In the first three parts of this series, we examined how we need a better hierarchy, better language and better understanding. In this concluding post, I'll demonstrate why I think we need better structures as well, if we want to fully involve all of God's people in all of God's mission.
When I speak of structures, please do not let your mind run to bureaucracy, for that can be discussed at another time. Instead, think about how the people and activities of a congregation are interconnected to one great value--the mission of God. It seems obvious that most churches speak often of God's mission but are inactive. It is time for less talking and more walking.
One structural glitch that needs to be changed is the compartmentalizing of mission as a separate ministry in churches. It is true that someone has to champion that cause, but it is not Bob or Sue's job to do missions on behalf of others. The "mission champion" needs to move everyone toward mission in all that the church does.
Moving toward mission means that all ministry efforts have as their primary goal the same goal God has, which is His glory being displayed among the panta ta ethne, the peoples of the world. So, whether it is the nursery, elementary classes, middle-school or intergenerational small groups, the goal can never be Seven Steps to Happier Living, but the role those gathered people play in God's mission.
Avoid allowing mission to be a silo of ministry--just one thing among the many things we do. We should lead our mission leaders to cross-pollinate each ministry with the mission of God. "How does what we do demonstrate a partnership in God's mission in the world?" should be the defining question from the children's worship planning team to the ushers to the personnel team to the homeless ministry.
By moving beyond compartmentalization, leaders can promote the entirety of the mission. It has been said, "You cannot expect what you do not inspect." When it comes to our mission, "What you promote is what gets participation." The mission of God must be celebrated and taught by the lead pastor. It must be in all printed material. The social media of the church should carry the theme of God's mission so it does not degenerate into the mundane of fellowship meal menu. It must be the focus of the music and singing. Songs like This Is My Father's World, God of This City, and Jesus, Hope of the Nations create directed thinking toward the plans and purposes of God including His glorious triumph.
Additionally, turning an old American Express commercial on its ear, membership should have its responsibilities. Consider having regular participation in some expression of international engagement as a membership requirement. Find a way for the accountants to be involved, the brick masons, the plumbers, the teachers, the day-care workers, as well as the pastoral team! If part of the dilemma is seeing missions as "preaching," then provide opportunities for the people with regular jobs to put their expertise to work in a cross-cultural setting. If not among Peruvians, then perhaps among the Pima in Arizona.
Structure should lead toward the fulfillment of mission, even when it celebrates the past workings of God's grace. Do not wait to celebrate what you hope to become; celebrate what you want to become. In an era that has touted "permission-giving" structures, we need to simply press ahead and insist on commission-giving environments. As our churches hold to better hierarchy, language and understandings of mission, then the members will naturally gravitate to the mission. We should commission believers to participate in cross-cultural mission at every level. Though we must not devalue the work that vocational cross-cultural missionaries do, our flat world affords everyone the opportunity to cross previously insurmountable boundaries.
For the missionaries who have traveled from your church or denomination to live in a foreign place, keep them in touch with those still on the home field. Encourage them to update their Facebook page or blog. "Beam them up" via SKYPE during the main worship gathering and get a live report. Host an authentic ethnic dinner night with reports about the home country. Distribute prayer guides about global mission efforts to influential leaders. Do a regular "Nations Focus" in Sunday worship.
Not only are the possibilities truly endless, they truly are necessary in order to give us better structures through which we can involve all of God's people in all of God's mission.
The work of mission is given to the church. If you are a leader, then it is your great privilege to lead believers into God's continuing mission of reconciliation. Doing so, we must not allow anyone to sit aside believing its work is for others. As Emil Brunner has said, "The church exists by mission, just as fire exists by burning." Every believer should be consumed and concerned to stand amongst the burning embers of God's great mission.
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Ed is Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Ed blogs daily at EdStetzer.com.