03 August 2012

Missional Communities Peel Back Pastoral Pride

I sometimes get the privilege of coaching young leaders who are attempting a church plant through a more communal and missional approach. I’m certainly no expert by any stretch, just a little further down the road. I have been able to acquire some bumps and bruises. In the immersion of pioneering church this way I've gathered a few wisdom-nuggets to throw in the bucket.

When coaching I often feel a need to prep them for the transition this approach will require. Personally I’ve been “taken to school” in numerous ways trying to develop a network of mid-sized communities in the city. I don’t want to be a party-pooper but just a little cold water needs to be drizzled over the big visions. No amount of reading and conference attending can emotionally prep you for this new domain. I’ve been a paid pastor in traditionally structured churches for 10+ years before planting  and the biggest water-shed lessons have been on the expectations I imported from previous ministry experiences. Planting our church has peeled back a lot of pastor pride. Here’s a confessional of how leading in a missional community paradigm has been personally humbling and might humble you.

1. You may never get a full time salary from your church.
I found financial security through my previous churches starting out at $30,000 a year and incrementally climbing to double that over ten plus years. In this environment there's no financial ladder to climb. To plant a missional community means you’ll probably be bi-vocational to some extent. Getting a sweet salary and health insurance package from Missional-Communites is a bit inappropriate and counter to the movement.  My wife and I have had to come to terms with the missionary nature of planting this way.  It takes creativity to make ends meet. When your community is not your primary income source it takes a vast amount of emotional resolve from you and your spouse to press on.

2. You may never get credibility with Cultural Christians.
When others ask me, where does your church meet?  Where is your building?  I sometimes hem-and-haw because it’s not easy to explain. Once I’m able to help them understand the odd way we express church it is anti-climactic.  I'm just starting to adjust to people being unimpressed and even a bit repelled.  Even though I did not set out to plant a church that would attract Christians, it's still a stinger to not be accepted in the party.  Let go of the need to be legitimate with your own tribe.

3. You may never be the buzz of the town.
Stories and biographies of fast growing, evangelistically successful churches like Elevation Church and Mars Hill Church can mess with your head.  Missional-Communities by nature are stealth and should purposely fly under the radar. Mass marketing ruins the family ethos of missional communities. Your best marketing is relational capital with people and - reality check… relational credibility is an exhaustively slow process. So people are not going to be Googling your church to check out your awesome worship, great children’s programming and dynamic preaching. Neighbors will be drawn in by those in your community who've spent a year or two building relationally trust. 

4. You may never get a "Sermon-high" again.
There is something hypnotic and authoritative about preaching from behind a pulpit.  Behind a pulpit people naturally look up to you and have a propensity to view you as a spiritual giant. I no longer preach behind a pulpit. I teach and create deeper conversation in very communal environments. People sit in a circle and I sit with them. I’m not on a stage. I can’t prepare an expository sermon, deliver it and then exit stage left. This would seem completely inauthentic in a Missional-Community. Communal teaching is interactive and it allows people to interrupt and ask questions while you’re teaching. Everyone loves interactive teaching until you’re the one teaching. Sometimes your points get lost, sometimes people struggle with what you’re saying and they let you know live. You don’t have the platform for an air-tight sermon were the "shekinah glory" comes down. You teach for incremental, communal transformation not for ooh's and aah's. Maybe you've gotten used to people saying "great sermon pastor" and measuring God's movement by those responses. You'll have to let go of that. In many ways pastors have become too comfortable with spiritual boundaries that keep them elevated. So be prepared, its over.

5. You may not use the same measuring tools for success.
You can’t use numbers to gauge whether your church is healthy. Most pastors will say “its not about numbers” but they still tether themselves emotionally to them. Honestly, we've found that Missional-Communities are not sexy to the average church shopper. So don’t expect growth from people who dig church. Icons that made you feel like you had apprehended something, are gone. You may not have a building to drive to, a church sign signifying your presence in town or a captive audience to promote your exciting events to. I was never a fan of that stuff, but trust me, you notice it when it's gone. Building an ethos of family and discipleship in your communities is hard to measure and it's not visible eye candy. If you're faithful to this type of plant, God will strip away your archaic measuring tools.  

6. You're no longer the center piece of your churches dynamic.  Your leadership, your magnetic personality, your preaching, your communication skills, your academic sharpness won't work long term. A Missional-Community really is a church stripped down to the axioms. The chemistry and the quality of spirit-filled community is what will sustain energy or kill it. In this new environment the lack of love, authenticity, connectedness and hospitality will be glaringly obvious. You can’t make up for this with your personal dynamic. You’re no longer the glue that keeps people coming back. Personality driven churches springboard off structures that support and magnify them. But you don’t have those structures in the simplicity of community. Therefore discipling people to truthfully love one another and their neighborhood is essential for survival and missional longevity.

After I spill some of this cold water on a visionary, I usually ask "are you sure you want to lead in this type of environment?" This type of approach is humbling in ways that I did not expect. Still I believe it is the narrow way of building for the Kingdom of God in an increasing Post-Christian context. It is a route filled with deeper love, deeper discovery and deeper transformation and I would never go back.

Do any of these resonate with you?


  1. Great stuff Dan. Thanks for sharing. These are harsh realities behind the nitty gritty of missional communities.

  2. Thanks Chris,
    Stuff not often talked about but something I've slammed into.

  3. "So discipling people to truthfully love one another is essential for survival and longevity." - right on.

  4. So, If I said you wrote something really good, it would feed your ego and tempt you to pride. Instead I'll say this, "Thank you Lord for bringing out some wisdom that will go a long way in the Holy Spirit's work to move us further out with you in your ongoing mission to the people around us. Amen."

  5. Amen. Press on.

  6. Great article and a great warning to people thinking "missional" is the new thing...it is great, it is hard, it is worth it

  7. Dan,

    This is very timely and right on. We're your friends an hour to your west is Rochester doing very similar things. Let's get together sometime and continue talking about this topic!

  8. New guy. Loved it. Thankyou. Long live The King(Jesus!)

  9. Thanks new guy for swinging by. Peace.