Vol 5:6 Experimenting in Being Missional Church

I had a lunch conversation today that reminded me about what it means to experiment in being missional church.

Experimenting in being missional church is experimenting in discovering what it is to have Christ at the center of all that we do. It is experimenting with Christ being the one who holds us together, rather than what we create to hold us together. It is experimenting with the learning to hear God’s voice as the Spirit scatters it through the entire community. It is experimenting with an identity that is continually changing and transforming as the Spirit makes space for everyone whom God brings. I find being missional church can be uncomforting, yet deeply rewarding – because I find undergoing transformation to be challenging.

The church I serve is a place in which we as a community are experimenting with being missional. What does that mean for us?

First, it means that whomever God brings into our midst is whom God brings into our midst. Since, this community is not our community, but Christ’s, we need to welcome everyone just as Christ would welcome them. As Christ extended hospitality to all, so our being missional is to receive and welcome the ones God brings into our midst.

Second, the ones God brings into our midst we are committed to making space for them with us and among us. Many churches with assimilation programs seek to guide people to fit in with them – to fit with what is already going on. Experimenting with being missional church involves not guiding people to fit us, but for us to make space for them among us. It goes along with welcoming, with extending hospitality. We continue to grow in recognizing that since the Spirit of God is shaping us to be church, our identity changes by the ones God brings to us. And so, rather than staying the way we are, expecting new persons to change to fit us – we seek to open ourselves to the change God is seeking to bring about in us. Rather than others fitting us, we make space for us to fit with them and they with us. What happens as we do this is that our personality as a community changes, our passions change, our focus on ministry changes – because it is now being further shaped by the persons God is bringing or gifting to the community.

And lest, we think that being welcoming and making space in such missional ways breeds chaos, because it seems to mess with leadership structures and visioning for the congregation, third, experimenting with being missional church actually fosters greater discovery and creativity. The whisper of God’s voice is to be heard through all who find themselves following after Christ Jesus. Rather than leadership framing and casting vision, the pastoral team and church leadership listen for stories of God at work, look to see how God is active in people’s lives, encourage people to share what is on their hearts, where they sense the Spirit of God leading them.

The church leadership discerns the vision that the Spirit is scattering within the community through the ones God has brought and is bringing into the missional community. And then, vision is framed not from above, but from below – from the community – as we hear God speaking in us together. In listening to how God is active in us and among us, pastors and church boards attune their ears to what God is trying to get us to hear. The role of leading involves encouraging members of the community to hear and dream of what God seeks to do through them – and as we do that, the shared stories reveal different patterns of how God’s mission is to be manifested through our missional communities.

In some way this is chaotic – I, as a pastor, am not in charge. My baser self wants my pastoral ministry to somehow revolve around me – I think to myself that might be more comfortable. What I find that if this were to be true, I would be deeply stifled. Yet, not being in charge, in learning how to discern and move with the Spirit, and encouraging the congregation into the same learning, I have found being church in this way to be deeply liberating – trusting the Spirit to lead and guide us in Christ’s ways, participating together with one another in living into God’s vision of all things being made new.

I am not in charge, nor do I need to be in charge. And since I do not need to be in charge, there is room for many more to add their voices as we engage Scripture together on Sunday mornings. I am not the only preacher – I preach only about 20-24 times per year, which means God has opportunity to speak through other Christ-centered voices 28–32 times per year. It engenders the development of a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted Spirit guided vision.

Also, experimenting with being missional church leads me to experiment with different ways of being pastor. I find myself more free to walk alongside with people, encouraging them, praying with them, engaging in spiritual conversation – hearing God together and participating together in ministry. I have the joy of discovering God’s missional vision unfolding among us as God transforms our community through whomever God brings into our midst.

Experimenting with being missional church this way also is a catalyst for my ongoing transformation and maturing in Christ. I am changing too – sometimes I fight it, but when I yield to the Spirit, I welcome the change that is taking place in me. I realize that I do not have all the answers nor all the energy – but in being a missional community together we find ourselves growing together as we are led by the Spirit.

Our latest exploration in missional courage is taking the risk of voicing our theological diversity as a community. Often churches may think that the only way to be held together is to have similar theological understandings – however, in our experimenting, we have discovered that God has drawn a people together who come from across the theological spectrum.

Where the place of growth is for us (and for me) is to realize that who holds us together is Christ, not conforming doctrine. We still are figuring out a process as to how we are to have a theological diverse conversation that is centered in Christ.

We sense that such a conversation will ask each one of us to be open to the transforming work of the Spirit in us. We sense that such a conversation will root us more deeply in Christ. We sense that such a conversation is a scary thing, with potential chaos, but it leads us to experiment with what it means for us to be more deeply centered in him of whom it is expressed: “in him all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1: 16b-17).

Experimenting with being missional church is a continual journey in which we are all being transformed into Christ-likeness. I am discovering this is not a matter of control, but a journey of discovery and creativity in which the Spirit of Christ Jesus is released in us as we partner with God in God’s mission.

iMissional.org | Roland Kuhl