Every great movement, inside or outside the church, has one basic factor that drives the movement from dream to reality. That factor is Mission. Mission drives the principles and goals of the project. Mission is what transformed a ragtag band of Jesus Followers into the
founders of the early church. As we seek to be more missional as people and a church, we must keep the mission ever before our eyes.
I have heard well meaning Pastors and Church Leaders quote the verse from Proverbs 29:11, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law”. This verse has become a mantra for many in the Church Growth Arena. While this verse points to the importance of divine guidance as we seek to follow God to the places he leads us, it is only half the story. Vision is not the key to accomplishing God’s purpose, but a tool God uses to fulfill the mission. Mission MUST drive the vision. The mission is the foundation on which the vision of God’s people is built.
On the day of Pentecost their confusion turned to conviction. They burst from the room and began explaining the message and meaning of Jesus in the languages of the foreigners visiting Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. A crowd of thousands gathered in amazement, asking, “What can this mean?” (Acts 2:12,NLT). Can’t you just see Peter, the most vocal of the bunch, standing boldly before the crowd? Only weeks before he had been the opposite of bold—afraid even to identify himself with Jesus when the Romans arrested his master. But on this day he spoke with an enlightened heart and mind, in the power of God’s Spirit, unashamedly proclaiming: “What you see this morning was predicted centuries ago by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God said, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people’” (Acts 2:16-17,
For ten days Peter and the other followers of Jesus had been bathed in prayer. Now Peter went on to preach a convicting sermon about a new kingdom—a transformational Kingdom movement of God ushered in by prayer and the Holy Spirit. And some three thousand people were baptized into what became known as the Body of Christ—his church. In striking contrast to the religious leaders and people of that day, these fresh new believers didn’t just assemble behind
closed doors and keep their religion to themselves. They lived out their newfound relationship with Christ through the power of God’s Spirit. Rather than talking about Jesus, they acted like him. Rather than being religious in a Temple, they were relevant to their society. It is recorded that “a deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had.
They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They worshipped together in the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the good will of the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved” (Acts 2:43-47, NLT). We must reorient our church back to this model if we are going to see true change in the western church.
As Missional Leaders, it is up to us to help create an environment where the Holy Spirit is free to work and move among God’s people. The early church did not have a detailed Leadership Course that they put people through in order to lead. They did not have time for that. The Spirit was working to fast. Church leaders had to rely on being in touch with the Spirit to know what God was up to. By doing so it allowed them to use their imaginations. They really believed that anything was possible if God was in it. These early Christians had a mindset vastly different from our western twenty-first century
world. They saw prayer, walking in the Spirit, working at their jobs, caring for their families, ministering to those in need, and the rest of their lives not in compartmentalized facets, but as a whole—integrated and continuous.
In order to keep focused on the mission, I have to rethink the way I lead people and the way I lead the “church”. This change will no doubt be good for the kingdom, but may cause some challenges for
my congregation. It will require people to let go of a model of church carved out of man-made tradition and return to the simplicity of the early church. By 130 AD Justin the martyr revealed a missional cycle consisting of believing, behaving, and belonging, though
not necessarily in that order. This missional cycle reflected the essence of making disciples within the second century church. The early church saw this cycle as an intentional process of spiritual formation that was outwardly focused to their community and the
world. They modeled before their children and a needy world what it meant to belong to a community. They would then take their children and new converts by the hand and walk them through an intentional, life-changing process by instructing them to believe the faith handed down by the apostles. They taught them to behave like a devoted follower of Jesus and initiated them into an active engagement of the world around them . This missional-focused ministry is Jesus’ means for changing one life after another and one community after
another, bringing them to spiritual, physical, economical, educational, and relational health as his committed followers engage the people around them in the power of God’s Spirit. I believe that today the same thing is happening again. God is raising up a new breed of
Christ followers who want nothing more than a mighty move of his Spirit. You are no doubt such a person. There are sure to be others in your area who also long for a transformational move of God that can turn your community upside down for Jesus. Embracing a missional
focus is less about style and sizzle and more about sacrifice and substance. Instead of leading people to say the prayer of accepting Christ, it is more about coming out of our upper rooms of prayer empowered by God’s Spirit to lead them to a face-to-face encounter with God and a spiritual formation process played out in the cycle of believing, behaving, and belonging.
I realized that if we are going to make an impact in the generation, we must get back to the model of the early church. It didn’t take thousands of people to launch God’s transformational Kingdom movement in Jerusalem during the first century. There were only 120 in that upper room pouring their hearts out to God in agreement when his transforming Spirit empowered them to engage their city. And from Jerusalem they turned the known world upside down. What did they do and how did they do it? A study of the early church reveals how
they grew and stayed focused on the mission Christ gave them. There were many factors involved, and we must practice these as well. First, I must proclaim a transformational message. The new kingdom was not about changing the government; it was about transforming each individual life. I must have a burden to reach the lost and truly seek to help students find the transforming power of Christ.
Second, we must embrace a missional focus. Church growth should not be our goal; it is a by-product. My strategy has to come together in the prayer of agreement, unify around God’s heart of compassion, and engage the city with a message of Christ’s love that met people’s needs. And that will result in converts. Converts will then be discipled, and the Youth Ministry and church will become more authentic and experience growth.
And third, I must help my students become living models of transformation. People aren’t attracted to preaching personalities or church buildings or church programs. They are attracted to a people who demonstrate love and care for others, people who have a clear sense of purpose and convictions worth dying for.
Our culture today has similarities to that of the first century. The
needs of people are the same now as then. People in our community will respond and can be changed by the same message of transformation, they will respond to the same missional focus, and they will be attracted to authentic models of transformation.
I believe the early church in Acts was model for this type of change. The emerging church in the first century tended to see prayer and faith and worship and loving others as Christ loved as an integrated whole. Church wasn’t a weekly event, separate from their daily living. They were the church. That is what defined them. We need to help the people we lead grasp this reality. I believe that people do not want
to just think and talk about Christ one day of the week in a building
somewhere. They don’t think in terms of participating in a church program or just attending a series of events. They want to experience the totality of what Jesus was all about and model it daily before their children and within their community. They understand the mission Jesus gave them as a journey, a relational pilgrimage of becoming more and more like their Lord, a mission that is to be lived out in every aspect of their lives within their community locally. It is an experiential relationship with Jesus that transforms their attitudes and actions. Their corporate prayer and worship in a fellowship is borne out in the attending to the physical and emotional needs of people by caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and befriending the outcasts and rejects of society. Their mission is to raise up transformed followers of Jesus
by seeing people in their community redeemed spiritually as well as restored physically, relationally, economically, etc. This should be our mission as well. Let the mission of God shape your vision for the community in which you are planted!!!