A common issue we face in the local church, as we attempt to orient ourselves toward a missional focus, is around the questions we ask.
Firstly, we ask the wrong questions. Our buildings and our programs thrust us into questions like, "How do we fill our seats?" or "Where do we find the time?"
Secondly, we ask the right questions, but in the wrong order, or at the wrong time. An example of this is that we answer questions around where we meet, or how we do evangelism, before we've even familiarised ourselves with how God is at work among the people we're seeking to serve and love.
Probably one of the most helpful thinkers I've met around this topic is Peter Roenfeldt, who introduced me to the four fields model (see below).
- EMPTY FIELD - the question to ask here is: "How do we enter?" This question is built on the assumption that in the context of knowing the story of the "field" we are seeking to enter, (and the work of prayer); God has already been at work ahead of us -- tilling the soil... preparing a person of peace ... pre-arranging entry points for relationships to be built, and missional activity (cross-shaped deeds) to be established.
I've been privileged to see this happen very well through what my wife has done with her recycled goods store - Junktion. We see Junktion as a missional experiment of AccessTheStory.
- SEEDED FIELD - the question here is: "What do we say?" - this is where our understanding of the gospel is crucial. "Whole story conversations" as legitimate presentations of the gospel mean that we can plant gospel (kingdom) seeds amongst the relationships that God has enabled us to establish. Conversational prayer is a brilliant practice to engage here.
The way I try and practice conversational prayer is to respond to people's needs that they have shared with me with sentences beginning with: "My hope for you is..." or, "My prayer for you is ..." ... I've found people (in a reasonably unspiritual culture) to be very responsive to this, and have often followed up with a subsequent conversation around that issue. From my perspective, I can see how this practice "scatters gospel seed" in our mission context.
- GROWING FIELD - "How do we cultivate the growth of disciples?" Again, this is the right question in the right place - discipleship is an environment, more than it is a follow-up plan for those who are "converted". This discipleship environment could be providing spiritual formation for those who have decided to follow Jesus, AND for those who are yet to make a first-time decision to do so. I've found that Chronological Bible Storying provides an excellent format for such an environment to be fostered.
I've found that our VERGE experience provides a healthy discipleship environment and I've seen the youth ministries at Thornlie Church of Christ and Woodvale Baptist Church successfully integrate this type of environment into their weekly context.
- HARVEST FIELD - "How do we gather?" This is probably the question that's hardest for us to answer - not because we don't have lots of ideas - but because it's the wrong people answering this question at the wrong time. Usually this question is answered by leaders well before the field has even been entered ... what would it look like to see those who are being discipled as the ones who answer this question?
I'm excited that my home church is currently journeying with a team of young leaders, and releasing them to shape how our Sunday evening gathering happens