Shifting from Ministry to Mission

As a part of my role as a ministry consultant and strategist with my denomination I am frequently visiting congregations on Sunday mornings. A couple of years ago my wife and I were visiting an adult Sunday school class at a church. They did not know who we were or what our spiritual condition was. We entered the room and the teacher introduced himself and one of the two couples seated in the room did the same. We sat down in one of the rows of chairs later to discover that we had taken someone’s seat. Slowly the room filled up with people carrying on their own conversations, catching up with their friends with little notice of us. In fact, we were seated between two ladies who actually had a conversation “across” us. We could have predicted the rest of the visit because we knew what to expect as “professional guests.”

Image: Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Unfortunately, my wife and I are conditioned to be treated as outsiders. We realize that most groups merely tolerate the presence of outsiders. Yes, people are generally polite and there is typically at least one person who, hopefully out of genuine interest, but perhaps out of a sense of obligation or guilt, will make conversation, tell us about the church and make sure we feel welcomed. I understand that many groups such as these have deep friendships forged over time. I also know that I have been guilty at times of making outsiders to my group feel like…well, outsiders. I fear that the class I described is an accurate reflection of the state of community in most churches in North America. It is community devoid of a clear mission.

A community that loses its mission begins to believe that the community is its mission. The group becomes closed off and is satisfied to perform ministry to each other within the group with little regard for their real mission. Of course the mission for the disciple is to make disciples. Discipleship does not happen within the community that has lost its mission. True discipleship only occurs as one is on mission with their Master, Jesus, making disciples of others. In his book,The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch, describes the difference between “mission” and “ministry.” He distinguishes mission as the church’s orientation toward “outsiders” and ministry as the church’s orientation toward “insiders.” He says, “Experience tells us that a church that aims at ministry seldom gets to mission even if it sincerely intends to do so. But the church that aims at mission will have to do ministry, because ministry is the means to do mission…By planting the flag outside the walls and boundaries of the church, so to speak, the church discovers itself by rallying to it–this is mission.”

So, how does a group or class move from ministry to insiders to mission to outsiders? It isn’t easy. In fact it may be close to impossible to move some long-standing existing groups to orient around mission. Those groups that choose to live in disobedience to the call of discipleship should be dissolved because they are leeching energy and resources from the body. However, groups should be challenged to orient themselves around mission. If you are a leader and you are convicted in your own heart that you need to lead your group, then think and pray through such a shift. You may be called, like my family was, to start from scratch with a whole new group of friends. But if you are sure you are where you are to lead change, the process to shift from ministry to mission should include:

1. Study the Gospels together and focus on the life of Christ. Observe where Jesus went, who He ate with, how He treated those far from the Father. Pray and process.

2. Read about missional communities in books by guys like Alan Hirsch and Neil Cole and at places like The Verge Network and the GCM Collective. Pray and process.

3. Spend plenty of time together loving the group where it is and challenging them to move to where they need to be. Be patient because it will take lots of time. You must shift values before you shift behaviors.

4. Share your life with your group and share your learnings with them at the same time. Pray for your group to see what God is helping you see.

5. Ask your group to define its mission/purpose for existence. Move to clarity that their mission/purpose should be making disciples who make disciples.

6. Ask your group to describe what behaviors of the community are contributing to accomplishing the purpose of making disciples who make disciples.

7. Ask your group to describe what behaviors of the community are keeping you from accomplishing the purpose of making disciples who make disciples.

8. Ask your group what changes the group would need to make to accomplish the purpose of making disciples who make disciples. Begin to reshape your group based upon the discussion.

9. Pray for those far from God around you by name.

10. Share your life with those around you who are not a part of your group. In other words start living on mission.

So, what is your small group/class like? Are you focused more on ministry or mission? What steps are you willing to make to change?

  • Greg Silverman

    so helpful!