*This is the 5th in a series of entries inspired by books I’ve read on the subject of the “missional church.” Please read the ground rules before beginning. Also, try to read entries in chronological order as they tend to build on the previous entry, okay?

The women’s ministry at our church was having all the right problems. You know, too many attendees. Not enough leaders to meet the demand. Packed child care rooms with too few leaders available. Not enough budget. Not enough rooms. Not enough spaces for their annual retreat. The best of all problems.

Some 10 years later they’d fixed those problems and were humming right along. Then the numbers began to flatten. Then began to drop slightly but enough to cause concern. And a new concern popped up: The numbers seemed to be in childcare and the younger-aged group. Those young moms and the newly married and the collegians were no longer in the midst. Or at least not in the midst in noticeable numbers. The Law of Competitive Balance was in full effect.

Well, to the credit of the leadership, they pounced on the issue as soon as they became aware of it. In fact, they asked me to wrangle some key women from our senior high & college ministries to come as invited guests to a special women’s ministry meeting. Part of the meeting was to put these young women on a panel and get their feedback as to how changes could be made that would ensure the ministry was welcoming to the next generation. Again, our women’s ministry leadership was on the ball, man. Sharp leaders.

Keep in mind that I wasn’t allowed to attend the meeting so I got all my information after-the-fact from my students and the leaders. My only involvement in the women’s meeting was to make sure the room was set up and the basketball hoops were raised into the ceiling after the men’s basketball get-together the previous evening. To be sure, the meeting didn’t go 100% smoothly, and there was a small smattering of disappointment that the younger ones wanted some different worship music and some of the older ones felt like they might not be useful/needed anymore…but that’s bound to happen when you get some 250 leaders together. Overall, the leadership felt the meeting went very well and they gained some useful information which would help them move their ministry forward.

In fact, I was taking some of our leadership students to serve at a Christian camp a few hours away, and those very students who were on the panel drove out after the women’s meeting and didn’t arrive until after lights-out. After I made sure they got to their cabins, they promised me they’d fill me in after breakfast.

We had some coffee and they indeed filled me in. The crux of their responses could be found in the following:

First, they wanted to know and be known. They wanted to hear the stories of these ladies they looked up to in our congregation. These young women were smart enough to know that the shiny, happy women & their families wasn’t all there was to it. They didn’t know the specifics, bu they knew it couldn’t be the whole truth. I knew a lot of stories as I’d gotten to know them over the years…like the young mom who got pregnant in high school. The lady who married the boy she started dating in 6th grade. The mom who left big-time corporate-America jet-jobs to stay at home and homeschool. The lady married to an alcoholic now 11 years sober. The lady who had a special needs son. The lady who was on the local school board. The school teachers. The lady who ran marathons. The ladies whose husbands traveled 5 nights a week and were only home weekends. They knew inherently that this suburban life was more than the veneer. And they wanted to hear about it all. The good. The bad. The day-to-day in-between. They wanted to hear what made these women the very women they looked up to, and learn from their wisdom and experience. They wanted to be known by them as well.

Interestingly, one of the women’s ministry responses was to develop a ministry where they would take high school or college ladies to lunch after church once a month or so…just to get to know each other. Kind of rotating leaders and students and over the course of the school year they’d know and be known. Very cool idea.

Second, they wanted a more hands-on approach to spirituality. Our church was very dedicated to getting folks into the Word. A lot. In retrospect, these last thing these young ladies needed was another Bible study to attend with a new group of women or a specially designed worship service.

They wanted authentic community. The kind where they could talk about the joy of getting into college or getting the prom date or smashing it out of the park on the SAT’s or winning the yearbook award or getting first chair in band or the break-up with the boy or the fight with their parents or the getting fired from the job or losing their best friend to her new druggie friends. They wanted to hear about the struggling marriages of their new friends or what it’s like to spend all day homeschooling or the exciting new ministry to senior citizens or the incredible 25th anniversary celebration or the joy of grandkids. The whole deal. They wanted wiser & loving people to do life with.

They wanted projects to rub shoulders with people serving God…to do these things together. Every youth minister knows that you build mileage climbing in vans and going somewhere to serve. You don’t even need vans. Just meet somewhere and paint or build or clean or dig or replace or whatever in a way that furthers the Kingdom in a meaningful way.

They wanted the importance of “place” emphasized. They knew that no one–and I mean NO ONE–wanted to add another program or organized outreach. Just wherever you are doing whatever you do, well, bring them along. For example, one lady had two kids in the band and she served as a “band mom” and the millions of chores that entails…one of these students was in the band. So, why not use that time somehow? They figured out a way to grab a few minutes to chat and encourage each other to use that time for Kingdom purposes, NOT JUST WINNING ANOTHER STATE CHAMPIONSHIP BAND MEDAL. To serve lovingly in that environment. And some ladies had to pick up their elementary school kids at 3PM…while some of the girls had “senior out” (where seniors don’t have to go to afternoon classes if they have the credits they need for graduation). So, they chose a day and met at 1:45PM to pray and chat at the local coffee shop for an hour. There are plenty of examples…but the idea was they would live life where they already were and figure out ways to live Kingdom values in that arena. And they got very creative because they had to be.

Third, they wanted ministry by the Body, for the Body. What this means is that they were pretty much tired of programs that had a master teacher, a pro worship leader, and an audience full of people, with people serving that ministry alone on those days alone. They wanted to use their gifts and talents in the body at-large. They wanted help identifying their spiritual gift, and wanted to be given meaningful opportunities to use that gift. One of my all-time favorite students had the gift of teaching (well, she still HAS it, but she’s since married and is part of another congregation) as well as a wonderful charisma that enhanced that gift…and it was hilarious watching women’s leadership playfully “fight” over who could get to her first…for women, children, senior citizens, et al. Naturally, I trumped them all and hired her to teach our middle schoolers. I’m not sorry…but you get the point, right? And, yes, I took a great volunteer and made her a pro…but she was in charge of motivating volunteers (of which we had a ton) if that’s any consolation!

Finally, they wanted church to function primarily as the place where they grew spiritually. In other words, these young ladies had lives. And if we’re honest, so did the older ladies. They all had hyper-busy lives. They didn’t want or need more church programs or classes that had little, if anything, to do with the spiritual life. As one student told me, “I don’t need you to take me to ball games or to the water park for ‘outreach.’ I need you to teach me to walk with Christ so I can live among my friends and I’ll just tell them about Him along the way.” When they came to church they wanted to worship together, gather some teaching that would draw them closer to Christ, use their gifts to serve others to do that very thing, and enjoy the encouragement that comes along with authentic community.

Now, there were plenty of other comments…but most of them fell in one of those categories.

And those very comments are how a missional community designs their ecclesiology. In other words, how they “do church.” Those are the framework on which you design what your ministry will look like.

They help you decide WHEN and HOW OFTEN you gather together. Do you even have to gather once a week? On Sunday only? Do we even have Wedensday night stuff?

They tell you WHO is going to do the discipling of those in your community. Do we want more pros or more “lay” leaders?

They help you decide WHAT you will do when you get together. Do you have to have 3 songs/announcements/a special offeratory song/sermon/closing song/”Have a great Sunday!”? Because, let’s be honest here for a second, an awful lot of money, time & energy is poured into that generally ineffective way to do discipleship, no? Do you even bother with “Sunday School” classes or Wednesday night classes for kids & students with some stuff to keep the adults who have to drive them there “fed?” Sure. In some cases it’ll be those things. But it doesn’t have to be that. But the key is to let your mission drive how you do your gathering…not the form of church driving how we do our mission.

They help you decide HOW you want to help people grow and WHERE they will use their gifts and talents. Which, when you think about it, involves a LOT more life-on-life stuff, which we’ll get into tomorrow.

But for today…

What are the best things about hearing the stories of other people? Why do we like them so much?
Do you really want to “know” and “be known?” What are the good things that come along with that? The negative?
If those ingredients are foundational, what would your church structure look like for a given week?

And we’ll see you tomorrow as we talk about “incarnational” ministry.