11.08.2008

Sustainable mission?

David Fitch has an insightful post on sustaining missional ministries in the midst of the fiscal meltdown we're seeing. These times are tough on all churches. Small, organic communities, those trying to do mission without walls and with different models of leadership, are pressured as well. Our community, for example, is making do without the overhead of a building or even a permanent space, and leadership is volunteer at this point. Even that can be precarious, as the pressures of the economy build on people's work and family lives and affect their commitment to the ministry.

It's especially a challenge for communities that are looking to make a difference in their host communities. One of our values is to give most of our money away, not to put most into mortgage/utilities/salaries as we did in previous churches. I feel good about giving much more to actual causes -- to feed the hungry, help the poor, etc. -- that I ever did in a brick-and-mortar church. But there is a tension between maintaining this capacity to be generous to those in need, which is a greater need than ever right now, and maintaining even minimal ministry expenses as the recession hits home and people's bills go up and pay goes down.

David thinks missional churches can be more easily sustained than the brick-and-mortar/corporate variety in these times for three reasons, which I mostly agree with.

1) Keep building expenses minimal -- We are doing this by borrowing/renting as needed, and using homes much of the time. He suggests that reusing closed church buildings is an option, though heating and utility costs can still be significant (assuming someone gives you access to the building and doesn't want to sell it to you). One solution would be to turn such a building into a community center, social service agency or even a commercial space that can be partially used by a missional community.

2) Have multiple bi-vocational leaders -- It is good to have multiple bi-vocational pastors if you can find them. In our case we have leaders with different gifts volunteering outside their full-time jobs. This can be difficult when one of us travels or is in a crunch time, but we are working at sharing leadership better. He's right on when he says that one leader can't do this alone!

3) Build economically viable communities and lower costs by free-cycling, sharing meals, child care, etc. -- This is a challenge in suburbia, where people are spread out and used to doing their own things. But that in itself is an opportunity.

One of the unexpected blessings of this period will be that many of us will have to readjust our expectations and plan a more sustainable lifestyle. Some will learn to do with less, others will have to do with much less while they pay off significant debts. Free-cycling and sharing some items/services will happen, but I don't see major moves toward living in community, ride sharing, etc. given our individualism, work schedules, etc.

However, perhaps this downturn will help us to focus on what is really important. If we can work hard to get a house and all of a sudden be upside-down, if we can strive for a 401(k) and it can nearly vanish in a couple of months, maybe we will learn to put less stock in these fleeting treasures and focus on the kingdom of God, where God's mercy and acceptance can't be consumed by irrational exuberance, greed or bad luck. Here's where missional communities can make a contribution by holding up the possibility of another, deeper way.

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