Thursday, December 6, 2012

Growing a Vineyard while Oiling the Machine

Growing a Vineyard while Oiling the Machine
Transitioning an existing church’s focus from membership to being missional.

I had another conversation with a frustrated pastor today who can’t figure out how to move her local church from being inwardly, “membership focused” to being outwardly, “missionally focused.” She lamented over the preoccupation with superficial programs that simply entertained existing members and the demand to teach one more Bible study to folks who have more hours of scripture classes than the average seminary student. I told her that she had to keep oiling the machine but start growing a missional vineyard. When she asked for help I told her that what we at St. Paul had discovered is that we had to start small, start simple, and start strategically.

Start small. Don’t make a big pulpit announcement about the new missional initiative. Don’t plan an all church workday or citywide project at first. Find one place that you and a couple of interested, missional people can do that will make a difference. Maybe it is helping one family that needs help paying the bills and finding a job. Maybe it’s helping one teacher by reading to his students or volunteering in his classroom. St. Paul’s huge engagement with a local school started with the collection of just a few school supplies. Now we supply every teacher with school supplies to start the year and feed fifty kids a week. We assist families with rent and utilities to keep kids from being homeless, but it all started with a couple of bookbags. The biggest mistake I see is when well-meaning pastors want to attempt something that will require church-wide buy in without getting support first. Most great movements have very humble beginnings, start small.

Start simple. Missional engagement doesn’t have to be complicated. We have the tendency to make things complicated. Look around your community for an obvious place where you can make a difference. The place you choose to serve doesn’t have to be original, and it doesn’t have to be your idea. We didn’t create Back Pack Buddies, but when our local school social worker let us know that kids were going hungry, we decided we could do something about that. The process is simple, pack bags with non-perishable, easily prepared food from the list they provide. We didn’t invent it. We didn’t complicate it. We just do it.

Start strategically. If you start small, and start simple you will gain a little momentum. The temptation will be to see your small step as a chance to go fully missional. While in some rare cases, this might be the case, for most churches, it just means they are ready to take the next step. Grow your missional initiatives slowly and strategically. Allow the efforts to mature and as people take more and more ownership, allow them to grow organically.

We serve churches that for years have run like machines that need to be oiled. We have programs that need to be run. Worship services that have to be organized. People that expect to be visited. Don’t abandon the machine, keep oiling the machine, but dedicate some portion of your time to growing your missional vineyard. One day, and it will take a long time because vineyards grow very slowly, you will realize that your vineyard is bearing fruit. Then when the day comes that the “machine” no longer runs, the missional vineyard will be in full bloom. Meanwhile, I have to head to the vineyard, after three years, its just now starting to take root. I remain:

Consumed by the Call, 

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