A Missionary Mindset

Posted by Jerry Roth on

Almost every conversation I have today with church staff and leadership includes a component discussing the difficulty of dealing with the rapid rate of change in our world and its impact on church. While maybe unspoken, the underlying thought is often, “can’t we just go back to the good old days?” Based on my experience and my research, I must answer that question with a resounding “NO!”

I was reminded of these thoughts as I read the article These Two Statements Changed My Ministry Almost 30 Years Ago written by Dave Travis, Chief Encouragement and Chief Executive Officer of The Leadership Network. This organization does outstanding research and leadership development across the Christian world. I would strongly encourage you to visit their site.

Travis said one of the powerful statements affecting his ministry came from Kennon Callahan [B.A., M.Div., S.T.M., Ph.D. : researcher, professor, and pastor] in his bookEffective Church Leadership published in 1997. Callahan writes this provocative statement, “The day of the professional pastor is over. The day of the missionary pastor is here.” Travis argues that this statement was true then and is still true today.

Travis believes that pastors (as well as staff and leadership) must have this missionary mindset. He describes today’s church mission focus this way, “A missionary mindset instinctively realizes that we must approach our gospel practices differently in the context now. Imagine going to a country where there is no Christian heritage, memory or active group of believers. We would adapt our methods to meet the challenge. … The mission must be outwardly focused on those not a part of the body yet. It is not focused on management or maintenance but on driving the mission forward to take new ground.”

This makes total sense as we reflect on current research about the emerging trends in how people feel about organized religion. If you are not familiar with these trends, I would suggest starting with the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study. Particularly concerning are the trends emerging from research on the multiple generations. A great source for current generational research is Barna. The net conclusion of this research is that there is an increasing lack of interest in joining or being active in organized religion. I believe this directly supports Callahan’s challenge to be led by a missionary mindset.

As I work with church leaders in developing strategic plans, I am sharing with them the concept of the inside-out church. I believe it is becoming more important, maybe critical, for church leaders to create a vision where evangelization and ministry occurs outside of the walls of the church. We need to inspire and inform our members for the task of sharing Christ’s compelling message of love throughout our daily journeys. The dinner table, the front porch, the grocery store, the workplace, the neighborhood – all of these life moments become opportunities for fulfilling our missionary mindset.

As staff and leaders, I would encourage you to accept the challenge from Travis and Callahan to embrace the concept of a missionary mindset. Don’t be afraid to think radically – outside the box of the present or the past. I am convinced that the comfort of the known will not serve as an effective template for the vision and annual ministry planning of the future.

I like this hopeful summary statement from Travis. “I do see congregations and their leaders creating new inroads and paths in much rougher and stranger countrysides. They [are] finding satisfaction at a deep level knowing that while the good old days aren’t coming back, they are making a difference. They are impacting their local communities and helping transform the people there to flourish.”

The Center for Parish Leadership can provide relevant consulting and facilitation for your staff and leaders that incorporates emerging trends and best-practice solutions. Please contact us to explore how we can support you on this journey.


Jerry Roth

Research Analyst

The Center for Parish Leadership


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