A number of years ago everyone felt compelled to draft a mission plan. Churches without it were made to feel that they lacked vision and enterprise. Denominations and autonomous local churches sought to structure their fellowship around strategic planning. The rationale was simple, to get from A to B you must have a development plan. To lack this basic tool meant that you were not making efficient use of resources.
In many ways it reminded me of my trip to Willow Creek back in September 2001. The success of Willow had encouraged many to make the long pilgrimage to the site of ‘blessing’. I must admit I was impressed by their enthusiasm and clarity of vision and whilst they were adamant in refusing to endorse a generic template that would fit other churches, many I fear ignored this caution.
Whilst studying Anthropology at University I came across a case study entitled, ‘Cargo Cults’. In the early days of the Imperialism and missionary activity one particular Island had been visited by a number of missionaries. They set up camp and built a landing strip for light aircraft’s to arrive with residential cargo. A few months later the missionaries travelled to the other side of the island and noticed an identical landing strip built by natives.
Upon investigations the missionaries were told that they had done so in order to encourage the ‘big bird’ to come and provide them with the same gifts that the missionaries had received. Some churches like cargo cults are tempted to believe that if they copy the same structures as elsewhere then the blessings will come. The sad thing is that they rarely do; or at least not in the way they imagined.
God is less interested in the mechanics of change, but he does yearn for the heart that produces it. Structures do not impress Him but Kingdom seeking does, and when this is discerned often blessings follow. So many churches look to the success of others and ask, ‘why can’t we be like that?’ The truth is God doesn’t want them to be, he has give them a unique fingerprint ready to be stamped on their communities.
All effective mission planning does not begin or end with a document but with a heart for mission. This was always the ethos behind mission plan engineering, but has often faltered in expectation and application. My experience has been that churches spend more time talking about mission plans, rather than actually speaking to God. Wasting precious paper on goals and targets, rather than adopting mission hearts saturated in prayer and the Holy Spirits presence.
For me the problem with many mission plans is that they are too focused on what we do as opposed to what and who we are. The emphasis nearly always appears to be on structures, events and programmes. These often tie people up in further activities and place a drain on diminishing resources. I feel that a mission life must be structured into our personal DNA. It is our vocation not only to be involved in church plans and organisations, but to translate that into daily discipleship. Indeed that is our primary calling as that is where we spend most of week in the hum-drum of daily living.
So why do so few mission plans reflect this, or equip us to fulfil this mammoth task? I am convinced that mission plans are necessary but will need significant revision. Frequently such plans are written to create servants of an institution, rather than equipping us to serve our communities. If we are to restructure our mission plans, lets think creatively of how to re-shape our personal DNA. Where as church and individuals we leave our unique fingerprint of grace upon a community, who rarely meet the gathered church, and indeed have little desire to associate with it.
Not only is this a great challenge but indeed may end up saving the church altogether from the agenda ridden, labour intensive, deeply fractured communities that they are in danger of becoming. Why do so many addicts of dissatisfaction expect God to ‘do at church’ what they do not see him doing in their daily lives. If they find no evidence of him at home, at work or in the community why should he mystically turn up on a Sunday to satisfy their cravings when he is obviously absent elsewhere too.
I firmly believe that if we learn to discern God’s presence outside our institutions, then we might come to church with an entirely different attitude. No longer will we try to cram God’s presence into our worship like last minute exam revision, but see God’s presence everywhere. Perhaps Sunday only reflects the state of the believers heart on a Monday.
If with gratitude we could discerned his presence at work during the week, then the gathered church on Sunday may evidence a greater sense of joy, fruitfulness, and spiritual cohesion. So to answer my initial question, do we need more mission plans? The answer is a resounding yes, but only when plans are written reflecting the proportion of time we do not spend in church. Rather than this diminishing our importance as a gathered church it actually protects its necessity and significance. For us to be effective when we are dispersed it makes the limited time we spend together ever more essential. During such times we must learn to celebrate the evidence of his work among the dispersed church, equip them to do it better, and commission them to this great mission that God has called us to be part of. Only then can we truly go into all the World and make disciples.