“Many rural congregations are engaged in countless acts of mission, often in informal ways that are so much incorporated into their church’s style escape notice.” L Shannon Jung and Mary A. Agria, “Rural Congregational Studies: A Guide for Good Shepherds.”
For three years, 2005 to 2008, I was engaged in a wonderful program called SHAPE, Sustaining Health and Pastoral Excellence. Church of God Ministries wrote a grant for funding back in 2003 I believe and it has become a major part of the landscape in the Church of God (Anderson). SHAPE is a creation of the Lilly Endowment Fund and is designed to help clergy and congregations becoming healthier and, I think, missional.
Now there is a product in this three-year process called a LAMP or Life and Ministry Plan. This is a flexible plan designed to help pastors focus their efforts and their lives in a God direction fashion.
I struggled, as did my group members, with developing my LAMP but this past November at a meeting our state office in Fishers, Indiana, it became clear and I was able to write my LAMP. It has three parts for this year and two of them are a part of the work I have done and will be doing in my county.
The first part is “To empower my church leadership for effective ministry.” This one address two of the ‘hallmarks’ of the SHAPE program as follows: Leadership, ‘The pastor is empowered to make an orchestrated impact on the community,’ and knowledge ‘The pastor can help congregations think in new ways about spirituality and community.’ I decided to make a visual reference for my LAMP and choose a battery as an illustration of empowerment.
The second part is “To learn as a leader through service on two community organizations and for the church at large.” The ‘hallmark’ addressed in this second part is: Leadership, ‘The pastor is empowered to make an orchestrated impact on the community.’ My visual reference for this part is a towel and bowl, used to signify service, as Jesus used a towel and basin to wash the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. I have outlined points of action for each plan and my writing in this blog is focused on the second part but I will also focus some of my thoughts on the first part as well.
In addition to the word ‘Emergent’ the word ‘Missional’ has been a word that has crept on my computer screen and in my reading the past several years. I think that it is a word that we cannot ignore in assessing and developing ministry in any location and one of the issues that I am dealing with regarding ‘missional’ is its use and ‘fit’ in a rural and small town context.
Now I have not read a great deal on missional churches and ministry and I acknowledge that at this point. But I have read a book that I believe provides a good starting point for understanding ‘missional’ churches and ministry. It is Milfred Minatrea’s book “Shaped By God’s Heart: The Passion and Practice of Missional Churches.” I enjoyed the book very much and since I consider myself a practitioner, the practice of missional churches is of interest to me.
This brings me back to the quote at the beginning of this post and to my continued reflections on Jung and Agria’s very helpful and thought provoking book. This concerns chapter 4 of their book: “Program: The Congregation Expressing Itself In Action.”
Minatrea defines missional churches as ‘reproducing community of authentic disciples, being equipped by missionaries sent by God, to live and proclaim His kingdom in their world.’ (p. 12) I also like his wording on page 17 ‘Missional churches are not just there on Sunday: they are determined to bring the transformational influence of Jesus Christ into their world everyday.’
I have italicized the word ‘their’ as I believe that this missional perspective is one that is reflected in Jung and Agria’s thought about mission in the rural community. They make a very good point in chapter four about rural churches recognizing that they have to adapt models of ministry to their situation.
However, to be missional is to not adopt a new model but a new mind-set, a new way of seeing and acting, that is outward focused through what my ministerial colleague Dr. Gerald Nevitt once called, ‘on mission through ministry.’
With all of this different points of thought, here a some reflections on chapter 4 and how the rural faith community has an impact on the wider rural community:
Mission is not just ‘over there’ but ‘right here.’ The influence of Jesus Christ (which is large and broad and deep and beyond just a ‘salvation experience’ but includes a firm resolve to follow Jesus as His disciple) is thus expressed in acts of service, in allowing a building to house ministries of caring and fellowship in a variety of contexts.
Worship is vital to congregants lives and must help them embrace the Kingdom of God as an ongoing presence and power in the community in which they live. Worship must call the church to embrace a revised language of mission not just maintenance.
Jung and Agria suggest that ‘In many communities, the church maybe the single public institution still intact and able to deal with the relentless pressure on the rural family and community.’ What I see these days in my town and county is the Church stepping forward to provide both service and leadership in a variety of ways.
The value of fellowship and relationship is a key value in being a missional community. Fellowship and relationship is necessary to both personal and congregational health. It is also an avenue to evangelism and discipleship because people matter to God.
Where this is leading me as regarding empowerment of my congregation’s leadership and as a community servant is to have our Ministry Council begin to move in a missional direction. I have begun this process by having them take a list of values and determine which values we operate by and then evaluating those values as to their impact on being missional.
Which leads me to ask the question, ‘What are missional values?