Let the Missional Conversation Begin

“The Bible lady is coming! The Bible lady is coming!” Children streamed down from the projects, yelling excitedly. It was a hot day in Watts. It was the mid 1950’s. They gathered around my mother– then in her mid 20’s and not yet married– to learn about Jesus. That image captivates my heart daily as I envision how I should carry on what God deposited in her heart so many years ago.

Along with my colleagues Henry Zonio, Anthony Prince, and Shauna Morgan who will be posting today (April 25) on their respective blogs, I intend to introduce in this article the essence of my ministry philosophy specifically as it pertains to missional outreach to children and families. Along with that, I will point out the various ways this philosophy has expressed itself in my ministry up to this point, as well as plans for the near future.

I invite my readers to interact with me on this blog, as well as on those of the abovementioned bloggers. Let’s talk. Share your philosophies and your experiences. I welcome charitable disagreement or encouraging affirmation. Let’s learn from each other.

In Matthew 28:19-20 (NRSV)  Jesus says,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Acts 2:38-47 (NRSV) says

Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 16:30-33 (NRSV) records the following:

Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.

These three passages strongly inform my philosophy of mission to children and families.

  • I believe that discipleship is not only something which happens after salvation. It commences when the Holy Spirit begins drawing a person to himself. Upon belief and obedience, they then are baptized. I recognize some would disagree, citing arguments for infant baptism. The implication here is that I strongly believe in helping people to feel they belong at some level, even if they do not yet fully believe.
  • My call is to make disciples, not simply make converts. Discipleship is not a set-it/forget-it enterprise where if a person says the right prayer, we can celebrate and then promptly send them on their way with no further intentional action, such as growing them in the faith.
  • Behavior which matches proclamation translates into contagious belief. That is, if we behave the way we proclaim, then our credibility will skyrocket, providing we believe rightly of course (orthodoxy). But more importantly, God’s name will be made famous.
  • Mission should focus not simply on individuals, but also on households. The biblical record is clear on this.

So how does this look in my ministry? Since the Spring of 1996 when I first came on staff as a volunteer Children’s Pastor we have tried many things at my church. We have done great VBS outreaches and we ran a full daycare for many years (I was not directly involved in the daycare). We continue to do special projects to benefit a local elementary school, such as helping to clean the grounds or providing food and clothing to needy children. More recently we have adopted a couple of new low-income housing projects which are full of young children and youth. Currently I gather a small group of kids to come to our Sunday morning kids worship experiences. For several years, I have also run a basketball camp to teach older kids basic skills and to provide a safe athletic outlet. This year I will be administrating both a basketball camp and a soccer camp, with a dance camp in the works for the following year. Plus, we plan to do a week-long day camp on our campus, led by several willing volunteers. And then there are select families and individuals who daily demonstrate the love of Jesus in their neighborhoods and workplaces on their own initiative. They feed and clothe the homeless, take in orphans as foster children, help the elderly (especially widows), and so on.

There are many expressions of ministry which we have done and will yet do in the future. Many of those initiated by the church leadership are attractional in nature. That is, they attract kids to our campus, and hopefully their families. Yet, I am going through a paradigm shift. I have learned that as helpful as campus-based ministries can be, it is also important to be out in the community doing life with people. The reality is that attractional ministry does not work well in some communities with certain populations, especially when there are language barriers, cultural differences, religious customs, etc. So, I also have begun to do life with people more intentionally in the last couple of years. I go to the apartments, for example, and simply spend time with families where they live. I kick around a soccer ball with a dad, grandpa and a few kids. Or I swap stories with a group of dads. Sometimes I share encouragement with a few moms. My presence there is parent-focused and kid-centered. That is, I never go directly to the children. I want to engage parents in conversation, first and foremost. I typically do not raise spiritual topics unless I feel prompted by the Lord. Usually, the apartment dwellers bring it up. Some of the deepest theological discussions I have had in the last couple of years have taken place in the rain with my conversation partners drinking a bottle of beer and smoking their cigarettes. I have befriended a Muslim father. Last summer I had opportunity to give water to a Muslim mother and her children on a particularly hot summer day. Just doing life with them. Treating them as human beings. Missional.

What about you? What does missional look like in your context? To seed your thoughts, do a search on this blog for the word “missional.” Also, you can check out the following wikipedia entry on missional. Plus, don’t forget to check out the blog postings which will appear Sunday on the blogs of Henry, Anthony and Shauna.

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11 thoughts on “Let the Missional Conversation Begin

  1. I love that you are “doing life” with those in your context. I think the challenge comes in when you start exploring values and motives. Do we enter into our communities so that… they get saved, they come to church, they [fill in the appropriate evangelical term here]… Or do we enter into our communities because we are told to love God and love others? Do we see Gospel as more than just getting people saved? Are we looking for people to buy into our way of living, or do we truly want to see people transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit? And are we willing to allow the Holy Spirit to do the changing however he sees fit… in his timing… in his way?

    All these are just some questions that I think get to the heart of what it means to be missional.

  2. Henry, I think you are hitting on some important questions. I really appreciate your input. In my view, there is a tension between gospel proclamation and its fruit, that is, living out the gospel and trusting the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of people. For many years I have related to lost people and long ago I came to realize that simply presenting them a verbal gospel may yield fruit, but not always. It is critical to do life with them and get to know them as persons. For me, the challenge is doing this in a multi-cultural/multi-lingual setting. I smile a lot and find common ground through sports, smiles and high fives, plus trying to help people in practical ways. As far as infusing this mindset into my church culture, I think there are many who get it and live it. Others are beginning to take notice through the leaven of stories being transmitted concerning missional living. It is a work in progress, especially for me, to try to figure out the practical implications.

  3. In response to Henry’s slight pushback, I do want to express that I think offering next steps are always important… not just in ministry, but in life.

    If I’m hanging out with my friend Devon at a Clippers game, we’ll probably discuss what we’re going to do after the 3rd quarter is over and we’re being blown out by 30 points. After we grab a bite to eat, we’ll probably talk about the next time we’re planning on getting together. If we care about each other, we talk about what the next step is for us… our relationship and friendship depends on that communication.

    I think we can spiritualize our laziness at times by saying that the Holy Spirit will move where He’s going to move. God put His spirit in us… I feel like we need to put some sort of strategy in place for those we’re sharing God’s love with to come to know Him more fully.

    I do think that there’s a fine line between offering next steps and making someone a “project.” In a missional church culture, the next step for someone will probably not always be “go to church.” Instead, it might be another chance to get together and do life together. It could be an intentional discussion about art or family. It could be an invite to a pick-up basketball game. Whatever that next step is for that relationship, I think it’s important we have at least one, if not at least three, in mind.

    Those are my thoughts off the top of my head.
    Hope they make sense.

  4. Excellent thoughts, Anthony. I think a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and also to the needs of individuals is important. Next Sunday’s set of blog posts should help a lot in terms expressing how we learn about our local cultures. I look forward to that interaction. But I do think you both raise important points. On one hand, I want to communicate to my neighbors that I do love God and, especially through my actions on their behalf, that I love others as well. Special care needs to be taken to frame in a way that does not convey a hidden agenda, such as we just want to convert people (a concern especially from my Muslim friends), or add people to our church to get more tithers. We really do love people, whether or not they believe. I am not apologetic in presenting the gospel, but I also try to do so in a way that conveys compassion and is infused with practical expressions of God’s love.

  5. Glen,
    It is refreshing to hear stories like this from fellow ministers. For so many years Tim and I felt so alone during this “paradigm shift” or shift in ministry philosophy. It is quite the process…and still learning!!

    I think as we live a missional lifestyle (and disciple others to do the same) people coming to know Christ just comes natural. I don’t know about you, but growing up I had taken on a “spiritual anxiety” and I felt so much pressure to “close the deal” to get people saved. As we learn to move away from Cristian Consumerism and partner with God on his mission to just love people…it changes things. Our ministry being mainly to college-age students we hear a lot of banter about “hidden agenda” or “motives” and it makes me wonder if the people asking those types of questions have only encountered those types of Christians or are worried about their own motives? If love is the agenda and conversion isn’t…then maybe we need to focus on other questions? Its amazing how wonderful the motives are of those you infuse with Christ’s DNA.

  6. Shauna, I appreciate so very much your contribution to this discussion. For those of us like me who are older and were trained in Bible college to engage in conversations with strangers with the immediate goal to “close the deal” it has been a journey to reach this point. About 20 years ago I finally came to the realization that I can just be myself with no agenda. Previous to that I honestly disliked any attempts at evangelism because it was too much like a sales pitch. It was awkward. Yet the motives honestly were pure. I wanted people to know Christ, but I knew instinctively that it was raising walls instead of tearing them down.

    My biggest aha moment came when I was riding my bicycle home from my job at the wood products mill at midnight in Eugene. I had very long hair, was dirty from work, unshaven, and probably looked like a Bible college kid’s idea of a heathen. So, a group of Bible college kids drive past me screaming at the top of their lungs I was going to go to hell unless I get Jesus. Then, laughing, they circled around pointing at me. I waved them to me. Their eyes got wide. I wasn’t intending this but I think I may have scared them a bit. I came to their window and suggested politely that if they truly want to impact real people with the gospel, they might want to get to know them and also avoid deciding who is going to hell and the like. I then shared that I am a believer. They just nodded and drove away quietly. Never saw them again.

    I am not saying witnessing to people you don’t know cannot be needed and effective. I am suggesting that for most people it is probably not normative in terms of effectiveness. It is far more effective and needed to love people in community, being a witness to them and still being their friend even if they never believe.

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