What missional looks like

I read a great post by Don Johnson recently about service in the local church. He contrasted the “ivory tower” of ideals and innovations with the simple and seemingly unimpressive quiet faithfulness of local churches everywhere. As a minister who is certainly in a church context that presses the boundaries of normal, a church context more like the house churches that Johnson is contrasting himself with, I hear his words in a new way after these past two weeks.

As my grandma’s health declined this past year, it was the local Presbyterian church where my aunt and uncle are active members that ministered to her regularly, through visits at the care center where she lived, times of prayer and scripture reading, communion, and encouragement to her family. My Grandma had stopped being active in the church for many of her later adulthood years, and it was the ministers of this church and the chaplain of her residential community who gently embraced her and joined with God’s spirit in renewing her heart’s trust in God.

My grandma would likely never be on the radar of a house church or “missional community” like mine. But she was considered a vital part of the ministry of Knox Presbyterian Church in Spokane, Washington; she was someone’s priority there, while she likely contributed nothing to their church’s growth or vibrancy in the terms we tend to think in when we talk of those things. As I sat at her memorial service and listened to the minister share about his times visiting and praying with her, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the faithfulness of this pastor and the church that released him for such vital, missional ministry.

We have things to learn from the Knox Presbyterian Churches in our midst.


  1. Thanks. You are hitting the nail on the head better than I did. The challenge facing both the institutional parish and the emerging community is that of intentionality and energy. We have only so much time in a day to devote to causes. The question is; which cause, person, issue gets my attention? Is it to prop up the committee structure? keep owly members happy? deal with budget concerns, focus on folks in the margins, build up the believers who are there with you? It’s an on-going balancing act, not unlike trimming the sails on a boat to keep momentum and harnessing the ever-shifting winds.

  2. Funny, I was just pondering today how it might be time for us to move back towards a parish-style mindset when ministering in our communities. Lord, save me from wanting to be flashy.

  3. Good thoughts. I think we have to see that these different expressions or ways of being church, can have their place. The church is alive in Jesus, and even our deficiencies cannot stop the work of God through it. Although it is true that churches as expressions of the Church, can cease to be.

    And glad to hear of the good ministry to your grandmother.

  4. In college I worked delivery for a pharmacy. For many of those people, especially the elderly, my visit was the high point of their day. My boss (a Christian) always hired Bible college guys for the job, and I believe the main reason was this sort of ministry to shut-ins. Saddest for me were the people I met who, years before, had been active in a local church. Illness had cut them off from attending, and after a Pastor change or two their church forgot about them. They were embarrassed to seek out the church, “just” for ministry. And really, knowing what I know about those particular churches, families with children were the demographic they were aiming for anyway.

    I’m glad here about a shining example of ministry to the elderly. Every Sunday around the nation Christians minister to folks in places like nursing homes, but they don’t get the attention televangelists do. God sees, though.

  5. Adam, I saw both my grandparents come to places of conversion and deep faith in their older years. There were people and ministries that reached out to them and shared God’s love with them, and I know that God is deeply pleased with those servants who were faithful in those quiet acts of love and presence. It has caused me to think about my community and how we too might be the unseen and unsung hands of Jesus for the weak, the shut-in, the elderly.

  6. Matt, Parish ministry is perhaps having a comeback as a viable model for ministry. I have to say though that our decision to operate on a parish model has been the thing considered most objectionable by the most people: the idea that church can or should be about the people of a specific neighborhood rather than whatever chosen demographic is so foreign to what most have grown accustomed to (except for our Catholic brothers and sisters). And people have taken outright offense at our suggestion that commuting to church not be considered an option. More than racial righteousness and issues of justice, this has been the hot button for the most people and the area of greatest conflict. I would so love to see a return to a parish way of seeing our life together…

  7. Erika, yeah, I’m sure that parish-style ministry won’t be popular. But I’m growing convinced that there’s something to the Missio Dei in it. God comes to us, not the other way around. If we are to be His ambassadors, maybe we should stop waiting for people to come to us and start going to them.

  8. Erika: I’m really glad some thought is being given to the parish-style faith community. I do believe it is a very viable and necessary model. I’d love to see more faith communities adopt it — maybe even to point that a membership requirement is that you live in the community, i.e., if you want to be a part of this faith community, you must move and live here.

  9. We do have that as a membership requirement–to live within a very specific set of geographic boundaries. As I stated above, it has been, by far, the most hotly debated and disputed aspect of our church life. We have two reasons for this requirement. The first is that the kind of life, worship and witness that we see described in scripture requires relationship, and we see proximity to one another as necessary for the kinds of transformative relationships we believe God desires for us to have. Second, we have been called to bear the good news to a particular community, and we believe that we can have the greatest impact by focusing on one small area rather than spreading our efforts loosely around. One thing I have seen also as a result of the geographical boundary is that it has kept us honest to our mission of loving and serving the diverse set of people in our midst. It would be much easier to allow our church to grow among like-minded, like-us people who are drawn to our congregation from other parts of the city rather than to continue to persevere in loving the homeless, the gangbanger, the single mom, and the immigrant family who are right next door.

  10. Erika, you said: “One thing I have seen also as a result of the geographical boundary is that it has kept us honest to our mission of loving and serving the diverse set of people in our midst.”

    This is some excellent, practical missional thinking.

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