Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Craig Van Gelder's book, The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit, (Baker Books, 2007).
You can work your hardest to try to make your church successful, but your best efforts won’t lead anywhere if you’re not leading the church where the Holy Spirit wants it to go. The Spirit has a particular mission for your church, and it’s only when you discover and follow it that your church can grow the way God intends.
Here’s how you can let the Holy Spirit to lead your church:
Focus on God’s plans rather than your own. Recognize that your church should be a vital part of God’s ongoing work in the world. Don’t waste time or energy pursuing activities that, while good, aren’t clearly what God is leading your church to do. Always start with an awareness of God’s redemptive work in the world; then consider how He might want your church to be a part of that. Ask two key questions: “What is God doing?” and “What does God want to do?”. Never let your church’s functions become ends in themselves. Remember that congregations are ultimately created by the Spirit, and their purpose is to engage the world in bringing God’s redemptive work in Christ to bear on every dimension of life.
Understand the Spirit’s ministry. Get to know the different ways the Holy Spirit works in the Bible, such as: demonstrating God’s creative power, affirming God’s intention for His creation that all life might flourish, confronting principalities and powers and restraining evil, reconnecting people and restoring community by helping them clearly understand their identity as God’s people, empowering people with gifts and abilities, empowering leadership to guide faith communities into redemptive action, extending mercy and establishing justice, and engaging the world.
Embrace change. Realize that the contexts in which your church performs its ministry is constantly changing. Rather than resisting change, accept and expect it. Regularly seek the Spirit’s guidance to adapt well to the changes your church encounters. Know that a healthy church will always be reforming. Anticipate new insights into the Gospel, and expect that the people you reach with the Gospel will change your church after they join, making the congregation constantly dynamic. Expect surprises, interruptions, and disruptions as the Spirit works in your midst, but remember that the ultimate result will always be good – lives transformed for the better.
Learn how to read your church’s current context well. Obtain information about the community in which your church ministers, such as: population trends, demographic profiles, transportation patterns, where members live, other organizations that serve the community, and business development and employment. As you consider this information, ask what God is currently doing and what He may want to do in these situations.
Give up any one-size-fits all approach to ministry. Know that there’s no one type of program, confession, or organization that will work well for all churches. Instead of trying to do what’s worked for other churches, ask what approach God wants your individual church to take, and don’t be afraid of being different.
Seek the discernment you need to make wise decisions. When facing decisions, consider: The Bible and other texts such as your denomination’s devotional writing, the cultural context of each situation, the community within your church, and the practices your congregation shares. Encourage open, fair, engaging, and deliberative discussions among the people in your church. Respect the different perspectives and gifts of each person, and unmask sin such as hidden agendas and power plays. Pray for the Spirit to help you all come to a common understanding of God’s will in each situation, so you can make strategic choices to implement that will. Keep people clearly and regularly informed of what’s happening, support the implementation process in prayer, and ask for feedback so you’ll know when adjustments are necessary. Afterward, assess what did and didn’t work and learn from the experience.