Every Parish a Missional Parish
It was the fall of 1994 and a church plant group in the western suburbs of Fairfax County, Virginia, was excited to finally be calling its first official rector.
We had planted the new church with a launch team of 70 out of a large mother church with a great group of strong Christian leaders. Just a few months in, we already had several ministries up and running--children, youth, altar guild, prayer, home groups--and up to that point, had enjoyed experiencing different visiting clergy who preached and celebrated the Eucharist for us.
We expected our new rector to arrive, bless what we were doing, and simply step into the typical clergy responsibilities of preaching, celebrating, visiting the sick, and leading the staff. But as soon as the Reverend Tom Herrick arrived, he started talking about missional DNA, a vision for local and global missional involvement (not just sending money overseas), and a short-term mission trip to Honduras that he would be making with a few parish members in just a few months’ time.
“What?! Why do we need to stop what we're doing and talk about vision, core values, and mission strategies? We already know how to 'do church'! Are you seriously going to leave so soon after arriving to go minister in another country when we have so many needs right here in our new parish?"
Tom’s answer was a firm and confident, “Yes, yes I am.”
What we didn’t know at the time was that Tom was saving us from making a fatal mistake that many new (and established) churches make all the time: not having the Great Commission at the center of our very purpose for existing! Former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple repeatedly stated that “The church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members!”
Many parishes are primarily focused on their own internal needs, thus becoming inward-looking and insulated from the needs of their local communities, much less the needs of global, unreached people groups. In addition, many churches give like individuals often give: at the end of the year if there is any money left over in the budget. I’ve seen parish outreach budgets that are lower than their budget for funeral flowers.
Early on, Tom took the Vestry on a retreat to establish our parish’s vision for implementing our part of God’s global mission. A healthy parish will have local, domestic, and global outreach as part of its mission strategy. He taught our parish that we must not just have a missions committee, but that every ministry of our church must have missional DNA. No matter where you “sliced” our parish, you would find ways that every ministry was connecting our parishioners through God’s heart to people who didn’t yet belong to the Body of Christ.
Tom knew that he had to “walk the talk” when it came to being a missional Christian and leading a missional parish. He couldn’t just have a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. He led by example, ensuring that an annual 2-week mission trip was a required part of his employment contract that didn’t count as his vacation! He also had required spring and fall personal retreats so that he could continually receive guidance and refreshment from the Lord and make sure that he wasn’t leading in his own strength, but by the Spirit’s power.
Every Christian carries the light of Jesus Christ in them and, as Christians, we are called to be part of Christ’s Body, the Church. Expanding the church worldwide is God’s primary way of extending the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth. Every Christian is called to be salt and light in this dark world in the communities in which they are residing. Some of us will be called to become long-term missionaries or to be part of short-term mission teams. Ideally, all of us are called to be part of a sending community, praying for and caring for those who are going into mission fields, both near and far.
When Rev. Tom returned with the two other parishioners from that first mission trip, they reported on all that God had done in less than two weeks in Honduras. Precious villagers were prayed for, healed, and set free from spiritual oppression. Solid Biblical teaching was imparted to the leaders of several local churches, teaching their leaders how to minister more effectively to their own people. The sharing of photos, stories of cross-cultural blunders, and testimonies of transformed lives--both the team’s and the Honduran people’s--captured our hearts and deepened our commitment to develop this global relationship and establish others.
Taking time early on to establish a mission-centered foundation in our church plant was the key to our steady growth, healthy congregational life, and global impact. We encouraged every member to go on a short-term trip. One summer, we sent out 100 of our 225 members on five different short-term trips! Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised for local, domestic, and global mission and ministry through our parish. In addition, several mission organizations were launched from our young parish, including Tom Herrick eventually starting the Titus Institute for Church Planting and Multiplication, which just turned 10 years old!
Whenever we were blessed by something, our default was to turn around and bless others outside our parish in the same way. Here’s a great example: our youth group ran an Alpha course for our own teens and their friends. They were so impacted that they decided to host a course in a local youth detention center. The following summer, they put together a domestic mission trip to Florida to teach other youth groups how to use Alpha as an outreach tool. Many of those people from our youth group are serving the Lord in full-time missional capacities today.
We often see the word “missional church” used, but that term should be redundant. Every church should see itself as part of God’s global mission to reach the world. No church would likely admit that they are a non-missional church, but a quick look at the budget and calendar of activities will reveal whether mission is in its DNA. It’s never too late to deepen a parish’s missional commitment, but in a province like ours, so committed to church planting, establishing missional DNA from the get-go is the best way to start!
Jenny Noyes is the Executive Director of New Wineskins Missionary Network. She is a passionate speaker, networker, and evangelist. For fun, Jenny can be found riding ElliptiGOs with husband Larry, playing tennis and spending time with family and friends. You can contact Jenny here.