In January 2015, eighteen years will have passed since the Board of General Superintendents declared the United States and Canada a mission field. They made their 1997 declaration in recognition of growing trends toward secularism, pluralism, cultural diversity, and postmodernity.
These trends changed the playing field for ministry and required pastors and church leaders to develop a more missional mindset.
The larger issue now is what does mission mean in a particular context, and what methods, approaches, and ways of thinking enable faithful and fruitful ministry? The truth is that, though there are theological, biblical, and historical markers that can help, no single way works with all people, at all times, in all places. Churches must be adaptable and open to change as conditions change. As churches move away from maintenance, the following five things have proven to be game-changers for Nazarene congregations seeking to be more missional:
1. Mission is an attitude, not a program. Churches that look at mission as part of what they do (like a food pantry or youth fundraisers), or as something only specialists do, fail to understand that mission is a corporate call to exist for others. As Thomas G. Bandy says, “The mission attitude means that the challenge to bless others is never an if but a how.” When Jeanne Morgan became the pastor of New Port Richey First Church of the Nazarene, near Clearwater, Florida, she went to a discouraged congregation of fifteen people. She relied on her prior background as a children’s minister to remake the church. Midweek Sunday school and other emphases on children led to reaching parents. Her leadership and positive spirit soon became infectious. Families have found healing, and the congregation has grown in numbers and in heart for others.
2. Mission is being for the community. Lovett Weems, president of the Lewis Center for Pastoral Leadership, says, “The longer a church exists, the less knowledgeable and less connected it is to its community.” This may seem counterintuitive, but older churches tend to cater to those inside rather than outside their walls, making them seem detached and transient to outsiders. Pastor John Huddle realized that there were many people in his Los Angeles community the church failed to reach. He developed an organic church network of house and apartment congregations that are reaching the homeless and those who formerly had no interest in church.
THE LARGER ISSUE NOW IS WHAT DOES MISSION MEAN IN A PARTICULAR CONTEXT, AND WHAT METHODS, APPROACHES, AND WAYS OF THINKING ENABLE FAITHFUL AND FRUITFUL MINISTRY?
3. Mission is being adaptive and innovative in reaching people. As incarnational communities, missional churches must find their own unique opportunities to minister. When fledgling pastor Kevin McGinness started the first Nazarene congregation in Florence, Arizona, the church was gifted a fudge shop and family restaurant. Where some may not have seen missional possibilities, McGinness found a way to provide jobs, feed needy people, and build community relationships, which opened his congregation to new people. Later, an opportunity to buy a historic home led to the establishment of a pregnancy center and diaper bank, a real need in their small town.
4. Mission is fueled by identity. The Church of the Nazarene has always been a message-driven movement, and our early rise across the United States and Canada saw congregations adapt to new situations and contexts because of a shared sense of identity and purpose. Nancy T. Ammerman, professor of sociology of religion at Boston University, has shown that churches that know their denominational and congregational stories are stronger, healthier, and more effective than churches that lack identity.* Nazarene pastors tell us that congregations that seek to recover their Wesleyan and holiness roots have a deeper sense of mission and purpose, which is often infectious and attractive to others.
5. Mission is intentionally developing new leaders and followers. John Wesley brought organizational sustainability to the Methodist movement by developing leaders and followers through bands, societies, and class meetings. Every church stalls in effectiveness when it fails to develop leaders and disciple workers to meet new missional challenges. When Pastor David Penn realized his community in Hesperia, California, was becoming more culturally diverse, he began to mentor ethnic pastors to lead new ministries to reach their neighbors. His focus on developing leaders and preparing his congregation for change will sustain a ministry of presence in their community.
Missional congregations that express care for others, reach out to the needy, and engage in significant issues have a relevant ministry, but more importantly, they bear witness to the transformative power of Christ. As the Church of the Nazarene looks toward an increasingly missional future, its ability to engage all people in mission will be paramount. More than ever, the church needs to listen to and learn from missionaries, ethnic pastors and leaders, chaplains, church planters, directors of faith-based nonprofits, laity, and theological educators, as well as pastors and other clergy.