I’m currently reading the book “Total Church” with Caleb Hastings, our church plant resident. When Caleb recommended that we read it together a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t convinced that it was going to be a helpful read for us. Then I started reading!
The authors (Tim Chester and Steve Timmis) assert several timeless truth principles in the area of ‘church’ and I have found myself captivated by what they are saying. I could quote some of what is said, but the reality is that it is so simple that it is captivating.
If you were to ask me the one thing that I have walked away with so far, I would tell you that
“The church needs to be “word centered, mission centered, and community centered to be gospel centric.” Simply put, we find all of these things in the gospel and we find all of these things present in an early church environment. As I partner some of these things with 7 characteristics of a missional church, there are places where overlay clearly happens.
Here are the 7 characteristics of a missional church as pointed out by missiologists and folks that are studying what it means to be missional. These are not measurable outcomes that we should focus on, but observations made of current ‘missional’ communities of faith.
1. Reliance on God’s Word – Simple, but true. If we aren’t reliant on the very word of God that has produced all that we believe, all that we practice, and which has literally changed the world, then we may be living heresy and within the power of ourselves. When you share the gospel, when your church shares the gospel, do they use a man made tool? Or do they use a man made tool to point back to the word of God, which is powerful, active, sharper then any double edged sword?
2. Sensing the power and presence of the Spirit of God – You see sometimes, we pit the first against this one and say, “We must be word centered” because we are afraid of the implications of what it means to be ‘spirit led.’ I understand the fear here. We don’t want to be simply led by emotions or how we feel. But to trump being spirit led by using the excuse that we are ‘word centered’ would be out of characteristic from our beloved ‘word.’ Clearly, in scripture, there are moments where the control of the Spirit is overwhelming.
3. Intentional missionary Evangelism – When a church possesses this and it is happening, there are kingdom results. When a church is focused on reducing the lostness of a city or zip code, there begins to well up within that church a heart for those that are far from God. No longer is that church focused on the inside and what it can do to please itself, rather, it becomes outward focused and becomes a change agent in its community or demographic.
4. Leadership Development – A church that is missional is observed to have a way to develop leaders. This is not developing leaders with the sole purpose in mind to make them elders, Sunday school teachers, or church planters. This is developing the potential within any leader to be used for the sake of the gospel, however God might use it!
5. Expanding Network of Small Group – This has to be with the sustainability of a missional church. There are people that need Jesus and when a church is simply planted on the foundation of a public gathering, that becomes the primary DNA piece that drives the ship in whatever future happens with that church. If a network of small groupings are created, DNA of multiplication is developed, a place to grow and invite is cultivated, and there are alot of people that are far from God that are reached with the gospel because of these networks of small groups.
6. Intentional Disciple Making Process – There may not be one “right” way to make a disciple (the reality is that Jesus makes disciples, not me…) but as a church, we need to choose a process toward disciple making that is clear, helpful, and healthy for the context that we lead. One of the questions that we could ask in this vein is “if the church were the only way that a disciple of Jesus were made, what would we HAVE to do to cultivate disciple making?” When a church is missional, there is an intentional disciple making process laid out.
7. Biblical Stewardship – This makes the observation that those churches that are living on mission as missionaries are actually putting their money where their mouth is. They are giving it away to help those that need it and support those that are doing the same thing. They are not internally focused with their cash flow and resource but external in their focus.
If we want our churches to be gospel centric, then we must be ‘word, community, and mission centered.’ This is clear. When we balance the three of these things, we may find that the 7 outcomes begin to happen because we are letting God do his thing, we are anchored deeply in truth and we are running hard after Jesus in relationship with other people. It is only in this environment that Jesus found himself with his disciples. I mean, think about it. They were anchored in the very word of God (Jesus quotes scripture multiple times) they were living in desperate dependance on God as they sought to share the good news with people (on mission), and they were living closely in community with one another, as a band of brothers. It resulted in a ‘missional church’ with some of these observations being made of the early church (Of the 7 things above).
We are not going to have perfect churches (probably because imperfect people are a part of our community). But we can have balanced, gospel centric churches as we seek to make disciples. “Total Church” has been a great read toward this end. If you haven’t read it, pick it up!