The subtitle, "Theology of Space: Tent or Temple?" ("Chapter Six: Mission vs. Mortar," Change the World), asks an important question about where to locate ministry. What does it mean when a congregation imagines ministry occurring only inside its building? Are your church's ministries and building co-dependent? What happens to ministry efforts if the congregation cannot afford to heat or cool the building? What happens if the activities of the church fill the daily schedule, do you abandon the hope of adding more ministries?
For Michael Slaughter, the tent metaphor for ministry introduces mobility as a major consideration in ministry creation. Mobility pairs nicely with flexibility. What would happen if your vision of ministry began with the presumption that you had no building?
Prepare to move, to create mobile ministry, "out there," through intentional partnership with God. A logical beginning toward such human and divine partnership is an examination of what we pray for.
In Waking to God's Dream, then pastor Richard "Dick" Wills (now bishop) recalls returning from South Africa in 1991 a different man. Something he experienced there dramatically transformed the way he prayed.
Wills said he stopped praying for God to "bless his clever ideas" and "fix the things [he'd] started." Instead he prayed, "Dear God, help me to be part of what you want to bless. Help our church to be part of what it is that you are blessing." How might praying this type of prayer each week affect your congregation?
Become Externally Focused
We normally think of houses as permanent, stationary structures. When, on occasion, a homeowner hires a company to jack up the house, place it on a flatbed truck and transport it to its new location, people gawk in amazement. Moving a traditional house is highly unusual, but not impossible. Becoming externally focused in ministry may seem unusual too, but with prayerful partnership with God, churches can discover many ways to reach beyond their buildings.
Questions, Questions, Questions
Key questions can jumpstart a church's creative thinking about ministry. The primary strategy of Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw, authors of The Externally Focused Quest is urging congregations to ask strategic questions to determine what effect they are having on their community. Swanson and Rusaw say congregations should answer provocative questions such as these: "If our church disappeared, would the community notice?" "How can we be the best church for our community?"
Such questions may reveal a congregation's fateful marriage to the attractional church model. Swanson and Rusaw describe the attractional church as "one that through its presence, programming, and marketing…seeks to attract people to its services." There is a flaw in this once-effective strategy.
The attractional church expects people to substitute something they value for something church folks think is valuable. Too often this "come-join-us" strategy yields a Sunday-morning bumper crop of empty pews.
Increasing numbers of people are not buying what the church is selling. Dr. Donald English, longtime spiritual voice of British Methodism, reportedly said, "The world doesn't need any more salespersons for the gospel, but the world desperately needs more free samples" ("Foreword," Waking to God's Dream).
Why Ride a Dead Horse?
A counselor recalled the tribal wisdom passed from generation to generation among the Dakota Native Americans, which says, "When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, dismount." Ron Johnson notes the human tendency to try other strategies first before dismounting: "whip harder, or offer sugar, or change riders, or appoint a committee to study the horse." But in the end, you still have a dead horse. (See "Dismounting Dead Horses: A Metaphor for Change" by Ron Johnson.)
Change or Transformation: What Yields Effective Ministry?
In the earlier-mentioned Dick Wills' illustration, the word transformation described the alteration in Wills' prayer life. According to one pastoral counselor, there is a vast difference between mere change and transformation.
The city placed a stop sign at an intersection along a route the counselor drove daily. The change in the intersection did not seem significant until the day he came to the sign, halted briefly and continued. A policeman pulled him over, and lectured him at length about the difference between a "full stop" and a "rolling stop," the lives he endangered, and the risk associated with his actions. Then he wrote the counselor a ticket.
Afterward, the counselor realized he had just moved from responding to a change to what he now understood as a moment of transformation.
Change is inevitable; transformation is not. Seasons change, society changes, but we must choose to be transformed. "Transformation involves much more than mere adaptation to outer manipulation. Transformation implies new being…new creation rather than change." (Flora Slosson Wuellner in Transformation: Our Fear, Our Longing as quoted in "Stop: Discerning the Difference Between Transformation and Change.")
If the church is going to move in response to the "go" portion of the Great Commission, we will need to transform our prayer lives, ask critical questions, dismount dead horses, and take ministry out where the people are.
- Make a list of all the ministries and activities offered by your church. Put a check next to the ones that could occur in outside your church building. Brainstorm about how the church could move some of its ministry offsite. Here are some examples:
- Lead Bible studies in homes for the elderly or prisons.
- Do mime and dance ministry in parks or on the streets.
- Provide hospitality at public events, such as marathons.
- Volunteer as a teacher's aid in elementary school.
(See the books by Steve Sjogren below for more ideas.)
- Craft a prayer to use each Sunday during times of confession and intercession.
- Use Dick Wills' prayer above as a guide. The confession may include phrases such as: "God, too often we have asked you for 'clever ideas' instead of meaningful ministry. Sometimes we vote on issues without waiting to hear from you. Forgive us and give us the courage to begin anew, trusting that your ways are better than ours."
- The intercession may echo portions of Wills' prayer: "Dear God, help me be part of what you want to bless. Help our church to be part of what you are blessing."
- Invite the congregation to answer the questions below. Lead them in a discussion about how the church might become more externally focused in ministry.
- "If our church disappeared, would the community notice?"
- "How can we be the best church for our community?"
- Print and share with your church leaders the article, "Dismounting Dead Horses: A Metaphor for Change." Identify practices, policies, or strategies that may be potential "dead horses." Brainstorm new approaches for each item identified. Implement one of the new approaches.
- Print and share with your church leaders the article, "Stop: Discerning the Difference Between Transformation and Change." Discuss what it means to experience transformation. Talk about transforming experiences the leaders may have had through some ministry in your local church.
- "Dismounting Dead Horses: A Metaphor for Change"
- "Stop: Discerning the Difference Between Transformation and Change"
- The Externally Focused Quest by Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw
- Waking to God's Dream by Richard Wills
- 101 Ways to Reach Your Community by Steve Sjogren
- 101 Ways to Help People in Need by Janie and Steve Sjogren
- Change the World by Michael Slaughter
- Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church by Reggie McNeal