Years ago I read a book that changed my life and ministry, The Church Unleashed: Getting God’s People Out Where the Needs Are, by Frank Tillapaugh (1982). It was primarily writing about how our people need to be focused on those outside of the walls of our facilities. When all the church knows is the status quo, what he writes about is a real paradigm shift.
Recently I was reminded of these ten paradigm shifts by Os Hillman of Marketplace Leaders. Here is a summary of chapter 12 of his Faith at Work:
A paradigm is a model consisting of shared assumptions regarding what works or what is true. A paradigm shift is that “aha!” moment when one sees things in such a new light that you can never go back to the old ways again. A new paradigm is the new wineskin that will be needed to hold the new assumptions about what is true. To maximize our impact on our communities, we need changes in at least ten of our paradigms of how we currently view church.
1. From building walls to building bridges. “You are the salt of the earth, You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). We must see ourselves in relation to our communities, not just who we are inside the church. We are to infiltrate rather than isolate.
2. From measuring attendance to measuring impact. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast… mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33). People are not impressed with our size or programs or how committed we are to the truth and how we fight for it. They want to see followers of Jesus living out what they say they believe. How can Jesus live in our communities, impacting the lives of others and drawing lost people to himself? Ministry must be holistic, reaching the person, not just their souls. (Galatians 2:10, Romans 1:15-17, Acts 10:36-38)
3. From encouraging the saints to attend the service to equipping the saints for works of service. “It is (God) who gave some to be… pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service.” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City writes that the process of mobilizing members into ministers “starts by articulating clearly and regularly a theology of “every-member ministry.” Rick Warren emphasizes the same thing in his purpose driven model. People must find needs and meet them with the goal of the expanding the kingdom of God.
4. From “serve us” to service; from inward to outward focus. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give” (Mark 10:45). Erwin McManus of Mosaic Church in East Los Angeles says that the single biggest factor in his church retaining people is not personal follow-up or joining a small group, it is being involved from the very beginning in service to others in the community. When members have told him that they want the church to meet their needs, his reply is: “You are the church and together we are called to meet the needs of the world.”
5. From duplication of human services and ministries to partnering with existing services and ministries. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). The Bible is filled with examples of how God used secular people in partnership with His people to fulfill His purposes. Think of Joseph and Pharoah, Nehemiah and Artaxerxes, and Esther and King Ahasuerus.
Instead of each congregation having its own food pantry, why not partner with the local community food bank? When needy people request food, congregations could refer these folks to their “partner ministry.” We form partnerships not around theology but around our common concern and love for the city.
6. From fellowship to functional unity. There is a strong case to suggest that there is really only one Church in a city or community (made up of all believers) that meets in many congregations around the city. In Philippians 2:2 Paul implored, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
Only unity of purpose around the vision of a transformed community is strong enough to unite pastors and churches of different denominations. Uniting the Church around a common goal is preferable to trying to unite the church around a cooperative project. Community transformation begins at the intersection of the needs and dream of a community, the calling and capacities of the Church (and the community) and the mandates and desires of God for a community.
7. From condemning the city to blessing the city and praying for it. Jeremiah 29 begins by saying: “This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem… to those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” What follows are instructions on how to live as aliens in a foreign land. He says: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).
For too long we as the Church have positioned ourselves as adversaries to our communities. The monolithic Church has stood from afar and lobbed in messages of condemnation toward the city and those who are trying to serve it. Maybe it’s time we begin blessing the city by blessing those who have given themselves to the city!
8. From being a minister in a congregation to being a minister in a parish. “As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it” (Luke 19:41). A congregation is made up of people who attend a local church from a community. The minister typically feels that this congregation is his flock whom he must baptize, marry and bury. They consume his time and energy. Being in a parish is different.
A parish differs from a congregation in that it is a geographical scope of concern and responsibility. A congregation is a subset of a parish. Being in a parish gives one the God-given right to minister to anyone in the community, whether they are part of one’s congregation or not. Urban theologian, Ray Bakke, illuminated this point by writing that every minister has two functions: 1) to be pastor to the members and, 2) chaplain to the community.
9. From anecdote and speculation to valid information. Two pieces of information changed the course of Nehemiah’s life that resulted in the transformation of a community. In Nehemiah 1, he learned that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were broken down and her people were in distress. These two pieces of information were catalytic to his prayers and plans to restore a broken wall and a broken people. His burden to transform the city came from accurate information.
We, too, need correct information about the real needs of our community as well as the resources we have to meet these needs. Do we know the demographic information of our community? Do we know the number of churches? Do we know the spiritual history of our community? We also need to identify the spiritual assets of our community – the number of faith communities and believers. Together, these two research pieces give us a picture of our “mission field” and our “mission force.” Armed with accurate information, we can determine best how to go forward.
10. From teacher to learner. “Everyone should be quick to learn, slow to speak” (James 1:19). It is interesting to note that for the historic African-American churches, the concept of holistic ministry is not a new one. They have never suffered from trying to split effective evangelism from social justice or meeting the needs of those around them. It’s how they’ve always done church.
The effective churches see the community as one that is full of assets more than full of problems. Where do we go from here? From Isaiah 65:17-25, Ray Bakke outlined seven characteristics of a healthy community from the heart of God:
- Public celebration and happiness (Isaiah 65:18-19);
- Public health for children and the aged (Isaiah 65:20);
- Housing for all (Isaiah 65:21);
- Food for all (Isaiah 65:22);
- Meaningful work (Isaiah 65:22-23);
- Family support systems (Isaiah 65:23);
- Absence of violence (Isaiah 65:25)
This list outlines our potential marching orders. The Spirit of God is at work. There is a good chance that the next great movement of God will involve putting the Church back into community where it can be the leaven, salt, and light God designed it to be. Will we join God in this transforming work? For the sake of the gospel, the Church, and our communities, in faith – let’s move forward!