When churches or church leaders realize something needs to change, they often turn to “fine-tuning.” Fine-tuning means making small but meaningful adjustments to an established system. In the church setting, this could be anything from changing the congregation’s name, the church building’s carpet, or adding a new church service with different music.

There is value to fine-tuning, especially if you are generally happy with how things are going. But for many churches, fine-tuning will never be enough.

Many congregations, even entire denominations, are built on models developed in a past “heyday.” For instance, many mainline and evangelical denominations have A-frame church buildings, Sunday School programs, and even fashion that can be traced back to the 1960s baby boom. Many non-denominational churches have rock and roll worship styles and age-and-affinity-based ministries that were developed by the Jesus People movement of the 1970s and solidified by the success of various megachurches in the 1980s and 90s.

There is value to fine-tuning, especially if you are generally happy with how things are going. But for many churches, fine-tuning will never be enough.

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Since then, our world has drastically shifted and reorganized. The end of the Cold War, the sexual revolution, the rise of global commerce, the ubiquity of the internet and social media, and the COVID-19 pandemic are just a few of the seismic shifts we’ve seen since these church models took root. Across North America, churches are dwindling and church attendance is low.

For churches to thrive in a world so different from how they were built, they need to make a more radical shift than fine-tuning. Churches and their leaders need to recapture a theology of God’s mission, an expansive and flexible model for local congregations, and develop skills, strategies and spiritual capacity for living and working as missionaries in this new context.

We call this radical shift “remissioning.” Remissioning addresses core issues which fine-tuning cannot. Here’s what it might look like for you.

Begin with a Remissioned Theology

Remissioning begins by developing a deep understanding and appreciation of the theology of God’s mission, as it is seen in the story of Scripture and culminates in Jesus.

God’s mission is often simplified to a transaction, such as “Jesus died so we can go to Heaven.” But it is much more expansive and inspiring. Dr. Michael Beck describes it this way:

Missional theology places God’s work to restore and heal the cosmos in the center of the church’s life and structures. For pastors this is an invitation to order and organize the church as an instrument of God’s sentness to the world.

This awakens us from apostolic amnesia and reminds us that communal life in Jesus is God‘s ultimate gift to the world. For congregations this is an invitation to join into God’s outpouring and ingathering love.

The result is both gathered and scattered, attractional and sent, collected and distributed, forms of church which we have called a blended ecology. In the blended ecology of church, these moods live together in a symbiotic relationship.

Remission Your Home

Before Remissioning can take root in a congregation, it needs to take root at home. Gannon Sims, author of the forthcoming book Bringing Church Home explains it this way:

The early days of the Pandemic meant that many of us were working from home, going to school from home and eating every meal at home. It was a jolt to our system, but it also gave us some necessary rhythms to help us think about the future church. In our home, regular meal times now mean that it’s easier to invite people over for dinner with no extra fuss. Regular chore times mean we’re better able to practice Sabbath together. Washing our hands while saying the Lord’s Prayer or singing the Doxology have become regular patterns in our daily lives.

In John 13, Jesus says that we will be known by the way that we love each other. The family is an obvious way that we are known by our love, but it’s so obvious that we often miss it! When reoriented around Jesus, every home is a little church brimming with missional possibility that animates the life of the ‘big’ church. Too often church leaders support the family at the beginning, in pre-marriage or after the birth of the first child, then there is very little support for marriages and families until the marriage or family life is struggling, but what if the family is the secret to evangelism and discipleship? What if our homes and lives were for others and not just for us? Remissioning the church starts by bringing church home where we, no matter our prior experience of family, find our ultimate home in God.

The Remissioned Pastor

According to Fresh Expressions Director of Training Shannon Kiser, being a Remissioned Pastor means learning to let go of the need to be an expert.

No, seminary did not train you for this. And in a sense, it is freeing to not have to be the expert in a rapidly changing world. But what it means is that pastors must become serial experimenters. The way forward is not going to be found in a textbook or by copying the church down the street. It will be found in mission experimentation and organizational experimentation. Experimentation leads to learning, which can be applied to ongoing iterations of experimentation. This is how the necessary innovations in mission and ministry will unfold for the 21st Century Church.

A Remissioned Pastor needs to become an energizing vision-caster, helping to reframe the church not as an address or merely a Sunday morning event, but as the people of God sent out on mission with God in the everyday spaces and networks of life. This vision will inspire some and frighten others, and the pastor will need the skills to negotiate the resistance that will come before the vision is realized. Such leadership will require a steady hand, a non-anxious presence, an unwavering faith, and relational connection.

It is not easy leading the people of God from one place to another…just ask Moses and Aaron. They would have loved the map of where they were going, the turn by turn directions. Instead, God gave them enough guidance and provision for each stage of the journey. Remissioned pastors are discovering a deepening dependence on the living God to negotiate the complexities of leadership and discipleship in the 21st Century.

The Remissioned Congregation

Fresh Expressions Mission Strategist Jon Davis is working towards helping his congregation in Florida experience Remissioning. He describes his experience like this:

Coming out of the Anglican tradition, I compare today to the seismic shift of the 16th century. The Church of England left the Roman Catholic Church, and in that departure it had a remissioning moment. Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer moved worship from Latin to the language of the people. Instead of observing a worship service people could engage, connect and participate in their native tongue.

We have the same problem today. Much of what the church does, its practice, and forms are in a foreign language that people cannot understand. We need to remission our structures to connect with people where they are. That means leaving the sanctuary and entering the world with compassion, kindness, mercy, grace and love to be with people. It is recapturing the act of being sent into the community and neighborhoods where people live.

We need the Holy Spirit to cultivate in us a divine empathy in order to see people and the struggles they are facing, the hard questions they are often too afraid to ask. Remissioning a traditional congregation is to discover afresh the Great Commandment (Love God and Love Each Other) and the Great Commission (as we are going to make disciples…). We do this in an incarnational, relational manner having a ministry of “with-ness” listening and understanding a person’s point of view and context.

If a church is truly a faith community of people doing life together, walking in the ways of Almighty God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit that can happen anywhere and anytime, not just in a sanctuary building on Sunday mornings.

This isn’t just theory. You can read about Jon and his church’s experience forming new kinds of Christian community with an established church HERE.

Let’s Imagine a Remissioned Church Together

There are a lot of difficulties facing our world right now. Churches and church leaders have their own difficulties as well.

But we at Fresh Expressions are hopeful. We believe God is doing something new right now, and many congregations are already experiencing renewals as they are “remissioned.”

We hope you’ll join us to celebrate what God is doing, and dream together about what God can do at the Fresh Expressions Gathering in March.

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