The Missionary Mentality of the Local Church

When doing our research for Transformational Church, we discovered seven elements that were part of this new concept of "Transformational Churches." One of those elements is a missionary mentality. I thought it would be a good thing to focus on and talk about today, and to consider what it really means.

Money seems to be the measure of all things organizational. That is not to say that money should be, but it often is. When I say it is the measure, I refer to what money reveals about an organization and its mission. In big business, people often ask, how much is spent on Research and Development? How much is spent on the corporate jet? How much is spent on advertising? The way in which the money is spent forms the most easily traceable line in determining any organization's priorities.

The same is true of churches. If you want to know what is important to any church, do not simply look at the budget; look at the actual expenditures. In most churches you will find that the church and its members are the most important thing: building payments and maintenance take a significant amount; keeping the grounds spruced takes another significant amount; staff and employees are often the biggest chunk and ministries for church members, including literature, banquets, and retreats can represent a substantial portion. Then, often well down the line, is ministry to those outside the church. When churches ask themselves the question "Why do we exist?" the answer is as close as the check stubs. Perhaps those records will not answer the question, "Why should we exist?" but they will most certainly answer, "Why do we exist?"

The New Testament teaches us that all churches exist, at least ostensibly, to participate in fulfilling the Great Commission. However, churches that desire to be effectively involved in God's kingdom work should regularly ask themselves, "Why do we exist?" We will find that only churches with a missionary mentality will be able to rightfully answer that all important question.

The missionary pioneer of the early church, the Apostle Paul, viewed his responsibility to those outside God's kingdom in this way, "To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, that I may become a partners in its benefits" (1 Cor. 9:22-23; HCSB). Paul understood that to be inwardly focused was to be outwardly blind. To be a missionary means meeting, learning and embracing those outside the family of God. Paul even likens it to becoming them; this was not a dry interpretation of an even dustier research project. This was a living, personal change based on wanting to see people become followers of Christ.

Churches that have developed a mindset of being outwardly focused, what we call a "missionary mentality," live out the essence of disciple-making in their activities through worship, community, and mission. This they do in the context of their own local culture with an understanding of that context. This is one part of what we mean when we refer to "Transformational Churches." A common factor in these churches is that their values are expressed in the light of their own locale. Ministry values are not imported across town or through a conference DVD pack. Their leaders demonstrate a heart for the culture, the churches build relationships intentionally and everyone prays for the community. To put it simply, Transformational Churches know, understand, and are deeply in love with their cities, communities, and people.

LifeWay Research results found that Transformational Churches have specific attitudes toward those outside the family of faith. They responded with "strongly agree" or "moderately agree" to the following statements: "Our pastor(s) often refers to aspects of the local city or community in messages" (67%); "Our church believes that God has strategically place us in our cultural context (in our location to serve those around us" (81%); "Our church believes that as the cultural context around us changes, new opportunities to engage people outside must be considered" (71%). Rather than being taken for granted or blitzkrieged as the enemy, those outside of Christ are viewed as victims of the enemy who need to be rescued and redeemed.

Further, Transformational Churches look to those in their context before designing a strategy to reach them. They look to do contextual ministry, striving to do everything in the language and culture of the people they are trying to reach. Pastor Chuck Williams from Lubbock, Texas, used door-to-door survey work to discover what the people of his community were actually thinking. Meeting the community enabled the church he leads, Live Oak Community, to discover the specific needs in their city. It assisted them in creating ministry efforts that answered the questions that the people in their host culture were actually asking. This is in stark contrast to the all-too-often used strategy of doing what we've always done for a surrounding community who has successfully overlooked us so far.

Pastor Chris Beard, Cincinnati, Ohio, recognized his church's ineffectiveness at penetrating their host culture. His congregation was ninety-eight percent white in a racially diverse context. After the shooting of a young African-American man by white policemen in 2001, the city erupted in three days of rioting. Instead of succumbing to a "white-flight relocation project," Pastor Beard led the church, First Assembly of God, on a racial reconciliation project to understand their context and then bring the gospel to it.

There are three important ideas churches can learn from the life of Paul relating to where he went and to whom he ministered. First, Paul considered the available time. Much is made of the "Macedonian call" when pastors talk about following God. What is sometimes overlooked is saying "yes" to Macedonia meant saying "no" to Phrygia. Yet, it was the Holy Spirit who halted Paul's travel plans while giving him another assignment. Transformational Churches learn to say "no" to the places and times where God says "no." Every good thing is not the right thing for a church to pursue at a given time.

Second, Transformational Churches remember that God is already at work where He is sending His people to minister. The vision Paul experienced of the pleading man from Macedonia was significant in that God was at work preparing the people of Philippi for a new church. He was at work in a wealthy businesswoman named Lydia. He was even working in the life of the jail where Paul and Silas were imprisoned. In Cincinnati, the burden that God placed on Chris Beard drew the pastor and the church into the flow of God's work in the city. The result was a significant impact on the community, with many coming to know Christ in a church that now reflects the racial makeup of its host culture.

Thirdly, churches who say "yes" to God's leading can expect to find God working in ways previously unknown. It is in moving into these unknown areas that they uncover what God is already doing in advance of the onset of ministry. Transformational Churches see this working over and over, whereas churches that do not engage their communities with the gospel of Jesus miss these supernatural interactions and often mistake sameness for spirituality.

God's assignment for each and every believer is to be on mission with him. Transformational Churches capture this missionary passion and channel it for the kingdom. The members of a Transformational Church understand and adhere to the fact that God has called each of them to bring the gospel to a particular job, school classroom, neighborhood, civic organization and hobby group as missionaries for His purposes. They do not hear needs within their sphere of influence then go call the pastor to meet them; instead, that man, woman, boy or girl hears needs and realizes that God has placed him or her in the midst of the need in order to bring heaven to earth and the gospel to human hearts.

The what is settled. A missionary mentality views the context as culture as places to take the gospel. The remaining issues are: Where? When? and How? Passion for the Kingdom overcomes the uncertainty of difficulty and risk. God never promised comfort and safety in pursuit of kingdom ends; many missionaries have died or been martyred for the gospel. The missionary mentality demands a love for God that extends His work to a lost and needy people.