Intrinsic to the doctrine of the priesthood of every believer is the tenet that each believer is unique and has been gifted by God to make a unique contribution to the church. Although we persist in putting people into places where they don’t fit in the church just to keep an organization chart filled, this is an important concept that many churches are beginning to embrace.
I would like to suggest a corollary to this doctrine: the uniqueness of every church. At the core of the missional church concept is that each congregation is called to be part of the missio Dei (sending of God) in its particular context. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship embraces this idea in stating its mission as helping churches and individuals discover and fulfill their God-given mission.
Like everything else, there is the temptation to make missional church into another program like bus ministry or Evangelism Explosion. Missional church is not a program but a theological perspective that should inform, inspire and empower the people of God to become part of the sending of God into the world. Of primary importance is that the form of this sending will not be the same for every church. Each local congregation’s expression of the missio Dei will be unique to its particular circumstances and opportunities.
Of course, all churches hold certain things in common; for example, the ministry of the Word, the formation of disciples, ministry to those within the household of faith, service to the world, and the practice of the ordinances/sacraments. The ways that these are expressed, however, are appropriate to each congregation and its culture (even within a hierarchical church structure).
Each congregation has unique resources — its facilities, the community in which it is placed, its particular location in that larger community, its people and their gifts, skills, connections and finances. These resources equip a church to do a particular type (or types) of ministry. Of course, a church may adopt a ministry and accomplish significant results, but that ministry may not be its highest calling — the best use of its God-given resources.
How does a church go about identifying its resources and its unique ministries? I offer four basic suggestions.
First, pray with one another and with people in your community for discernment. This will develop a spirit of openness.
Second, read the Bible with fresh eyes by involving those outside of the church in that endeavor. God often speaks through the peripheral and marginalized.
Third, spend time talking with each other and your neighbors in the community — individuals, government officials, social service organizations and other faith groups. In this way, you will discover what others are doing and where the real needs are. This also fosters cooperation rather than competition.
Fourth, once you have embraced a ministry, do it well. It is more important to do one thing well than many things poorly.
To what unique task is God calling your church?
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at Barnabas File.