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Missional Thought for Church Leaders: Your Location is Also a Demonstration

I have written in various places, most notably in my recent Evangelism Handbook: Biblical, Spiritual, Intentional, Missional (B&H, 2009) how we desperately need a missional shift in the Western Church. This certainly involves big-picture theological, biblical, and philosophical issues. It invloves a healthier focus on the gospel and its place in all aspects of life. But sometimes we can help create a needed shift with little steps.

For instance, during your week, where do you spend most of your time? I was taught in seminary the importance of being in the office, in the study, spending massive hours preparing messages and so on. We do need to spend much time with God alone in a prayer closet. And, each of us must discover our own flow of time and place for preparation. But I want to suggest that pastors and staff who spend the vast majority of their time in the church building sitting in their offices actually demonstrate by their physical location an institutional mindset.

I know pastors who have a missional posture, who see their role as equipping the Christ followers in their church to think and live like missionaries in a secular culture.  Almost without exception these pastors have discovered how third places provide a valuable resource for demonstrating a missional lifestyle. A third place is that place we go for community in addition to home or work, or home or school. A Starbucks or other coffeeshop is the most obvious example.

Think about this: at a time when more unchurched and dechurched people populate the United States than ever, people who are not inclined toward church attendance, God has given us third places almost everywhere to provide a place to be among them and to meet them.  A few suggestions:

First, take your laptop and your Logos or whatever software you use, get out of the office and work on your sermons among the people you are trying to reach. If you need to be free of distractions, put in your earbuds and download a white noise app.

Second, as much as you can meet with people not in your office but at a third place. I have three offices: one is the seminary office, where I mostly meet with female students since I never meet with ladies alone off campus; another is the Wake Forest Coffee Company (my east campus); the third is the Starbucks in Wakefield (my south campus). I am a multisite office person.

Third, if you have a budget for books and office expense, talk to the appropriate people about using a percentage of that for coffee or whatever you like at these third places. Yes, it costs a little bit to meet off campus. But the value of being in the community is worth it.

Fourth, find a place and go there regularly, getting to know the people who work there and the regulars. You may discover new friends, opportunities to share Christ, and be encouraged in your own life and witness.

We who lead and who preach sometimes overestimate the importance of the time we spend in the pulpit and underestimate the time we spend living among those we lead. If you want those you lead to be serious about the gospel in the community, they need to see you outside the church building. If you want others to live like a missionary, you have to do so first. And I know of no effective missionary who sits in an office building all day long. Your location is a demonstration of your understanding of the mission.

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Alvin L. Reid (born 1959) serves as Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. Alvin and his wife Michelle have two children: Joshua, a senior at The College at Southeastern, and Hannah, a senior at Wake Forest Rolesville High School. Recently he became more focused at ministry in his local church by being named Young Professionals Director at Richland Creek Community Church. Alvin holds the M.Div and the Ph.D with a major in evangelism from Southwestern Seminary, and the B.A. from Samford University. He has spoken at a variety of conferences in almost every state and continent, and in over 2000 churches, colleges, conferences and events across the United States.