Fostering an outward-looking perspective for our Reformed churches is important to me. Doing that while maintaining a Reformed identity is also vital. So, the other day I posted five negative theses about being missional and Reformed. Today, as promised, I’m following up with five positive theses. As before, I offer the thesis and then a little explanation/commentary (asking you to realize that way more could be said).
1. Being missional involves putting Jesus and the gospel at the center of everything
This one is first because it is of primary importance. Since we recognize the pressing urgency of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Reformed churches must be always self-consciously putting the gospel out there. By “gospel” I mean the good news of everything Jesus Christ has done and will do for sinners. That gospel message has to resound not only in our preaching, but in every aspect of church life. We ought to be known as churches that just can’t stop talking about Jesus.
2. Being missional involves intentional discipleship into an outward-looking mindset and practices
It is odd to me that the idea of discipleship is not more strongly emphasized in many of our Reformed churches — because Scripture teaches that one of the key things that defines a Christian is being a disciple of Jesus. Being a disciple means being a student, not only in the sense of learning information from the Master, but learning to follow and imitate the Master’s way of life. Our Teacher’s way of life was always outward-looking — he seeks and saves the lost. So as Reformed churches, we ought to be discipling existing and prospective church members to do likewise. Catechism classes should include discipling our younger members in how to reach out. New member classes should be so bold as to teach new disciples how to start right away at making more disciples — we need to harness their excitement and enthusiasm for the gospel to spread the gospel further!
3. Being missional involves an attitude shift
Sometimes people have the idea that becoming more missional means radically changing everything we do as Reformed churches, dropping some things and adding others. Not so. Instead, at its heart, missionality involves a shift in perspective. We go from having a church which exists as an end unto itself, to being a church oriented outwards and inwards. We beginning thinking about the lost, we talk about the lost, and we pray about the lost. This shift in perspective/attitude, also means adjusting existing programs to incorporate an outward looking perspective. I give one such example here.
4. Being missional involves a cultural shift
Most, if not all, of our Reformed churches are what we call “high-context cultures.” There are many unspoken assumptions embedded in our local church cultures. For example, in the Free Reformed and Canadian Reformed churches, we usually expect everyone to know there is a section of Psalms in the Book of Praise, followed by a section of hymns. In some of our churches, you are expected to look at the church bulletin and know that the women’s society meets at the church at such and such a day and time — no one will tell you, you just ought to know. In other churches, strangely and sadly, you are expected to know that there is assigned seating. Many more examples could be given. Being missional means shifting to a low(-er) context culture where we don’t assume newcomers will automatically understand everything we do and say. An excellent place to begin putting this into practice is the church website. Ask an unbeliever to look at your church website and point out the Reformed jargon or anything unclear. You might be surprised.
5. Being missional involves awareness that on any given Sunday we could have guests worshipping with us
We ought to pray about guests — that God would bring them and that God would bless them. We expect to see guests and when they arrive, we want to be aware that they’re there. For some years, I have greeted our members and guests before the worship service. Part of the reason I do this is to be aware of who is worshipping with us, whether we have guests or not. But congregation members should also be attuned to this. In some of our churches, there are Bibles and Books of Praise in the pew (good missional practice, in my view), in others not. For those who don’t, the members of the church should be observing newcomers and whether they have a Bible and Book of Praise, or not. If they don’t, offer them one of yours, or help them to access the books from the ushers or whatever. When there are guests, warmly welcome them — introduce yourself, offer hospitality, etc. We do this because of who we represent — we represent our King. He has a warm, friendly heart and so should we.
With these five negative and positive theses, I don’t claim to have exhausted what could be said on this topic. I also don’t claim that all of these are implemented in the church I serve or by me personally. However, I believe they are goals for which we ought to strive. I commend them for your serious consideration. The world around us is perishing and the church is the means by which Christ will bring rescue. Therefore, it behooves us to look outward and care deeply about the lost, while at the same time continuing to stand on the biblical teachings and practices which define us as Reformed churches.