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The following excerpt was first published in the Lewis Center's LEADING IDEAS publication:

Adopting a Missionary Mindset

Douglas Ruffle


I learned some things as a missionary that I think are relevant to challenges faced by churches in the twenty-first century. The things I had to learn -- another language, an alternative culture, unfamiliar music, new art, a different way of dressing, a change in my mode of transportation, exotic food and beverages -- were all bits and pieces of a new way of approaching life and connecting with people. I was well aware that I was a foreigner in a new country. The better I learned how to speak their language and the sooner I learned to love their food and beverages and the more I blended in by wearing clothes like theirs, the better chance I had of getting a hearing from the people. I needed to learn a "missionary mindset"


Our current context for ministry in the United States feels foreign enough to many church leaders that our role seems a lot like that of a missionary. We are surrounded by a culture estranged from the Christian context that was present thirty or forty years ago. As many as 70 percent of younger people do not find the church either relevant or meaningful and therefore see no reason to attend. Those of us who have grown up in the church are called upon to learn the language of the people with whom we live and value their music and art and way of dressing and the many other bits and pieces that help us get closer to people.


Learning to identify with the people in our midst is important to church leaders who want to support new communities of faith so they can better relate to their contexts. The challenge for Christians in today's world is to earn enough trust from the people we intend to serve that the gospel message can be heard and heeded. We approach our mission field as if we were from some different country and learning a new way of communicating, a new culture, a new way to connect people to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the missionary mindset.


Here are some suggestions for those wanting to develop the missionary mindset:


  1. Follow Jesus. Jesus did not ask people to follow his ideas; he asked us to follow him. Follow Jesus and receive the kingdom that he inaugurated with his presence and life. As leaders, tell others how Jesus has made an impact on your life.


  1. Believe that the kingdom is real. Think of the kingdom of God not as a far-off dream but as something that begins right now, right here. Teach the kingdom as a real alternative to other ways of life and believe it.


  1. Stress cooperation. Commit to a Christianity that is a cooperative endeavor and not something to be worked out only as individuals. In our culture we have the tendency to overemphasize the role of the individual. Remember that we are part of a team, and in our interactions work to bring witness to what we believe. Celebrate cooperative actions that make life better for people, and pay less attention to competitive actions that life some people at the expense of others.


  1. Put generosity over greed. Commit to “seek first the kingdom of God.” Seek material things only inasmuch as they provide for your physical needs and make you mentally, spiritual, and morally first for the purposes of kingdom.


  1. Welcome all people. Treat every person as if he or she were part of your own race. They are! We are all part of the human race. Celebrate the common humanity we share with others regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or age.


  1. Study the kingdom. Join with others to learn more about the kingdom of God. Hold one another accountable for putting the values and principles of the kingdom into practice.


  1. Don’t confine the kingdom to the church. While surely the church serves as a sign of the kingdom of God, recognize others outside of Christianity who are also implementing its values and principles.


The invitation to church leaders who seek to have a missionary mindset is to put into practice Jesus’ teaching to seek first the kingdom of God and to trust that all the other things we need will be added to us. This is the challenge before us as we seek to reach out communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Douglas Ruffle is associate executive director of Path 1, the Division of New Church Starts at Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church.  He served as a missionary in Argentina from 1979 to 1987. This material is excerpted from his book A Missionary Mindset: What Church Leaders Need to Know to Reach Their Community (Discipleship Resources, 2016).  The book is available through Cokesbury or Amazon.


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Tags: E., Jones, Stanley, church, mission, missional, planting, renewal


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