Category: A Journey in Missional Leadership

A Journey in Missional Leadership: What are they hearing?

This post by Joth Hunt was originally published at Seventy Two

As I conclude my reflections over the past 25 years of missional leadership, I want to finally focus on a subject that I have become more and more convinced is essential in our desire to be Church with mission at its heart. It is the subject of communication. When I worked with Viz-A-Viz we held close to our strapline “Relevant communication of the gospel to people today.” Much of our emphasis was on the word ‘relevant’ but most of our energy went into ‘communication’. In a fast-moving world, that has been speeded up by COVID, growing and developing good communication I believe is vital. I was recently in a Zoom conference and one of the speakers, Laura Treneer, the previous Chief Executive Officer of CPO and now Managing Director of Frank Analysis Ltd. said these words, “Marketing is communication and communication is mission.” I think she has a point.

Every church is communicating something. When I arrived at Harlow Baptist Church in 2001 the church had been through a torrid decade. As I began to listen to the community around the church the general impression was that the church had closed. It hadn’t, but the silence and lack of activity from the church was communicating that nothing was happening. A message was still being heard, be it a wrong one!

Communication is happening regardless so we should stop to ask some key questions; What is our message? What is our method? How are we communicating? Is anyone listening and if so, what are they hearing? These, I believe, are all essential questions for the missional leader. I want to look at each of these but at that same time recognising the importance that good communication holds all these aspects together. 

What are we communicating?

In a world of a myriad messages, we cannot overlook the importance of the content that we are seeking to portray. The disciples are clearly called to be Jesus’ witnesses to the world and will be called upon to declare the truths of the Kingdom of God[1]. Content is central to the message.

My son is a fan of a group of YouTubers called ‘The Sidemen’. They have 10.5 million subscribers to their YouTube channel, but they don’t have a message. People watch them for their entertainment value that focuses around trivia. In this multi, self-made, self-promoting, media world, there is a real danger of focusing on style, image and trivia to the point of losing content and ultimately truth. The gospel is true and it’s good news. It is a message that cannot be lost, and I believe we need to continually work hard at presenting it well.

How are we communicating?

If we focus just on the ‘what’ of the message the danger is that our communication becomes outdated, irrelevant and unheard. The ‘how?’ is just as important as the ‘what?’.

The church over many decades has generally lent towards two main forms of communication: the spoken word, (mainly through sermons) and the written word, (through books and articles). Please don’t miss understand me, I believe that both sermons and books still have a key role within our faith, but when it comes to our culture today the methods of communication are now many. If we are going to be serious about mission, we need to radically rethink and engage with the ‘how’ of communication and appreciate that digital communication in its many forms is becoming predominant.

One of the few positives that we can take out of this year of COVID is that it has shaken up the Church’s default for communication. We have had to engage with new technology and rethink how the good old news of the Gospel can be communicated well today. My personal view is that this rethinking is only just beginning. Most of us have had a good attempt at embracing new technology. It hasn’t been easy but it’s a journey I believe we must embrace.

How is the message presented?

I’ve also learnt over the years that the ‘how of communication’ must also engage with the issue of quality. I remember being at a conference many years ago where J.John was the guest speaker. He said a lot about evangelism, but one phrase has always stuck in my mind.  He was instructing people about how to invite people to an evangelistic event. He emphasised that the invitation should be offered not in any old envelope but in a “nice envelope”! His point was, that if we have a quality message, we should work hard on the quality of how it’s presented.

I learnt more about this when I was at Viz-A-Viz. We worked tirelessly with excellent specialists in their field of communication such as design, sound, drama, schools work, video production and music to produce quality material that, in itself, indicated that the message was of precious value. As a pastor, of both a small under-resourced church and then of one with great resources, I strived to encourage each church to offer the very best communication possible. If we care about the good news of Jesus the quality of how the message is communicated must say something of how important that good news is to us.

Who is communicating?

If I’m honest, one of the things that has held back my effectiveness in proclaiming the gospel has been my fear of ‘new’ media. I have been slow to embrace social media, arguably for good reasons, and often slow to leave the comfort zone of the ‘old forms of communication’ that I know so well. I believe I’m on a continued journey of learning but a key part of this has been finding people who have this new skill set and calling from God.

As we journey into this new ‘multi-media’ era I believe God is raising up a new generation of designers, video creators, writers, musicians, artists, YouTubers and social-media experts, to guide the Church in its missional communication. I believe that part of the missional leader’s task is to go and find these people and release them into God’s calling. I am finding that they don’t look like your traditional communicator. They are geeks, IT specialists, video creators, artists, poets and social-media influencers but they are a special and essential gift to the Church.  

What is the big message?

If you went onto the streets of your town and asked people what they thought the message of the Church was I wonder what they would say. My expectation would be that for many there isn’t a message or that the message is one of irrelevance or even decline. I believe that missional leaders need to be considering the big message that people are hearing about the Church and the gospel and work hard at making sure this message is true, alive and transforms the life of the listener.

After several years at Eastleigh and working hard at seeking to support and connect with our local community I was delighted when I heard about a Facebook posting from a non-church attender, commenting that Eastleigh Baptist Church was a church that cared about the local community. It was a moment when I was reminded that people do gradually begin to hear the bigger message.

I am beginning to see missional leaders like painters who are painting a huge picture but often with tiny paint strokes. The big picture can’t be changed overnight but we do need to realise that the small messages within the life of a missional church are essential. A quality leaflet through the door, the conversation on the street with a Street Pastor, the welcome at a Foodbank, the availability of a conversation in a coffee shop are all tiny actions of mission that are gradually adding to and revealing the big picture of God’s truth. We should never devalue the small things of mission because without these acts of grace the larger picture of salvation will never be seen, but at the same time we must keep our eyes on the whole picture and recognise where more paint, texture, tone and colour are needed. 

What is being heard? 

The best communication is two-way. A message is offered, received and then reciprocated with some kind of feedback. Most miscommunication takes place when there is no feedback. The Church is often so busy talking that it doesn’t take time to listen to those it’s seeking to converse with. Did it make sense? What did you hear? How do you respond to the message? What questions do you have? What don’t you agree with? These are all helpful feedback questions, which will inform our communication into the future. Most modern-day medias offer opportunity for comment and feedback. These, I believe, should be embraced. No one wants to hear negative feedback but often this can be the most helpful feedback we will ever receive. It gives us an opportunity to review, learn, grow and re-communicate.

Doug was a ‘breath of fresh air’ when he arrived at Harlow Baptist Church. He was a new Christian, but he would tell me honestly what he had and hadn’t heard, whether he had understood and whether he agreed. At first it was daunting but gradually I came to embrace and value his feedback. It informed me, taught me and honed my communication and I believe I now communicate better because of him. The missional leader will seek, embrace and delight in feedback because two-way conversation is always more effective that one-way presentation.

Is our message authentic?

Finally, but of most importantly, in a world of many many messages, we must ask ourselves ‘what is it about the Christian message that will resonate the longest?’. My answer is its authenticity and truth! I’m not convinced that just being on social media or having a YouTube account is the full answer, although these helpful tools may play their role. What I am convinced of is that if we remain authentic and don’t get caught up in the danger of becoming image focused, the great picture of the gospel can be painted again for this generation.

This means that our lives and words must be aligned to the truth of the gospel. We must appreciate that communication is more than words, spoken and written. It is also about us. Our lives, our love, our compassion, our faith and our willingness to share authentically what we know about Jesus.

 

Thank you, for taking time to read and reflect on these articles. I hope and pray that something of my journey in missional leadership might have helped to inform and encourage you on your own journey.

This is article 8 of 8. You can view the whole series here.

[1] Acts 1v8 & John 15v26-16v15

 

The post A Journey in Missional Leadership: What are they hearing? appeared first on Seventy Two.

A Journey in Missional Leadership: Finding the Best Road Map

This post by Joth Hunt was originally published at Seventy Two

I was due to write this article back in April of this year but then we were in lockdown. All of a sudden what I thought I was going to share was thrown up in the air and I was asking myself, “who would even read it in the unique circumstances that we now find ourselves in?” It has taken me six months to feel that this next article was worth writing and hopefully worth reading.

My main problem was I wanted to write about the importance of strategy in mission but COVID-19 seemed to throw this in the air and any strategy we had known or that made sense was suddenly thrown in the bin. Yet over this period I have relearnt that it is not so much that we need a strategy but more that we need strategic thinking. There are moments in the life of the church when everything does get thrown into the air. It is in these moments that we should not stick rigidly to the path we have known but instead find the new path that now makes sense.

Back at the beginning of this year I was driving back from a SCBA trustees meeting only to discover that the A34 had been closed. Believing that this couldn’t apply to me I ignored the warning signs and just headed on to where I was certain I would be able to take my normal journey. When arriving at the A34 I discovered that the warnings had been correct! I had to turn around and head back the way I had come. You will have thought I would have learnt a valuable lesson but instead I decided to ignore the diversions signs and headed off in another direction convinced that I could somehow find my normal route. Eventually after an extra 10 minutes of driving through tiny country roads in the dark I arrived right back where I started! It was time to take a new route and follow the diversion before I ran out fuel!

I have found that the word strategy is over-used and highly misunderstood or misinterpreted. In fact it only appears in the Bible once in Isaiah 8v10 (NIV) and the vast majority of translations use the word ‘plans’ or ‘courses’.  ‘Strategic thinking’ is never listed as one of the gifts of the Spirit we find in the Bible. So you could ask, “Is it Biblical?” Yet it seems to me that there are plenty of Godly examples of good strategic leadership[1] and the early church was not bereft of acting strategically. I want to suggest, therefore, that it is very much is an essential a tool of the Spirit to guide us in our missional leadership.

Let me suggest five characteristics of the gift of strategic thinking that I believe are of great value to the Kingdom of God.

  1. Strategic thinking first seeks God’s wisdom

Finding the right path/strategy must always start in prayer. Psalm 119v105 encourages us to look to him who is a “lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” The path or strategy that we seek must be His and therefore we must start patiently on our knees asking for His wisdom and His insight. He ultimately is our navigator. Personally, I would encourage sharing this with others. Discernment shared together is so much stronger than discernment alone.

  1. Strategic thinking values logic

Logic doesn’t sound very spiritual. I have noticed over the years that sometimes spiritual discernment ignores all logic. Yet, if God created a rational world we would be foolish to ignore that which makes sense. Many of the sayings in Proverbs are common sense logical statements and Jesus himself encourages rational thinking[2].

In terms of mission we need to ask the question, “What makes sense?”. By asking this question honestly of an activity, initiative or project I have discovered that sometimes the answer is “No, it doesn’t!” The missional team or leader must have the courage to accept that the answer might be ‘no’.

On one occasion at Eastleigh we invited a number of people to join a faith questioning group. We set the date and time with the expectation that this would work for all involved. We discovered that that was not the case. Not all could make a Thursday evening, not everyone was ready for the group dynamic and everyone had a different set of questions. Logic suggested that instead of running a group we should offer each individual bespoke opportunity that fitted their time, with people they could relate to and in an environment where they could ask their unique questions. It made sense to make the change.

  1. Strategic thinking recognises when it is time to change

I have found in the business of church life we rarely stop to ask the question, “Are we on the best path?” We often plough on regardlessly hoping that the route we have always taken is still the best route. The problem with this mentality is that the landscape has changed and society has moved on. People are asking new questions and right now COVID is having its own cultural impact. A different strategy is required and we need to be brave enough to embrace the change and to be willing to take a risk at finding a new way. Excellent strategic thinking is when a team realises that now is the time to find a new route.

The gift of strategy is that it recognises when something just isn’t working and that change is needed. This is invaluable in our mission today.

  1. Strategic thinking looks for the best routes

Over the years I have enjoyed playing the game Risk many times but I fear playing against my brother-in-law who seems to have the gift of winning! At the point it looks like he might lose he seems to find another way to win. He is always prepared to change his plan and to find a better way.

We need people in our churches who recognise when change is needed but who also are able to discern a better path for the present. COVID has taught us this. When everything is thrown into the air and everyone around us is panicking because the old norm has gone, it is the strategists that often step forward with possible new ways forward. I find that strategists are optimists and creative and prepared to think in new ways. They don’t give up but instead keep searching for the better way. They are risk-takers who are trying to work out which paths are the best paths.

In these times of COVID asking the question, “What is the best route now?” is an important missional strategic question. I’ve been amazed by how many churches have not strategically considered what the new missional path during COVID might look like. Many have focussed too much on how to do church and to keep pastorally connected to existing members. Many churches have continued to exist behind even tighter closed ‘virtual’ doors. Let’s face it, if you are just doing ‘Zoom’ Church you are closed to the world. At a time when so many people are asking deep questions about meaning and purpose now seems to be a time to open up the experience and message of the Church to the wider community. Credit to those churches who have managed to find new ways of engaging with their community or opening up a virtual experience of worship and hearing from God for both their members and the onlookers.

  1. Strategic thinking connects the route together

Lastly, but far from least, a strategic thinking does not just focus on the destination but on the journey. If you don’t have a road map (or SatNav) you probably won’t arrive at where you hoped to go. The road map for a missional church is crucial but so is connecting up the various stages.

I’ve always enjoyed doing mazes. I’ve even got a maze app own my phone. There are three ways of completing a maze; you can start at the beginning, you can work backward from the end, or if you are really clever you can start from both ends and meet in the middle. A strategic thinker considers the steps needed to be taken from both ends in mission. From where the church begins and from where the not-yet-follower of Jesus starts. From the church perspective work must be done to prepare people to go on a journey in order to meet them as they seek to discover Jesus. But great consideration must be made to understand the journey required for those who are seeking. From the seekers perspective we need to consider carefully what the paths are that help someone come to faith today. If you don’t know, go and ask someone who has recently come to faith.

I was speaking to one of our pioneers yesterday and she told me that a person she has met recently, who has no faith, had requested to come to their “Outdoor Church”. Apparently she admitted that she wasn’t religious but just “loved hanging out with you guys”. This is not just accidental. It is recognising the importance of relationship and belonging as important initial steps in strategically outreach in our times.

Personally, I believe that strategic praying, thinking, conversation and implementation is at the centre of good missional leadership. I think this is what Paul is hinting at in 1 Corinthians 9v19-23, when he says that to reach the Jews he became a Jew; to reach those under the law he places himself under the law; to reach those not under the law he became like those not under the law; to reach the weak he became weak; so that “by all possible means” he might save some. This sounds like strategic thinking to me!

 

[1] Noah’s Ark, Joseph’s management of the famine, The Exodus, Joshua, Gideon, King David, Solomon’s temple, Proverbs, Daniel, Nehemiah, Jesus’ public ministry, Paul’s missionary journeys etc…

[2] Matt 6v19-21, 7v9-12, 24-27; Luke 14v28-33, John 11v9-10

 

This is article 7 of 8. You can view the whole series here.

 

The post A Journey in Missional Leadership: Finding the Best Road Map appeared first on Seventy Two.

A Journey in Missional Leadership: Embracing the Wider Family

This post by Joth Hunt was originally published at Seventy Two

In my last article entitled “Herding Cats” I wrote about the potential of the missional impact of teams and each local congregation. In this article I want to reflect on a wider larger team, that of the wider Church, and the potential of interdenominational partnership for the sake of the mission.

On the day of my induction at Harlow Baptist I went into the local pub, The Crown, which sat across the road from the church, and introduced myself as the new baptist minister. After looking at me in amazement and disbelief, the publican eventually declared that he had never seen a Baptist Minister in his pub before. This gave me the opportunity to ask him whether he had ever attended the Baptist Church before. His answer surprised me. He responded by saying, “I will only attend church when churches stop fighting each other and start working together.” I hadn’t seen that response coming, but I think he has a point. Why would anyone seek out the Church if the recent history of church life is one of disunity and infighting?

My personal experience while working with Viz-A-Viz in the 90’s was that we worked with all types, shapes, sizes and denomination of churches and were often working alongside an organisation or collaboration of churches. Much of my work in my early years was working with groups of churches within Chelmsford, Basildon and Billericay. I think this experience informed me that mission across churches is very possible and very effective. I have concluded that missional work done in partnership with other churches and denominations is both biblical, efficient and effective but not always easy, requiring good relationship, a good dose of realism and from time to time compromise for the sake of unity. Let me try and unpack some of my thinking.

It’s Biblical

I am convinced that the greatest effective tool for mission is the Church itself. What I mean by that isn’t so much our building, services and rituals, although these can play a part, but instead how we relate together and how we are his community, his family. If there is disunity and infighting in the family why would any one want to be part of that family?

Probably the most explicit passage in scripture about this is Psalm 133 when the psalmist writes, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”[1] The psalmist seems to believe that where there is unity there is the blessing of God not just for the people of God but for the whole community. I don’t think this is about strategy but about spirituality. It seems to me that Jesus has the same view in his prayer in John 17 that we might be one and that in seeing the unity of the Church the world might know that Jesus was sent by God[2].

Its Efficient

It’s remarkable how many churches try to do everything on their own. It seems to me that we prefer competing against each other rather than complementing each other. When I was at Harlow, it made sense to work with other churches. We were a small church with initially just 23 members. We had a vision to reach the children, young people and families of Old Harlow but very little resource to do so. Surprisingly, we discovered that the same vision was shared by the other two churches within the Old Town. So together we took assemblies in the local primary schools, ran a chaplaincy in the secondary school and initiated a children’s work that we called ‘Kidz Klub’. After a few years, the Kidz Klub Holiday Club was seeing over 100 children attend, which accounted for 25% of the families in the Old Harlow. After several years of working together we also established the first youth club in the Old Town for years, called ‘Revelation’. None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the partnership and unity across the three churches. 

Its Effective

Thirdly, in my experience, uniting in mission across churches has been effective. In all my seasons of ministry at Viz-A-Viz. Harlow and Eastleigh I have seen effective mission emerge. At Viz-A-Viz this was particularly seen through a number of two wide schools ministry. In Chelmsford, we reached every secondary school and the vast majority of primary schools across the town, through a joint initiative called SYM (Schools and Youth Ministries). The majority of the churches contributed and it was through that wider unity that almost every child and young person in Chelmsford had the opportunity to encounter Christians within their schools for over two decades.

At Eastleigh 16 churches covenanted together to walk with each other is mission and to try and do together what could be done together rather than alone. Remarkably this led to the establishment of a united front through Street Pastors, Eastleigh Basics Bank, support for vulnerable people through an initiative called ARK, a CAP debt support centre, a homeless project, called Fledge, and an annual weeks mission called ‘Hope’. I can’t imagine any of these initiatives happening without a unified approach to mission.

It requires good relationship

One of the key areas of working with churches I have found over the years has been the importance of relationships. When I first moved to Harlow I was excited about the prospect of being involved with a town wide schools ministry. Sadly, having attend a couple of town-wide ministers meetings my passion for schools ministry seemed to be falling on deaf ears. It took me awhile to realise that it wasn’t because my passion was wrong but because others didn’t know me. I had to learn to be patient and to understand the history of church unity across Harlow. I needed to spend time with each leader and to appreciate what really was achievable within the relationships that were developing.

Coming to Eastleigh, my approach was different. I didn’t leap in with an initiative but instead was pro-active in getting to know people, churches and the town. Interestingly, although it took longer, the relational path proved to be more effective.

It requires realism

However enthusiastic I have been about unified mission I have learnt over the years that I also have needed a good dose of realism. All the illustrations I have offered have not been easy and there have clearly been moments when inter-church mission hasn’t work so well. There have been moments when I have had to conclude that a certain initiative wasn’t something we could do together. I think this has come with maturity as the year have passed by and I have learnt not to be too disappointed. I have conclude that it is possible to work together but not on everything and that is OK.

It requires a degree of compromise

Finally, good interdenominational relationships, require compromise. Each church’s theology, ecclesiology, missiology, expectations and commitments are all different. In unity, to expect everyone to aline to our position is unrealistic. Of course, there are certain things that I wouldn’t consider compromising on but most things have ‘wriggle-room’ and for the sake of togetherness and mission it has been worth the wriggle. The willingness to consider a compromise, reflects both a respect of the other and valuing the relationship we have together in Christ. I have tried to adopt a ‘somehow we can make this happen’ attitude wherever possible. This hasn’t always been the case but I have been surprised that on many occasions it has worked and the end result has been remarkable.

The past 25 years of ministry have convinced me that mission is not just about passion, knowledge, strategy and gifting, but also about unity. My publican friend, as far as I’m aware never did start attending church but I think his point is still valid. The mission of God and the Church is far stronger and more effective when we are one in Christ and the world recognised this to be real and true. For me unity is worth pursuing for the sake of mission.

(Article 6 of 8)

 

[1] Psalm 133v1

[2] John 17v21

 

The post A Journey in Missional Leadership: Embracing the Wider Family appeared first on Seventy Two.