Basic Tools 19: Using Systems Theory for Member Mission

Mission today calls for rigorous truth-telling. Christians are indistinguishable from atheists and agnostics in both public and private life. All call for lay ministry. We are still not there yet. Mission is still not the vital center of church life. It is not the vital center because we have not yet recovered the daily missions of the members. The members do not walk in on Sunday with stories of victories over the lack of love and justice in one of more of their daily arenas. If they have them, but there is no medium to share them! We do not know how to “do” lay ministry!

In the 1980s, we were still producing compliant, loyal members, period. By 2004, our best is shared leadership is still inside the church, period. Purpose-driven churches are focused on growth in members, not growth in mission. Rick Warren’s “mature members” are still left inside the church – God may be first but what God wants done in the world (beyond “discipling” more members) just does not come up.

Actually, is not the operative purpose of the church today to produce “healthy,” growing congregations – with the accent on growth, growth being the sure sign of “health?” Transforming the world? “Oh, yes,” it is said, “that takes care of itself once the people are converted.” Converted to what – why, growing healthy churches, of course! On the national scene, General Convention in 20/20 and Lilly in the Clergy Excellence program seem to be maintenance centered as well – growing the church, again.

We want members who can tell weekly of transforming their daily arenas with God’s help – being specific both in achievement and where, they believe, God helped.

How do we get them? Go to systems thinking.

The system is designed to produce the results we are getting.

If we want different results, we have to redesign the system.

Be clear about the results you want; change the system to produce those results; then, manage the system to get those results.

If the changes are implemented step by step for ten years, we will achieve what we want.

Building the basic structure for member mission

State your purpose clearly

Be clear about what is wanted: missionaries who bring good news in deed and word to each of the arenas of daily life. We want members who can tell weekly of transforming their daily arenas with God’s help – being specific both in achievement and where, they believe, God helped. Begin with the official board / vestry developing a purpose of the congregation that expresses this vision of what we want to produce.

Beware of being vague. One often finds: “To know Christ and to make him known.” Just what does that mean? The mission, the message, is given. Its essentials are:

– God’s victory over evil, sin, and death in Jesus Christ

– Jesus Christ’s ongoing struggle with evil, sin, and death in today’s world

– Jesus’ call to us to join him in that struggle

– Joining his mission in baptism and being fed for it at Jesus’ table

Follow these steps:

– Pastor / priest puts the desired purpose in words his/her words with a mind to what the congregation at large and vestry / official board in particular can use.

– Negotiate with the vestry for words that all can own and use

– Publish and use it keeping an ear open to feedback that suggests where changes are needed

– Rethink it at least every two years.

– This is the first step in implementing member mission – a vision and a purpose statement that make supporting the members in their daily living as Christians the central purpose of the church. Then, step by step, begin connecting it with everything the congregation does.

A story: at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Essex, NY, it took three years to come up with:

“At St. John’s Episcopal Church in Essex, NY, we all share in God’s work of calling, forming, sending, and supporting Christians as agents of love, justice, and peace as shown through the life of Jesus Christ. We seek to live this way in every part of life: home, work, local community, wide world, leisure, and church.”

It even survived a change in clergy leadership! But test it with the four elements of mission above. What is missing? Do be able to put it in fewer words. “The purpose of St. John’s is to form members who live each day as agents of God’s reign in Jesus Christ.”

Make the changes needed to achieve the purpose

Form the congregation around these specific actions:

i. Develop a plan, beginning with the leaders, to help all members to know their current missions in each of their daily mission fields.

ii. Form small groups for regular sharing of experiences in mission and mutual support.

– composed of people who have worked through discovering their current seven daily missions

– two to six people meeting at least biweekly for 75 – 90 minutes; groups may want to meet for a limited time period and then assess recommitment or forming a new group

– based on Bible reflection (e.g., the “oral method” on pp. 165-167 of WTMATM) and sharing of their daily missions

– conclude with prayer requests, daily prayer support, and sharing of what happened in the area of each request at the next meeting (see p. 167 of WTMATM)

– a realistic goal seems to be 45 – 50% of the members participating in small groups after all have been part of daily mission discovery

– for a more complete description see Basic Tools #18 – Small groups that support member mission

iii. Fashion the worship to express and empower the daily living of the members.

iv. All leaders, in every part of the congregation, take responsibility to lead so as to fulfill the purpose chosen.

v. Begin all of the above the first year.

vi. As the second year begins, evaluate to discern how to do B, i – iii better next year. Do this for eight more years – and you will be forming missionaries.

vii. PS: you can count on congregations to grow in numbers as they grow in mission and to give responsibly as you teach tithing.