Thursday, October 05, 2006

Interview of a Missional Pastor

This weeks Interview is with Wes Allen. Wes is the pastor of Central Baptist Church in Palmyra, NJ. He's committed to seeing the Church relearn the Gospel so that the Church can permeate our shifting culture as the presence of Jesus. As such as he strive to be faithful he looks to the past, the present, and the future in his attempts to make the Kingdom a present reality. His worship resource site is:. Cross Pointings .

Here we go:

1. Tell us about your Church.

Central Baptist Church is a 100+ year-old congregation, still in withdrawal from the cultural-Christian explosion of the 1950's. It's got very little community, several cliques (which aren't real community), and trusts people about as far as they can be thrown. It's a tough place.

2. What events in your life moved you into a missional mode?

Well, my conversion took place at Lancaster Mennonite High School, and Anabaptist folk were doing this missional stuff long before many Protestant folks woke up to it. As such, until I left LMH after my graduation I just assumed that "missional" Christians were the norm.

That's not to say that it was an easy transition. I grew up, and still am in some dark core of my soul, a pretty selfish suburban kid who didn't think about others so much as his own comfort. Every now and again I sense that lack of empathy for people who aren't right in my face and it scares the hell out of me. Santification is a marathon.

For me, taking on a missional stance is the hardest spiritual discipline that I've ever taken up. The more I submit to the Spirit in this, however, the more I see how it's really what the Gospel is about. How can we be the Shalom of God in the here and now? When we do THAT, then I think we'll start seeing some effective evangelism. Right now, at least in my own neighborhood, the Church doesn't seem to give a damn about the people next door, much less across the globe. We need to do better. I need to do better.

3. How do you as a missional leader incorporate a missional mindset in your church?

The bulk of my energy as pastor has been going into shifting the culture of this church outward. If you've heard the term "in-grown" church, then you know what this congregation is like culturally. When we do evangelistic outreach it tends to think only of people who USED to come here. When we do missions or service projects it seems like the bulk of the people have better things to do. When we try to get together, a significant portion of the congregation won't come because the "new people" will be there.

So, I've been embarking on a series of projects getting folks to come to grips with the fact that the Church isn't about their pleasure. Preference can't be what we're about - being the presence of Jesus in this community needs to be what we're about. It's a long road, I'm coming up against some dearly held beliefs in the Church and constantly look like the bad guy. Some folks are really "getting it," many more are cool with this new attitude, as long as it doesn't upset what they happen to enjoy. The missional shift is a long one.

4. What has been the most missional thing your church has done?

Difficult to say. We've done a fall food-drive in the past, but only 4 or 5 people participate actively so I really can't call that "missional." We've taken worship "on the road," and made a key component of the gathering about "forgiveness" which really challenged some people to change their lives because grudges were literally killing them - so I take that as missional.

We're working on some more community-blessing ideas for the near future. First, a 24/7 prayer-room to blanket this place in prayer. Second, a "trash-a-thon" in which people get sponsors and then go clean up trash on our streets (for small town Americana, this place gets pretty ratty). The money collected will go to needs at our High School, and our streets get cleaned. We'll come back to our Church Lot for a party afterwards. I'm looking forward to this one.

5. What is the hardest thing about leading a church in a missional direction?

I think I alluded to it earlier. Cultural Tradition that makes Christianity about "me." That kills congregations of all stripes, and a missional witness is severely hampered by it.

Thanks Wes for sharing – I’m praying God can use your experiences to help other pastors who are attempting to help their churches through this transition.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great to see he started with praying for his community - I'm sure that's the answer. Maybe he needs to ask the community what they want the church involved in, rather than coming up with the ideas themselves? I.e. what are people's needs and how do I as a community member serve that need?