by Judy Zabel
I just returned from School of Congregational Development held in St. Louis, Mo. It was a wonderful time to get to know some of my Minnesota colleagues as we ate dinner together and discussed what we had learned in our workshops.
Reggie McNeal was one of the keynote speakers and I had the opportunity to sit in on two seminars that he led. WOW! For years, Cindy Gregorson has been asking us if we have read his book, Missional Renaissance. I usually read what Cindy recommends but this one had been on my "hope to read someday" stack. Well, it is now on the "open and read" stack. To be sure, books don't have all the answers. The practice of ministry itself is perhaps the best teacher but still, when I heard Reggie talk about what it could really be like to be the missional church, it was very exciting and I began reading his book. Why read another book? Well, maybe you are like me. Sometimes I get so caught up in perpetuating church business and church programs, I forget why I answered God's call in the first place. It is in those vacation moments or moments when I'm on retreat, attempting to listen to the heart of God that the still small voice is able to be heard and often I hear, "I want you to BE the church instead of just doing church." Great! But how could that really happen? I have good intentions. But it seems that as soon as I get back home I get caught up in doing business. How do we break the cycle? Reading Missional Renaissance has helped me start to rethink things. It isn't a "to do" book. Instead, it is a wakeup call. Yes, yes, we've heard enough about the demise of the church but this is different. What if you could hear a word of hope instead of doom? What if we could focus on blessing people instead of trying to convince people? What if we could be energized in our call and mission to be set free to simply be agents of God's mission to bless the whole world? What would it look like if we were missional people?
If we are really going to be a missional people---if we are really going to BE the church, we have to move from an internal focus to an external focus. We simply can't spend all of our time trying to get people to come in to our church buildings.
If we are really going to be missional, we have to move from program development to people development. How many times have you and I been frustrated because we planned a great event and very few people come? Reggie McNeal says that there are fewer and fewer people in today's world that are willing to be "congregationalized." How can we move from being event planners and project leaders to people who are leading a missional movement?
If we are really going to be missional, we will have to change the scorecard from measuring programs to helping people grow. This isn't easy but Jesus didn't say, "I have come to bring abundant church." Jesus did said, "I have come to bring abundant life." The way to life is to live with Jesus and to live like Jesus. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, befriending the lonely and the left out, binding up the wounded, and living the message of hope in all the big ways we can and in all the small ways we can will help us grow and it will help others yearn to be more loving too. What would happen if every week, you asked your folk to bless three people and then come back to give God praise for all the ways they were blessed in the process of blessing others? WOW! Now that would be transformational worship.
You are a blessing. You are talented, smart, creative, and amazing leaders. Go and be a blessing in your neighborhood. Cancel a meeting this month and bring your folk with you; prayer-walk your neighborhood. Look for ways you can be a blessing. Adopt the teachers in the closest school near your church and send them a card telling them you are praying for them and if they need anything, they should contact you. Give your teacher your email and phone. Not the church email or phone but YOURS so you can develop a relationship that is real and not institutional. Invite your congregation to pray for each kid. This doesn't cost a dime and you can never be sued. It is not against the law to pray for teachers and kids. See what God has in mind and follow through. Sometimes we are so afraid of the separation of church and state that we say no before anyone else does.
Be bold and love with reckless abandon. Be extravagant with your neighbors. If your church is known for your fundraisers, see if you can become known for being generous lovers. Give stuff to the neighbors for free. Become known for your generous and surprising, over the top love. This is not a call to add more programing. This is a call to let go of some of your programs so you have the time and energy to be extraordinary blessers. Jesus said, "Go...feed sheep, go make disciples, go look for the one who is separated from the 99. Go to Nineveh, go to Minneapolis, go to St Paul, go to Brooklyn Center, go to Maplewood, go to Excelsior, Plymouth, Hopkins, Mounds Park, go, go, go! Go bless them with joy and hope. Meet their need instead of trying to get them to meet your needs. Bless them and God will move in mysterious, wondrous ways both in you and in them. So go...keep on going. Go, with God's blessing and God's joy!
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church