Why Ministry Formulas, Pragmatism and Renewal are not enough to become “Missional”

My friend Earl Creps wrote a great book called “Off-Road Disciplines. His chapter one on personal transformation is the best description I have ever seen to describe the idea of what I call a “ministry template” in the N. American setting. He opens by noting how pastors and church leaders come to conferences looking for deliverables…how should I change my church? what is working in the innovative churches? He observes that “the commonsense pragmatism driving these questions elevates ministry technique as the starting point for thinking about mission” (3). He says that the better question is “How can I be changed so that others will find me worth following in mission?” (3). It is his conviction that the way to develop a missional ministry is to be transformed into a missional person “so that everyone may see your progress” (3).

I love this line…“In the end, my best practice must be me” (3).

Earl narrates his own journey through what I would call various “ministry templates” and his discovery that none of them are truly adequate for helping to engage the setting a person is working in. He concludes that “The kind of spiritual renovation that forms a missionary’s heart defies every attempt at reduction to a formula, or franchising as a ‘model'” (4).

He also talks about renewal, which is something we all need and always need. He makes what I consider to be the critical observation when it comes to bringing together revival/renewal with engaging one’s cultural setting with the Gospel…he suggests the key question is Why have we been awakened and what are we prepared to do about it? (13). Too often in my experience renewal/revival is touted as the “silver bullet” of ministry that will solve all problems, while questions of how to engage the local setting in a relevant fashion are ignored or seen as not necessary.

Ministry templates, formulas or models a formed in a given place at a given time…the are “embedded” in a social and cultural setting that includes both God’s people and Non-Christians. When the winds of the Spirit blow to revive and renew people in a particular “template” that already is ineffective in a setting other than its original birthplace, the likelihood is that it will produce very limited results.

If we want to be missional, in the sense of engaging our cultural setting as a cross-cultural missionary would, then Earl’s call for personal transformation, which in my view includes the gift of grace to see clearly one’s own template and its inadequacies in one’s current setting, is the critical starting point.

Creps, Earl. Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass, 2006.

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