What Are You Married To?
If you have ever been through a Church Planter Boot Camp or Prepare to Plant Training you know that part of that training focuses on the mission of the church and how to implement that mission. Among the important components that are discussed, three are of particular importance:
- Mission: why the church exists.
- Strategies: how the church goes about their mission.
- Structures: the mechanisms that enable the strategies.
Every church has the same mission: to make disicples. This is will look different based on the composition of the church and where they are located, but the missional goal is always the same. The strategies, accordingly, vary widely. One church may pursue lost people through large community events, while another may focus on one-to-one evangelism. Some churches feel called to present the gospel relationally through friendships formed through benevolent service, while for others street evangelism produces Kingdom fruit. Naturally, then, there are a variety of structures that support these strategies. If, for example, your discipleship strategy involves academic online classes, then you will need software, recording equipment, and staff to create and curate content. On the other hand, if your discipleship strategy focuses on networks of small groups, you may not need video equipment, but rather a couple of dozen coffees each week, or childcare for a monthly gathering to equip the leaders of these groups.
This framework can be very helpful in organizing thought and action, and for that reason it’s been useful to mobilize the church for mission. Sometimes, however, success can pressure us to shift the priority of these items. For example, consider a Sunday School class that was exceedingly fruitful 30 years ago that now limps along with a handful of people, none of whom have joined the church in the last 15 years. Or, a bulletin board which once was the hub of church communication, now sits nearly empty and communicates, well… nothing. Nothing except this: you’ve fallen in love with the wrong thing.
When we teach this to church planters we often use the following relational analogy: marry the mission, date the strategies, be friends with the structures. The mission is essential; it is the only one of the three that Jesus directly gave us. Therefore, we must be married to it. We must hold it as the highest of all priorities. The strategies, however, can change over time. Just as a person may date several people over their lifetime, you may utilize several strategies over the years. They aren’t changed flippantly, but you’re not bound to them on covenant. The structures that we use to carry out the strategies, however, are much more flexible. Just as co-workers, classmates, and neighbors come and go, structures will change the most. You’re not even going to engage in a “dating relationship” with them; if a structure isn’t helpful to the strategy, you have no commitment to it.
Sometimes, though, we mix these around and end up something like this: we marry the structure, date the strategy, and don’t even know the mission. When this happens, the result is a bulletin board that no one reads or church rhythms that no one can explain. Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that bulletin boards are a bad structure; but they are if no one is reading them. Because structures are so visible and tangible, it’s easy to fall in love with them. Resist this. Fall in love with the mission. Marry the mission, and let the structures come and go as they serve the strategies.
So, what are you married to? This isn’t an easy question to wrestle with, but I pray that the Lord will give you insight and courage to explore it, and that He will bring greater flourishing through it. As always, I’m here to help in any way that I can as you faithfully lead in your church.
Together with you,
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