One Small Word: Changing the Missions Paradigm at Your Church

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One small word can change the entire paradigm of missions at your church. Don’t believe me? Read on!

A pastor spent months, even years, praying for mission opportunities for his church. He prayed, “Lord, send us the people that nobody else wants to serve.” 

This pastor’s servant heart longed for his congregation to welcome the ‘least’ of these from their community. He wanted his church to be a place where everyone shows the love of Christ.

However, not much changed in his congregation. He shared his frustrations with a local pastor, who challenged him to add one small word to his prayer: “Lord, send us TO the people that nobody else wants to serve.” With just this two-letter word, the whole paradigm of what mission looks like in this congregation changed.

I heard this story at the recent Missio Alliance Awakenings Conference, as told by Jorge Acevedo, multi-site pastor and author of Vital: Churches Changing Communities and the World, speaking on the Future of the Church. Acevedo says we need a “mixed ecology” of church in today’s post-Christian context: a church that is operating intentionally both inside and outside of the traditional church building.

When the United States was a mostly-Christian nation, the church could focus on welcoming those who came into their building. Our mission was serving the people—both Christians and pre-Christians—who came looking for something spiritual to fill the God-shaped hole in their life. Today, however, when more and more people do not have any experience with church or any knowledge of God, the church must consider how to live into its missional calling from God to be “sent ones.”

Christian Reformed Churches have sent missionaries TO countries and communities around the world to love and serve in the name of Jesus through Resonate Global Mission (formerly World and Home Missions) for many years. What does it look like to now send your congregation TO their own communities to love and serve in the name of Jesus? What can you learn from the missionaries you support about the practices and postures we need to adopt as sent-ones? When one of these missionaries visits your church this summer while on home service, I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to learn from them, to use their life and ministry as a model for your own.

How could this simple word change the paradigm of mission in your church?

Ideas For Learning From Missionaries on Home Service:

  • Interview them [in a worship service or youth group or outreach team meeting or…], asking questions like: Tell us how you develop relationships with people that are not Christians; How do you pray for your community; How do you have spiritual conversations with people; How do you learn to see what God is already doing in your community
  • Invite them to prayer walk your church neighborhood with you. Ask them to share what they see in your neighborhood that may be opportunities for missional engagement.
  • Share pictures or statistics of your neighborhoods with one another. What similarities are there between the people this missionary serves and your own neighbors? Do you both have Muslim neighbors, college students, or refugees in your contexts? What learnings can you share about this demographic?
  • Invite the missionary to join you (and your staff or family) for a meal at a restaurant you have never been to before. Use this opportunity to ask the missionary what it feels like to be an “alien in a foreign country” and how they overcome the challenges they face. What can you learn from them that helps you live as Christians in a post-Christian country? (1 Peter 2:11-12)
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What a neat way to help a church re-focus. Another word that is used is "with". How can we do ministry "with" our community or context where God has placed us? A resource guide for approaching community using a "with" concept is already here on the Network.