The Pie and the Wheel: Is Your Church Truly “Missions-Minded”?

Dave: This blog goes to the heart of how the church views missions. What is the place of missions in your congregation? Is it one of many things the church is called to do? Or is mission the engine that drives everything else that the church does? Though your church may claim to be “missions-minded,” you may be practically operating with a model that says “missions is only one of many things our church does.”

Joe: A volunteer leader asked Dave and me for help with his church’s missions program. The missions department was one of sixteen within his church and he was confused and frustrated.

Dave: In our coaching of church missions committees, Joe and I often refer to two models for how to view the church and missions. As you listen to the story Joe is telling of one church, it may be helpful to have clarity on these two models.

One is the pie model. Picture a pie sliced into a variety of pieces and put labels on the various slices. One slice is youth ministry, one is worship, one is Sunday School, one is missions. As you can see, the presupposition behind the pie model is that missions is one of many things that the church does.

The second model is the wheel. Picture a wheel with various concentric spokes that all meet at the hub or axle. Each one of those spokes represents a different activity or function of the church, but the hub is “mission” (in the singular). In fact, one of the spokes of the wheel model is the missions committee, but the hub of all of the church activity is mission.

Joe: Churches have to make decisions about how to handle the resources with which they have been entrusted. “Resources” means a lot more than just finances. Resources can mean people, or the amount of time for exposure and promotion from the front on Sunday, or how much attention something gets in the bulletin and website and other communication mechanisms.

Now the church Dave and I were asked to help had, over the years, made a strong effort at supporting missions both on the local and global scales. But the missions leader had some pretty significant unanswered questions about how his church should look at missions. Was it right that missions was just one of sixteen departments? If the Great Commission is truly the mission of the church, is relegating it to department status really the way it should work?

Dave: So the church Joe is speaking of was “typical.” Virtually everyone we talk to and every church with which we consult says the same thing – “our church is more pie than wheel.” If your church is “normal,” you operate more with the pie model than the wheel model. To change the way your church views missions may very well require a paradigm shift.

Joe: If you look at every department within the church, there is both a biblical mandate and a felt need. There is a biblical mandate for teaching children in the way they should go. I also have a felt need for children’s ministry in my church. I want my church to help me raise my kids in the Lord. You could say the same thing about preaching and worship music. There is a biblical mandate for these. There is also a felt need. One could argue that every department in the church has both a biblical mandate and a felt need… except for missions. Sure, we would all say that the biblical mandate for missions is pretty obvious… but a felt need? Most of us didn’t roll out of bed this morning concerned for the number of Saudi’s that died last night without Christ or eager to read the minutes of the latest meeting of our church missions committee. So missions doesn’t have a felt need. This is why Dave and I blog on missions, do missions conferences, and try to do regular teaching on the subject.

Dave: What Joe is saying is that if the children’s ministry, preaching, or worship music in my church is not up to par, I will notice and react because I have a felt need for those things to be done well. But if missions is not being done well in my church, I may not notice because I may not have a felt need for my church to excel in mission. And the paradigm shift that moves missions to the level of “felt need” may require a new definition of the term “missions” to agree with the biblical perspective. After all, if God is a Missionary God, then everything he touches has a missions divine fingerprint on it. The Bible is a missions text about the missionary quest of a missionary God. How should that perspective shape our church missions model? Can we really afford the price of operating with the pie model?

Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz

2 Replies to “The Pie and the Wheel: Is Your Church Truly “Missions-Minded”?”

  1. You mentioned Biblical mandates for different functions inside the church. The only one I’m aware of is Paul’s mandate that the church is for the equipping of the saints for the fulfillment of the GC. Done correctly the rest falls into place. We are in Atlanta, where ministries are the goal of the church.

  2. Thanks for the comment, John. Without going back over everything I’ve written, I’m not sure what I have said that you are referring to or in what context it was said. I am think I am probably in agreement with your perspective on Eph. 4, although there are many permutations of that biblically. Are you suggesting we have different takes on this issue? – Dave

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