USA (MNN) — “What is a church?”
The response will affect everything a mission group does on the field from methodology and strategy, to goals and effectiveness. That’s also the center of the conversation for church planters, keeping in mind that culture and context will shape that local church body.
This week, church leaders and mission agencies are having a “meeting of the minds” at the third annual Missio Nexus conference, under the theme: “Upward.” For the rest of this week, conversations in the hallways and in the exhibit hall will be about increased effectiveness in carrying out The Great Commission and furthering the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here’s why: the Great Commission is too big to do alone and too important for us not to work together.
When you consider that leadership challenges in 2015 are vastly different than they were in 2010, survival is about combining strengths and expertise–cooperating instead of competing, explains Missio Nexus president and CEO Ted Esler.
He outlines four of the biggest difficulties they’ll focus on over the next couple days: “One of them would be adversity. You can look at the news and you can hear some of the talk about religious liberty and see right away that people feel adversity, whether it’s real or not.” For some of their mission partners, adversity is physical. It is persecution. It is directed at the Gospel. Figuring out how to respond to security issues without compromising vision is a test mission leaders haven’t had to this scale before.
Another one is diversity. A glance at the global picture reveals a connected community unlike any we’ve seen before the Internet Age. Plus, mass migration (for political or economic reasons) means that not every tribe, tongue, or nation is held in place by land boundaries anymore. Esler explains, “We live in a far more diverse North American environment than ever before. Even though mission agencies traditionally have worked across cultural boundaries, now, more than ever, we’re also working across cultural boundaries within our own agencies.”
Then comes complexity. Cross-cultural ministry used to be complex because of culture and language. Today, that’s just one part of the bigger issue. In responding to a complex issue, ministry has become complicated.
What’s the distinction between complicated and complex? Knowing the difference is vital in the world of missions. It’s all about relevance and accessibility to the Gospel message, and getting that to rise above interference. Esler says, “Think about all of the various messages that come at you every single day, through the media, through your phone that you hold in your hand, in your pocket, and all sorts of sources. It’s a very complex work environment that, just not very long ago, we weren’t faced with.”
How to do that efficiently is the problem. Complicated systems have many moving parts, but they operate in fixed, patterned ways. Complex systems operate with lots of different parts that have different functions but can adjust and “go with the flow” of a continually changing environment. Mission groups have to figure out how to, in essence, work smarter, not harder.
Even if you handle the first three leadership challenges well, the last one can prove troublesome: legacy. It’s transitioning well and ending well. When seen in light of the first question, “What is a Church?” how to pass on the leadership trust and maintain momentum is something that faces every generation. It’s about leadership empowerment. How does a mission organization transition? How does it use the enthusiasm of younger leaders and the experience of older ones? Esler says, “I think it’s fair to say that we have a real need to see a transitional shift between generations right now, from the generation that’s been doing an awesome job, to a younger generation that’s eager to roll up their sleeves and get busy.”
By now you might be wondering, “Did they ever answer the question: ‘What is a church?’” Yes, they did. The Church is the body of Christ. The rest is being worked out.