I wasn’t buying it. All ministries couldn’t possibly have a life cycle. Certainly mission doesn’t have a life cycle. Jesus is abundantly clear when he says the “poor will always” be with us and our call is to be in ministry with and to them. Jesus didn’t provide an end date. I was skeptical that “life cycles” or any kind of natural expiration date for ministry applied to Mission.
Then I remembered. I remembered attending a church scholarship banquet with over 40 years of service behind it. I remember reading the invitation’s request for white gloves, wide-brim hats and a ticket price of $100 a plate. I remember showing up to see that very few other people had shown up. Not because the invitations had gone out late or the cucumber sandwiches had lost their crunch. The room was scarcely filled because the people outside of the social hall did not own white gloves, wide brim hats or an extra $100 for a meal of finger foods. The room was scarcely filled because the people in the attendance were in “mission” to their committee and not in mission to their community. The scholarship banquet seemed to drag on barely breathing without any meaningful results or impact. Despite a 40 year tradition, this mission ministry needed its last rites read- as it no longer translated to the needs, culture or people in the community.
If this scene is familiar to you consider these strategic approaches to the healthy life and death of mission ministry:
- Evaluate the method and not the mission: It’s extremely difficult to let go of Mission ministries when the mission and the method are assumed to be the same thing. When we pull the plug on long-standing but no longer relevant methods, it feels like an abandonment of the greater mission. Mission and method are not the same thing! The committee of the scholarship banquet had the mission right, it was the method that no longer fit. For mission to be meaningful, methods must live and die as they reflect a changing community. As you evaluate your mission ministries ask your leadership: What is the greater mission outside of the method? Is our method meaningful to the people in the community – now?
- Center around purpose and not people: People do ministry which means that sometimes we center mission ministries around people and not the larger purpose of transforming the world. Do you have an outreach ministry that you commonly refer to (AS) “belonging” to someone? “That’s Nicole’s project?” or “That’s John’s ministry?” When our mission ministries are constructed with people or personalities at the center then letting go of certain methods can be seen as letting go of people. Construct mission ministries that are bigger than individuals. When the time comes to pull the plug and try something new, individuals won’t feel like you’re pulling the plug on them.
3. Connect the change with scripture: Mission life cycles are inevitable because the world is constantly changing. The strategies the church uses to transform mission needs to change too. However, this fluidity often becomes rigid within the confines of the church. Adapting new strategies is not just practically necessary, it’s biblical. In 1 Corinthians 9:20 and 23a the Apostle Paul says, “To the Jews I became like a Jew to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law… I do all this for the sake of the gospel.” Paul adjusts his strategy depending on whom he’s interacting with. Connecting your mission’s life cycle to scripture helps leaders to understand that this strategy is not one you read on a blog but, one you read in the Bible.
As you continue to discern what mission God is calling you to birth or bury, know that I am eager to walk this journey with you.
We’re in this together,