Adjustment for the Sake of Mission

This post is the third post in a nine-part series reflecting on InterVarsity's Ambition conference. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage (Series: An Ambition for Mission)

"If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."

I must have heard my mentor Bill Hunter say these words a dozen times. If we want to change our outcomes in ministry (or business or education or government), we need to change our inputs and our processes.

Change is difficult.
Change can be scary.
Change will always be necessary.

The "big name" at the Ambition Conference was Alan Hirsch. He's follower of Jesus and a strategic thinker about God's mission and the church. He's written several books and directs Forge, an incubator for the people of the missional movement.

He presented us with a series of big adjustments churches and ministries can make to better pursue God's mission, what he called: ReJesus, ReDisciple, ReMission and ReOrganize.


The first move, according to Hirsch, must always be a move back to Jesus. Over time, churches and parachurch movements drift away from Jesus, building a shell of religion around the center of relationship. Christology reorients us toward mission.

This is a challenge for our work on campus, as many students long to go deeper with God and assume that "Deeper" equals "Away from Jesus." We study Mark and John with students every year, stories about Jesus. And we want students to be able to see Jesus in the Old Testament. But we have to fight the drift of boredom and the shallow desire for "depth."

What would happen if "deeper" meant "toward Jesus"?


As missional communities reorient themselves to Jesus and dig into Christology, Hirsch notices that a funny thing begins to happen. Crowd size and swelling attendance seem to matter less and less. It's not a big deal if the crowd wanders off in search of a new spectacle. Investment of resources begins to be focused on smaller units: neighborhoods and disciples.

When I started working with InterVarsity, discipleship was a big deal. We invested in the lives of students: counseled them, cared for them, equipped them, spent time with them, prayed for them, loved them. The work of discipleship is small work, non-spectacular, seemingly inefficient. And that's why so few people prioritize discipleship.

Many pastors spend most of their time preparing their sermons and "casting vision," and little time with people. Many InterVarsity Staff prefer to speak at Large Groups and plan training events for students, claiming they don't have time to disciple.

What would happen, though, if we made significant investments in a small number of people? Some would squander that investment, sure. Big opportunities would pass us by. But we would be ministers who actually loved people ... and that matters.

Tell me, what sort of person are you becoming as you minister? Do you feel like you are becoming more and more like Jesus as you serve him?


At this point in the session, Hirsch really hits his stride. He challenges us to consider the source of our thinking about mission: is it from ecclesiology or theology? Does the church have a mission or does the mission have a church?

For Hirsch this thinking about mission radicalizes our discipleship. We see the mission as God's mission, a mission he includes us in (to be sure), but his mission none-the-less. We do not initiate, we join.

And as late-joiners to the ongoing mission of God, we must keep in step with him. And if God prioritizes incarnation as his mode of self-revelation and rescue, we must learn to be a people who are truly present in the lives of others (both Christians and those who have yet to take up their cross).

For campus ministry, this presents a true challenge, as our organization requires us to have completed a degree before joining Staff. In my 8 years of campus ministry, I've never attended a single class. As an InterVarsity Staffworker, I've reveled on being an outsider, a voice in the wilderness. But is this Christ-like?

How can we better pursue incarnation in ministry, joining our God who is truly present on the college campus by being truly present ourselves?


At this point in the session, Hirsch was pressed for time and rushed to his conclusion. He challenged us to rethink how we organize for mission. His challenge included these points:
  • Include everyone (no spectators)
  • Develop a structural network
  • Decentralize power
  • Think about Ephesians 4 roles
For our work on campus, this reorganization flows really well with our re-emphasis on discipleship, but adds a challenge. It isn't enough for us to disciple students. We need to raise up generations of students who will disciple other students. We need to raise up students who will live in the dorms or hang out after class and help their peers see Jesus. We need to help students get off of the bench.

In our Area, we've struggled to helps students see themselves as leaders. In the past year and a half, we grown from reaching 170 students to reaching 305 students, but our leader-numbers have dropped from 35 to 25. We have more and more students, but fewer and fewer of them see themselves as players in the game. The stands are filling, as are the benches, but we don't have enough players on the field.

How do we help students see themselves differently?

In tomorrow's post, I'll reflect on the Q&A that followed Alan Hirsch's session, particularly on his claim that we were coming to the end of the parachurch era. Should we "break our contract" with local congregations and start our own churches? I'll post a link here (The Future of the Parachurch in God's Mission) as soon as the post publishes.

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