If you are new to this blog....

Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Friday, February 27, 2009

vii - reflections on missional

The following is part seven of a workshop I taught at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) “Gearing Up” conference in Atlanta. The content and illustrations are from life at Good Shepherd, but I was trying to identify key transferable concepts, particularly for life in smaller churches (though I hope they would transfer into any context).

As a final piece to this series, I’d like to offer a few miscellaneous reflections.

First, the mess…

Changing church cultural and a congregational identity in any way is messy. And being missional is messy. So know that it’s coming. As we first began to turn outward, I preached on the messiness of the Gospel and following Christ into the world. I think it is much easier to brace for the mess and EMBRACE the mess than try to react to it when it comes. What is the mess? It is people showing up in church who don’t look like you or talk like you. It’s young adults starting to come who don’t know better than to bring their Starbucks coffee right into worship and drink it right through. It’s folks who don’t know the Presbyterian dress code for worship. (Mind you, these are sacred cows… I’m just describing the interior thoughts some of us might have when our old, old way of DOING church is transformed into BEING the Church.) It’s new children and teens showing up without parents because the youth group is reaching outside of itself. Who will sit with them? Who will keep them still? Do they need to be still? Mess, mess, mess. And that’s just the start! What if you start seeing homeless, broken, homosexual, addicted, not-put-together folks IN church because you are reaching out to them OUT of church? Now that, I’ve told my congregation, is GLORIOUS MESS! (Of course, convincing your brain of what your heart has accepted is sometimes a difficult transition!)

Second, the slowness…

I’ve alluded to this in the previous post, comparing the change in congregational culture to raising children. But man, it is sloooooooooooooow. When I came to Good Shepherd, full of Jesus-loving, scripture-following, evangelical Christians, I just knew that we would find a common vision and BOOM – we’d be off to the races. A year or two in, having confirmed that these people had a heart for the world and agreed that we should be involved in evangelism and mercy ministry that BOOM – it would happen. But knowing something and doing something are two different things, especially when there has long been a disconnect between the two. And so, here I am seven years later, no boom and slightly fewer members than I started with. Some days, it’s very discouraging. But wait… it’s like raising kids. I do strongly believe we are being transformed and conformed into a people who more closely share the heart of God. You know the “terrible two’s?” For one of my kids it was the terrible threes – and that felt like about ten years. But, it’s long past now, and she is an amazing kid on her way to young woman. So it is with the church. I look back to years two, three, four… the ideas were out there, but there was so little forward motion. In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint when the transformation and growth happened, but we are not the same church in 2009 that we were in 2002, 2005, or even two years ago. This congregation is an amazing group on the way to something even more amazing… patience, vision, repetition, patience, thankfulness, diligence, perseverance, patience…

Third, some phrases that have stuck…

I started off the series saying that we need to figure out how to talk about “missional” using our own words. And what I’ve found is that once people really “get it” they will find their own ways to talk about their calling and identity. I didn’t start into this with a set of pre-fab phrases, but several ways of talking about the concepts have emerged in the life of our church. If you grabbed any random Good Shepherd member and said one of these, they would surely say, “Oh yeah, we hear that all the time!” But they would also get it and be able to tell you all about what it means (I hope!!). Here are a few…

“Lighthouse and searchlight” – the key metaphor… and it is so highly visual, drawable, dramatize-able, and liveable!

“Get up and get out” – often part of my benediction… sounds kind of like “go away!” doesn’t it? But, it’s part of our sending… and I say it more intentionally than it reads.

“What is God doing and how can I be a part?” – the key question for personal ministry and mission as well as for our collective ministry and mission. It keeps God’s actions in the forefront and our response where it needs to be.

“Personal ministry, personal mission” – our individual way of living out a missional identity

“Tell God’s story; tell your story; learn the other’s (neighbor’s) story” – evangelism set in a missional framework of getting out, loving neighbor, and identifying what God is doing in the world and in one’s own life.

FEEDBACK: If you have thoughts about this series on “missional” or want to interact in any way, I invite you to do so in the comments or to e-mail me at robert@gspc.net.

vi - repeating, reviewing, reminding, repeating missional

The following is part six of a workshop I taught at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) “Gearing Up” conference in Atlanta. The content and illustrations are from life at Good Shepherd, but I was trying to identify key transferable concepts, particularly for life in smaller churches (though I hope they would transfer into any context).

The title really says it all. Nonetheless, the point needs to be made. “Missional” is not a label to slap on programs, nor a program to be run. To be truly missional, for most of us, means a change in identity to see ourselves not as those collected by God, but those sent by God.

To invite and pursue such a change of identity within a whole congregation takes more than one killer conference or one super-sermon. It takes constant teaching, illustrating, embodiment, prayer, and a holy transformation (God has to handle that last one!).

I have compared the transformation that is happening in our church to the process of raising children (and I have three of those). My kids have grown so much since they were born, but they are only part way grown. And raising them to maturity (obviously) takes more than a parenting class, a good parent-kid talk, or any other short term interaction. It is a formative process that takes their entire childhood (and a significant portion of my adult life). Like parenting, the process of shaping a congregational identity and culture is slow going. Some days I get frustrated by not seeing explosive growth (numerically or outwardly). But if I pause to look back one year, or three, or five, it’s not the same congregation. We are growing significantly, with God’s help and blessing. Much like my kids, I believe we have made it to a kind of awkward early adolescence. It’s an exciting place to be, and there is so much more in store for us!

Just as parenting involves lessons and actions repeated, reviewed, reminded, and repeated, so do the lessons and actions of becoming a more missional congregation. I have already described some of the communication involved, and it’s not like I keep rehashing the same sermons and lessons. But if scripture and our Christian identity is outward-focused after God’s own heart, it becomes hard to preach any sermon or make any application that doesn’t relate somehow to that identity and mission.

From time to time, I will see my children make decisions and behave in ways that demonstrate our parental “imprinting.” I’m not right there with them anymore, and they don’t know (necessarily) that I’m watching… but their identity is forming and it becomes evident who they are becoming.

Likewise, I see members of the congregation owning their “lighthouse” identity. They paint pictures of the lighthouse; they verbalize their sentness in their own words. Disciples are making disciples. That’s exciting!

NEXT: reflections on missional

Sunday, February 22, 2009

v - inviting missional

The following is part five of a workshop I taught at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) “Gearing Up” conference in Atlanta. The content and illustrations are from life at Good Shepherd, but I was trying to identify key transferable concepts, particularly for life in smaller churches (though I hope they would transfer into any context).

Transforming congregational identity goes hand in hand with transforming personal calling. I have used two phrases again and again over the past few years to try to awaken people to their calling. The first of those phrases is “personal ministry and personal mission.” The idea is that every member of the church has gifts, talents, interests, and a calling from God to be a missionary and a minister in some sphere unique to them. That may be work, school, the home, the neighborhood, or any number of settings. But mission and ministry won’t be something the church does well until it is something that individuals do well. We must “get it” personally before it takes off collectively.

The second way I’ve worked to invite personal ministry is with this two-part question: “What is God doing and how can I be a part?” Behind that question is the theological assumption that God IS doing something in the world, specifically acting to seek and save the lost. This question causes us to look for what God is doing and then join with God in ministry in the world.

I have tried to extend this invitation frequently and in different ways. One way was through a response card, which sets the identification of gifts, talents, and interests in the context of that “What is God doing and how can I be a part?” question. A few final questions also helped identify whether a person was called to existing ministries or new ones. One thing I also say frequently is that if someone feels called to use their gifts in ministry or mission that the church will do all we can to encourage, equip, support, and bless that calling.

The response card had the following on the back…
____ I already have a personal ministry/mission and would be willing to share about it in the newsletter to encourage others and witness to what God is doing.
____ I would like to be a part of what God is doing, but need some help getting “plugged in”
____ I am interested in developing a personal ministry/mission and have some ideas of what that might be.
Whether you are already engaged in personal ministry/mission or have some ideas of what that might look like, please describe briefly below. It does not matter if Good Shepherd is currently “doing” this ministry or not.

NEXT: repeating, reviewing, reminding, repeating missional

Friday, February 20, 2009

iv - evaluating missional

The following is part four of a workshop I taught at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) “Gearing Up” conference in Atlanta. The content and illustrations are from life at Good Shepherd, but I was trying to identify key transferable concepts, particularly for life in smaller churches (though I hope they would transfer into any context).

Not only is constant communication an essential part of accepting a new identity as a church, but so is evaluation… of existing activities as well as future activities. I would use the word “ruthless” except it sounds so negative. Let’s just say we have been very, very persistent in asking whether an activity has a high lighthouse or searchlight value and taking things we are already doing and pressing ourselves to raise the lighthouse and searchlight value.

At one particular office retreat, we brainstormed to list missions and ministries that we either were already engaged in or thought God might call us to be engaged in. By the time we were done, several hundred activities had been named, from choir to Vacation Bible School to our new drama ministry. And we would ask, “Is the drama ministry a lighthouse/searchlight ministry? If not, how could it become one? And if so, how could we grow it further in that direction?”

What we’ve found is that even with explanation and pressing, we tend to think of better and better ways to attract people to come to us. If two full-length original plays a year is good, then adding intermission popcorn would be better… more lighthouse-y… more of a draw. What was really hard was pressing ourselves outside our walls! But, it’s doable. For example, we connected our drama ministry with the major mission field of the public elementary school. The connections may not be obvious at first, but persist! After several stalled attempts to meet the new principal, we did and found out about character traits emphasized monthly. The principal and our person who writes skits and plays quickly locked onto the idea of bringing a small team from the church to do a skit in assembly on the trait of the month: honesty, kindness, etc… Months later, we pressed even farther – what about a few church members whose children go to that school and who are involved in our drama starting a drama club and seeing if we could cultivate the opportunity for OP (elementary kids) at the school to do the skits for their peers!

Here is the first line of a grid I prepared for evaluating current and proposed missions. It uses the example of updating our website (which we did). We moved from a very self-focused website to one with the primary goal of reaching out to our unchurched neighbors. The first tab was for them - why Christianity? why God? We offered meeting space to neighborhood associations and other groups. (We've since updated again to a blog format... but same outreach priority.)

I would add that sometimes it is helpful to ask someone from outside the church to help see these opportunities. i'm not talking about a high-priced consultant... just any mission-focused friend who isn't part of your church and who hasn't driven by the mission field every week for 20 years. Is there a high school near your church? Do you need ideas for venturing into that mission field? Consider taking a group regularly to the high school football games and just cheering enthusiastically for "your team." You'll meet parents and other teens soon enough as you become regulars. Or volunteer to staff the concession stand. Get up and get out!

With all the brainstorming we did at that retreat,
there were several hundred ministries and missions on the chart. And these were congregational/group ministries. (The next part will explore personal ministries and missions.) A simple sort in Excel helped us identify a “top 10” for the coming year that were maxed out for lighthouse and searchlight and which were low cost in terms of dollars! Those ten became our goal for 2007.

Click to enlarge...

NEXT: inviting mission

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

iii - envisioning missional

The following is part three of a workshop I taught at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) “Gearing Up” conference in Atlanta. The content and illustrations are from life at Good Shepherd, but I was trying to identify key transferable concepts, particularly for life in smaller churches (though I hope they would transfer into any context).

At one officer retreat, we looked at the expansion of the Church in Acts and the outward growth from Jerusalem to Judea/Samaria to the ends of the earth.

We talked about ministry inside the church (our Jerusalem, though still with a keen “lighthouse” focus). We talked about our “Judea, Samaria, and beyond” and compared it to mission within 1, 6, and 25 miles of the church. We focused on the one-mile radius, identifying neighborhoods, missions, and mission partners.

There are 2000 households within one mile of our church! (that’s 5000-8000 people!).

At first blush, one might identify no mission field other than homes. Historically our mission committee send funds to downtown Charlotte agencies (Crisis Assistance, men’s shelter, etc…) and foreign missionaries. But as we pressed in and got out into the near-neighborhood, we have identified several key mission fields: a public elementary school (1000+ students), an upscale shopping complex “campus”, two men’s group homes, and a subsidized housing project, …and all the 2000 households. Wow – there is more than first meets the eye!

There are also significant mission partners in the one mile radius: five churches who have historically shared a Thanksgiving service together. What else could we partner and do?!

We focused on God’s call to be faithful with a little (our near neighborhood), but noted the potential for a six-mile ministry area, partnered with two nearby PCUSA congregations and a broader 25-mile ministry with six PCUSA congregations with whom we have a number of connections already.

Alongside the opportunity to envision the whole congregation as a lighthouse/searchlight church, we also began talking about God’s call for each individual to identify and engage in personal ministry and mission. More on that under the “inviting” section later.

NEXT: evaluating missional

ii - communicating missional

The following is part two of a workshop I taught at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) “Gearing Up” conference in Atlanta. The content and illustrations are from life at Good Shepherd, but I was trying to identify key transferable concepts, particularly for life in smaller churches (though I hope they would transfer into any context).

For many, a missional way of being church will require more than reading a book or attending a seminar. It will require an identity-change. This is not something that happens overnight! After a period of study in my own life, the season of teaching on lighthouse/searchlight church began with an officer/staff retreat in August of 2006. I spent 8 hours with my elders, deacons, and staff poring through the scripture and applications of it our personal lives and the life of the church… and then again in 2007 and again in 2008…

Here are some slides from the Officer Retreat:

The slides show some of the key meaning and questions around the images of "lighthouse" and "searchlight." These have become significant metaphors for understanding our missional identity.

The officers and staff were just the first stage. After that August 2006 retreat, I began preaching and teaching regularly (and haven’t stopped). There were several explicit sermons on
lighthouse/searchlight themes, but most every week there is some tie-in or application… go figure – God’s heart for the world is evident in most every scripture passage! I also found it helpful to bring in some other voices – like the Michael Frost video (analysis/reaction here: 1 2 3) from a PGF event. I didn’t agree with everything, but our Wednesday night study group worked through the hour-long video in 3-4 weeks, evaluating (and practicing – we drove the neighborhood one night) as we went.

I also began this blog as a way to keep missional themes before me and interact with some folks beyond the church.

NEXT: envisioning missional

i - defining missional

The following is part of a workshop I taught at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) “Gearing Up” conference in Atlanta. The content and illustrations are from life at Good Shepherd, but I was trying to identify key transferable concepts, particularly for life in smaller churches (though I hope they would transfer into any context).

I intentionally avoid using the word “missional.” It sounds like a buzzword and a fad. Plus, I was sold on being missional before I ever heard the word. (I am going to use it in this series for search purposes.)

Further, to really understand and BE missional, one has to understand the word, not just use it. It’s not enough to slap the label on a program: “we’ve renamed our men’s ministry M3: missional men’s ministry.” In order to live it, preach it, develop it, etc. you’ve got to “get it” (understand it).

At Good Shepherd, a two-fold master analogy and image emerged as I tried to internalize, embody, and communicate these themes.

LIGHTHOUSE is an image that describes God’s rescue, redemption, and calling of a people out of the dark world. The gathered community serves as a lighthouse to the surrounding community: housing the light, harboring those in need of refuge and sanctuary, and serving as a secure beacon in the midst of storm and darkness. (Clearly, if no one knows your church is on the corner, it’s hard to be a lighthouse!)

SEARCHLIGHT is an image that that describes participation in God’s mission to seek and save the lost. It is the gathered community getting up and getting out to bear the light into the dark world. I will further explore these two images in a subsequent post.

When I first encountered Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) in 2006, they didn’t use the word missional either. They talked about being “inwardly strong and outwardly focused.” This is helpful: it describes to people what it means to be missional in a memorable way.Figure out how to talk about “being missional” in a way that people can understand… and then don’t stop talking about it and living it out!

NEXT: communicating missional

Monday, February 09, 2009

upcoming fun

In addition to moderating my first presbytery meeting next Saturday (Valentine's Day!)... and it being a "biggie" with the controversial Amendment B vote, I am preparing for my first venture onto the missional lecture circuit.

The Presbyterian Global Fellowship is a fellowship of Presbyterians "seeking to reclaim the missional purpose of the church." For more detail of vision, purpose, and implementation strategies, see their self-description HERE.

This year PGF is offering regional conferences, like THIS ONE in Atlanta in two weeks. I have been asked to co-lead a workshop described (by them) as follows:

Maximizing MPG (missional per gallon): small churches
Robert Austell, Charlotte, NC, and Jerry Deck, Carol Stream, IL

Smaller numbers doesn’t mean fewer gifts. In fact, smaller churches are uniquely equipped for helping God transform their communities and the world. Join two smaller church pastors who have worked with their sessions and congregations to be the “sent” ones of Jesus in the world.
Basically, I'm going to talk about how Good Shepherd has caught a vision for missional ministry (aka lighthouse/searchlight ministry)... and put it into practice. I'm excited to be able to share some of the tools we have developed and hope they will prove useful for other small churches.

I hope to report on how the workshop goes and how the material is received. If they throw tomatoes, I'll probably quietly remove this post and move on... but hopefully, there will be some positive response. :)

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