4 Steps for Discerning God’s Mission

The following is adapted from an article by Brendan McClenahan, Director of Cyclical West Michigan, and is used with permission. 

If you’ve ever imagined starting a new church, you know the excitement of new vision. You begin to imagine how things in your neighborhood might look a little more like the kingdom of God. You can’t let it go. You’re filled not only with excitement but also with the curiosity to explore and experiment.

That’s when most would-be church starters stop. There are some formidable obstacles standing in the way of the vision, such as…

  • I’m not a great leader like other church planters
  • Starting a church is too expensive and complicated
  • I don’t know how to start a church

And so we set the vision on the shelf. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and it’s a loss for the Church. We need leaders with fresh vision to start new churches. That’s how the Spirit birthed the Church and has sustained the life cycle of the Church throughout history. The Spirit has started churches with all kinds of leaders through all kinds of means… and I wonder if any of them knew exactly what they were doing!

We need helpful frameworks

We may not have a 3-year plan, money or the leadership chops of Andy Stanley, but we do have some biblical frameworks for how to take the first steps to discern and explore the vision God has given us. Here are 4 steps that can help guide discerning leaders as they participate in the historical and biblical life cycle of starting new churches.

Step 1: Boundary Crossing

In crossing boundaries, we encounter a new space where God is actively extending his mission. We are reminded that the gospel is for all people. We become like Christ whose incarnation revealed a God who was willing to cross boundaries for our sake.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Read Acts 8:26-40. What boundaries were crossed in this passage?
  2. What strategies do you see here in the act of boundary crossing?
  3. With whom do you cross boundaries?
  4. With whom don’t you cross boundaries that you might consider crossing?
  5. What is one practical step to take to step over this boundary?
Step 2: Discerning God’s Initiatives

We cross boundaries not with hopes that we would bring something new but with the faith that God is already on the move there. Through his atonement, Christ has redeemed all of creation. The Spirit goes before us and leads us across boundaries to witness the gospel there. When we discern God’s initiatives, we let go of our preferences and open ourselves up to God’s mission.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How is God already on the move in your community?
  2. How are you cooperating or not cooperating with God’s activity in your community?
Step 3: Neighbors as Mutual Subjects

In Luke 9, Jesus sends out his disciples into homes to serve and to be served. In doing so, the disciples become mutual subjects and even companions rather than door-to-door sales people. They mutually identify gaps, needs, and an expression of God’s kingdom that is particular and contextual.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How are you being invited into the lives of your neighbors?
  2. What are you learning from your neighbors right now?
  3. How is God on the move in the lives of your neighbors who don’t identify as Christian?
Step 4: Plural Leadership

As a new church begins to form and grow, leadership matters. Leaders are at a crossroads where they will decide to go one of two ways.

In the first way, they might decide that this momentum feels good. People have adopted the vision and mission, both of which now need to be safeguarded. Leadership focuses on making members content by taking on more and more responsibility. Soon, the discipline of discernment has faded away because the one leader is now focused on maintaining an old vision.

In the second way, the initial leader sees that the vision and mission was a gift stewarded through the discipline of discernment. The leader recognizes they are not very special. The Spirit can be trusted to lead others and so they invite others into leadership. The shared ownership and responsibility frees up the leaders to continue to discern in community where the Spirit is leading next, even if that means sending some to discern a new church.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How does or will your church already practice plural leadership?
  2. With whom in your church are you practicing plural leadership?
  3. Who might you invite into plural leadership of your church?
Taking the first step together

If you’ve ever thought about starting a new church, you don’t have to let the vision sit on the shelf. You don’t have to wait until you have lots of money. You don’t have to wait until you’re the perfect leader. Neither do you have to wait until you have a 3-year plan.

Cyclical is here to help leaders like you start new churches by gathering together every month and discerning what God is up to. Drop us a line and we’ll help you take the first steps of starting a new church.

Material in this blog was adapted from Early (and maybe unexpected) Priorities for “New Church” Sustainability, a worksheet created for Cyclical WM by Nick Warnes, Executive Director of Cyclical, Inc. and author of Starting Missional Churches: Life With God in the Neighborhood. www.cyclicalchurches.com