Our Pastors Blog

Marks of Missional Congregation. Week 1

Introduction to the series. Even though each of us is unique and indeed wonderfully made, what we inherit from our parents, grandparents and previous generations in some measure shapes our lives. To some degree their history influences the history we make. As we begin this new series looking at why Christians are missional, good news, Jesus sharing people, one quite simple answer would be to say because we have inherited it, not just from previous generations of Christians but from God. 

This week you will have taken down your Christmas decorations, in our case they go in boxes, then up into the loft and are forgotten about for another 12 months. But the meaning behind Christmas cannot be so easily boxed up, God comes to us, God with us, later this Jesus would announce His reign, God’s Kingdom was breaking into our world. We are missional because God is missional.

Each week during this series I hope we learn more about our Missional God from the richness of our scriptures in both the Old and the New Testament. Jesus did not arrive on earth and decide to be missional, to reach out to us, to save us, its origins are all there in scripture. For this reason, on a regular basis, we will return to a key text in Luke 24:44-49 NIV

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” These are extremely important final words of Jesus to his disciples and he roots their future mission in the law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Pray that God would in a similar way under the Holy Spirit help us understand the scriptures we will consider.

On a more practical level each week we will consider the various marks of a missional congregation that develop from living out this scripture and some of the obstacles that get in our way. 

I have chosen to use the phrase Missional Congregation because it both respects the calling, we have inherited from God to be Missional, but it also respects who we are as a congregation, serving particular communities and able to understand the strengths and weaknesses we bring to this task. Sometimes it is necessary to be able to read and discern who we are and the context in which we share the Good News.

If you are in Norfolk, Panama or somewhere else in our world and following this series please apply it to your own context. For I recognise as the earlier Baptist Together video suggested we are but one brush stroke that makes up the wonderful canvas that is the Kingdom of God. 

Beginning with the Psalms. We miss at our peril the fact that Jesus’ motivation for everything that happened was the fulfilment of the law, the prophets, and the psalms. On one level it seems a strange starting place, the worship of Israel and indeed Judaism at the time of Jesus feels to us limited, exclusive to the priestly personnel, with lots of rituals and laws. Yet for Jesus and his first followers the psalms were full of evidence of God’s missional intent. What we think of as the worshipping hymn book of Israel contains so much more. 

As you move your way through the psalms you realise, they are communicating 3 key interlinked messages. Firstly, God is most definitely worthy of our worship and praise. Secondly the task of Israel is to make the character of God known throughout the nations so that finally one day the worship and rule of the creator God will involve every nation and all of creation. This is exactly why Jesus spoke about breaking in the Kingdom of God. Indeed, one whole section of the psalms are known as the Kingdom psalms.

We see elements of all of this in psalm 67 and so many other psalms. Israel seeks God’s blessing so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. Psalm 67:2 NIV. Notice how everyone is caught up in the praise and worship of God. May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. Psalm 67:3 NIV. With the result that one day God’s justice and rule (His Kingdom) will be the rule on earth as it is in heaven. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth. Psalm 67:4 NIV. We notice too that all of creation is involved. The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us.May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him. Psalm 67:6-7 NIV. So already we see that for Jesus the Psalms are much more that a worship/song book for the people of Israel. In our key text to which we will return on several occasions we hear Jesus say “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

For any congregation of believers to be witnesses of these things it is necessary to stop and consider the Marks of a Missional Congregation. Today we begin with the following thought.

Missional congregations can discern and understand themselves and read and understand the communities they are seeking to reach. 

The story is told of when missionaries first came across the indigenous people of the Pacific North West of America. The people held a strong belief that God was in some way reborn each year in the running of the salmon. The missionaries tried to convert them using the crucifix but as the cross held absolutely no meaning for them in their context, they simply ignored the missionaries. To their shame the missionaries suggested to the powers that be that they be removed from the land. What the missionaries had completely forgotten was that for centuries the early Christians used the symbol of the fish for the very idea of a Christian community. This could easily have been their point of connection, but they were operating from a place of power not of love.

Contrast that with my experience of training Street Pastors. The ones that bothered me most were not those who felt it necessary to get the word Jesus into every  conversation but the few who identified so closely with the night-time economy that they brought nothing distinctive about their lives and faith to the ministry on the streets. 

Missional congregations take time to understand their strengths and weaknesses, when appropriate they allow themselves to be changed by the context of those, they are ministering too without ever losing the distinctive nature of their faith. In the first example the missionaries simply trampled on the lives and the context of those they were seeking to minister too and in the second example if allowed people of faith become subsumed by the context they are ministering too. All of this reminds us of our need to pray and seek discernment from the Holy Spirit to lovingly share the good news of the gospel.

In the first example I gave it should be obvious that this was an abuse of power. As Baptist’s we have little power over people’s lives something for which I am profoundly grateful. But we must be alert to the truth that we can all too easily exert soft power. Our congregation can become exclusive or we might feel put out that someone different, someone not like us, is joining our meeting or zoom service. 

What is important for the missional congregation is its understanding of how to best live and minister within a particular context and to take seriously the challenges it provides while at the same time maintaining its own identity as followers of Jesus.

First published on: 23rd January 2021
Bookmark and Share