same. Revitalization requires discernment to judge the preparation of the faithful in relation to these twin requirements. Renewal may require retreat from the outward expressions of mission for a season while you reengage the discipleship of the saints.
The North American Baptist Conference has four principles that guide ministry throughout their churches. These principles [called End Goals by the NAB] are interconnected and intended to be understood as a whole. Ministry flows through each of the principles to form a holistic, missional philosophy of the Church in the world. The thoughts above are an interaction with End Goal 1: NAB Churches will be trained for missional and formational ministries. In an article written by Executive Director Harry Kelm, the following paragraph appears:
Missionally and formationally multiplying is why the NAB plants churches, which has always been a commitment of the NAB. We plant churches with the intention of reaching people with the Love (of) God in Jesus. Missionally and formationally ministering is embedded in all our End Goals and in who God is calling us to be. Onward Spring 2023
In addition to church planting, these principles should also guide revitalization efforts. As with the church plant, the legacy church has a place in being and proclaiming the gospel to their community. Use the principles to evaluate the alignment of your church’s ministry and leadership with the vision embedded in the Goals. Teach them and shape your efforts to reach your community and the world with the love of Christ and the hope of shalom.