A Missionary Church

March 10, 2023

I had just finished presenting a report to the council to direct ministry toward the neighborhood surrounding the church. Several church leaders had served on the team that spent months learning about our near neighbors, praying together, and listening for the Holy Spirit’s direction. I remember feeling excited to present the work we had done to fulfill the task we were given. I wasn’t prepared for the response. 

Sitting across the council room table from me was an elder serving his fifth term; he was the first to speak.

“Let me see if I understand correctly, you want to turn this church into a missionary church.”

Yes. He understood and it quickly became apparent that he wasn’t in favor of our proposal.

The church I was serving began over 125 years earlier with a mission to start a worshiping community in a new, emerging neighborhood. The founding members wanted to know the immigrant families that had recently arrived and to provide a community for spiritual formation and worship.

Members of the church invited the newly arrived families to church and supported the newcomers as they acclimated to life in a new world. The neighborhood church grew in influence and in numbers.

When the congregation outgrew the building approximately sixty years after its founding, they moved the church to another emerging neighborhood. The move included building a school in the neighborhood and planting another church. 

Ministry in the neighborhood had always been synonymous with this church, and yet over the past several decades the church had drifted from its mission.

Our proposal wasn’t intended to make the church into a missionary church, it was to return the church to its missionary identity.

The local church is the body of Christ in a particular location and time within the history of God’s world. John 1:14 says,

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Eugene Peterson gave us the phrase,

“Jesus moved into the neighborhood.”

In the last words of Jesus to his disciples prior to his ascension, he says,

“As the Father sent me, I am sending you.”

As disciples of Jesus, we are sent with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, into the neighborhood. 

The church is by its nature a missionary church.

God’s mission has always been to create an inclusive community of persons characterized by goodness and love with the triune God at the center as sustainer and inhabitant. After the rebellion of humanity, God’s mission necessitated the redeeming of those he created for relationship with him.

The church is God’s gathered community—created by God, redeemed by God, restored in relationship with God, and recommissioned to be God’s community of goodness and love. 

How is your church living out God’s missionary calling?


Written by Rev. Elaine May, CRCNA Congregational Ministries Ministry Consultant and principal creator of Thriving Essentials, a leadership development course for all the leaders in the church. This set of four devotionals will follow the four themes of the course: mission, discipleship, discernment and leadership. You can register for the course and find more information about the Thriving Congregations Initiative at crcna.org/thrive.

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