Preparing and Modeling Mission in Your Ministry
Three ways pastors can prepare and train the church for ministry
We have a gap problem in evangelical churches today. According to a study I led at LifeWay Research, 72 percent of unchurched people believe the church is “full of hypocrites,” but 78 percent said they would be willing to listen to someone who wants to share what they believe about Christianity.
Yet, not a lot of people are actually having the conversation with the 78 percent who are willing to listen.
When LifeWay Research asked Protestant churchgoers how many times they shared with someone how to become a Christian in the last six months, the most common answer was “zero.”
And, when asked whether they invited their friends to attend church, the numbers didn’t get much better.
Few are talking — and someone needs to model the way.
You Have the Power
The greatest factor in missional engagement in a church is the local pastor. Pastors have the practical responsibility to prepare and train the church for ministry. They have the God-given organizational authority to lead and oversee a local church. They also have the spiritual responsibility to disciple their congregation toward repentance, faith and mission.
Your people are following, but where are you leading? There are often roadblocks and distractions when it comes to reaching the unchurched and the dechurched. Practical needs of running a church — such as budget, counseling appointments, conflicts and other duties — seem to get in the way of ministry.
It’s tempting to become distracted by the need for measurable growth, perfecting worship services, and the next event to boost the church’s reputation. Many times, the roadblocks (which you can’t control) and distractions (which you can control) make missional engagement nearly impossible.
You Have a Decision to Make
I believe the enemy’s primary strategy against the Church is not to turn pastors toward deviant sin or errant theology, but to distract us with (seemingly) good commissions that pull us away from the Great Commission.
Events, sermon series and children’s programs honor God. But in the absence of your congregation reaching friends and neighbors for Jesus, programs are idols that take the place of the Great Commission.
It’s easy to say, “I’ll do this when X happens,” or, “I’ll have time once I do X.” If you wait until there are no more fires to put out, you won’t prepare your people for missional engagement.
The greatest factor in missional engagement in a church is the local pastor.
The first step is a spiritual change — a growing conviction that intentionally spending time with the lost is something the church must do. The Great Commission is more vital than the good commissions you turn down.
Next, there must be a rational change to embrace the benefit in preparing for mission. Statistically, churches see more people come to Jesus when they reach the unchurched.
“The number one predictive factor, according to researchers: Churches with more converts tended to attract and keep more unchurched people,” LifeWay Research reported. “Pastors of churches with the most retained converts were more likely (35 percent) to say half of their congregation used to be unchurched. That dropped to 18 percent for churches with the fewest retained converts.”
After spiritual and rational change, there must be a volitional change with how you spend your time. Whatever you value will be what you devote your energy to. This decision will come at a cost, but if it’s the most important thing, your calendar (and the church’s calendar) will reflect it.
How to Prepare and Model Mission
If you’re convinced of the need for a shift, the next question is, “How?” Here are three ways:
Reach your neighbors. Change begins with you. The fruit, challenge, and heartache you experience on mission for your neighborhood will overflow into how you lead your staff, disciple your people, and preach in your pulpit.
Consistently, host community events at your house, and go to your neighbors, invitation in hand. Use these events to feed into a Bible study that explores faith in Jesus. This will force you to block time in your family’s schedule to be present as missionaries in your neighborhood.
Invite others. As you start to develop this rhythm, invite key church leaders. This will deepen your relationships with them, and give you a chance to model how to lead an evangelistic-focused community. As they show gifting, let them coordinate the event at your home. Give them an opportunity to facilitate spiritual discussions.
This puts church members in relational proximity to non-Christians in the community, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in them and you to identify areas of growth and discipleship needed to carry this vision forward.
Learn the language. Listen closely to three things with your neighbors: what they celebrate, what they mourn, and what stories they tell. Just like overseas missionaries learn the language of a foreign culture, you should learn the language of the people you are trying to reach. Use this knowledge to model your teachings and disciple-making, and speak directly to the mission field around you.
These beginning steps help bridge the gap that people often feel. Many have had negative experiences in church, or tangential experiences via the media or entertainment industry, but have not encountered the true life of Jesus expressed through His followers.
Opening your home, modeling the love and simplicity of the gospel, and creating a safe place to ask questions about God and faith can help awaken unbelievers to the love of Christ — and believers to the spiritual needs in the community.
It begins with you, pastor. As you speak the gospel to your neighbors, your church will follow.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2018 edition of Influence magazine.