Andrew Hughes | Category: Mission
Evangelicalism has had a long history of nebulous terms that get tossed around that either aren’t totally understood or become more popular than the application of the term into actual church life.
For instance, you can find a book on just about any topic these days that begins with “Gospel-Centered;” and then you can fill in the blank. Gospel-centered parenting, Gospel-centered finances, Gospel-centered homeschooling, Gospel-centered work life, Gospel-centered meal planning. Now, by all means, Gospel centeredness is critical. But when we say, “I want to be more Gospel-centered and Christ-centered,” or “I need to pursue Christ more,” or “I need to really be going hard after God,” do we have a concrete vision of what that looks like? Or has that all just become more churchy-jargon?
These days, there is a lot of talk about the need for believers (individually) and local churches (corporately) to be “missional.” Honestly, this term really isn’t that new. If you want to learn a little more about some of the roots of the “missional” church movement, rooted in a guy name Lesslie Newbigin, check out this paper here.
But as it stands in 2015 evangelical rhetoric, the term really refers to some basic aspects of the Christian life and the ministry of the body of Christ, the church. There are numerous books, articles, conferences, graphs, grids, degree programs, training seminars, and jobs dedicated to “missional” living that can create the impression that it’s a specialty-- that you’re probably just sitting on the sidelines stuck in ministry philosophies of the 1950’s, if you aren’t using the missional language yet. Even more, it may feel like it’s the hip, new, cool churches that are the one’s being “missional;” so, if you’re not personally cool or if your church doesn’t have organic coffee, flannel shirts, and an neighborhood art competition, you don’t stand a chance at this missional thing.
Okay, before you get mad at me, I’m being tongue-in-cheek a little bit. I’m really not old and tired of new things. (Although my kids think I’m old; but, at least they still think I’m cool. I have them fooled there obviously!). But my main intention is to get to the crux of what makes up this missional movement.
Up. In. Out. Ministry
At the crux of being “missional” is the reminder that church ministry must contain 3 elements, an upward element (a focus of God), an inward element (an accountability and discipleship of believers), and an external element (evangelism and service to the world around us). One of our elders, Tom Dyba, addresses this topic nicely in a post here. The correct concern that the missional movement raises is that many churches often get stuck on the upward and inward and never move outward. That’s a fair assessment. So how do you do that?
Everyone is a Missionary
Growing up, I can recall a sign that was above the exit at our church building that said, “You are now entering the mission field.” I don’t recall thinking too much of it then, but interestingly that sign’s image is lodged in my brain. Over the years, I began to really take in the full significance of that sign, as I realized that ministry is not something you prepare for nor a vocation you pursue, but rather the call of every believer. A life of evangelism and discipleship is a call to every person (Matthew 28:19-20). There are not certain vocations that are more important than others. (David Platt makes this point nicely in this video.) Therefore, every person is called to be a “missionary” where they are, in their own context. In result, contextualization just means embracing the place God has put you and communicating the Gospel to the people around you within the context and norms of that specific culture, whether in the North, South, East, West, or overseas somewhere.
The Church is the People
There’s also a lot of talk about church life being “organic” and not programmatic. I agree with that. But what does that mean? Well it just means that, since the “church” is the people, not a building, the people must be the ones driving the ministry of the church. Missional living emphasizes the need for individuals to naturally, on their own, be evangelizing and discipling others without, necessarily, the means of programs and church structures. That is, instead of having an “Evangelism Night” once a week, just talk to you neighbors whenever you see them and invite them over for dinner or to go to the gym with you. That’s the idea.
Accountability and Community
Instead of just gathering once or twice a week as a large group, missional living reminds us of the importance of scattering and being “sent” throughout the week into our neighborhoods and workforces to share the Gospel. Moreover, as the church scatters and is sent, smaller groups of people can be meeting for accountability, prayer, Bible study, and personal discipleship.
Hospitality and Service
As the church is sent and scattered, missional living compels the church to “do life together.” What does that mean? Just spend time together (“live in community”). Simply put, in Biblical terms, live hospitably. Open up your home and share meals together and with unbelievers. Serve one another and find service tasks to do together. Be inconvenienced by each other. Be a family to each other and invite the lost to share in what Christian family looks like. (Matthew 5:16)
So, whether you church uses the lingo or not isn't the important issue. There will be a time where the terms change again. What’s important is that we individually and as a church are seeking to incorporate some fairly basic Biblical principles into our lives.
If you want to know what it looks like, you don’t need to read a book. Just delve a little into the lives of people around you. Some of the most missional people may be the people you think need to "get with the program." More often than not, the most missional people are serving in obscurity, quietness, and anonymity.
When something becomes cool, we tend to think no one else ever really understood how to do that thing before. But there really isn’t anything new under the sun. For instance, my parents recycled before it was cool and progressive. My mom grew up on a farm before anyone cared about organic-anything. And my parents were both “missional” before small groups ever existed. I saw my father embrace his vocation as a small-town-doctor “missionary,” taking time to counsel and visit people in their homes, to share the Gospel with them. I saw my mother engage neighbors with the Gospel, see them converted, and disciple them in Christ. I saw my parents open up their home constantly for Bible study, visitors needing a place to stay, and meals. I went with my parents to give food and good company to the poor and elderly throughout our little town. My parents have always (and still do) lived like missionaries, lived in community, lived hospitably, and served without attention. That’s missional living and that’s not complex.
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