There is no doubt that “missional” is the in vogue word among Christians at the moment. Stick “missional” into Google and be prepared for the search engine to complain of exhaustion. In some ways I think this is a good thing, at least mission is on the agenda in some ways however its also got a downside. The negative side to “missional” becoming the must use word around Christian circles is that it can become almost emptied of meaning. I have no doubt from listening to people talk and reading the flood of literature around the term that it means very different things to different people. So what does “being missional” mean in practise? What would make “missional” meaningful?
Well here are a few thoughts
Probably everyone agrees that “being missional” is about the church being shaped by mission but that in reality just pushes our question one step back. The big question then becomes, well what is mission? There are a wide range of answers to that question, I think there is scale between two positions which churches fit into
1. MISSION = EVANGELISM …. This is the basic position I grew up with. Mission is equated with evangelism and is about getting individuals to put their personal faith in Christ and so be forgiven and have a place in heaven rather than hell. If this is the position of the church, being missional will be about attracting people to hear a verbal presentation of the Gospel with a chance to respond. Hence many churches in the past had annual “evangelistic campaigns” when they brought in evangelists or they supported city wide large scale “crusades” with a “celebrity” evangelist. Now while evangelistic crusades have kind of gone out of fashion, this position still lives on in congregations whose only activities in mission are evangelistic sermons or running the Alpha course or Christianity Explored. The Church Growth Movement gave this view a turbo charge from the 70-90s when growing the church through conversion was seen as the ultimate aim of mission.
2. MISSION = SOCIAL ACTION … I have worked with a number of churches who would have never thought of challenging people to turn their lives over to Christ. That would have been seen as vulgar fundamentalism. Yet these churches would have claimed to have been involved in mission. For them mission was about loving one’s neighbour in practical ways and so they were deeply committed to social action projects designed to improve the lives of people in the here and now, not their lives in the here after! I have noticed this position has sort of infected some churches thought to be connected to the “missional movement” so you’ll often hear people quoting St Francis of Asissi’s dictum about mission “Preach the Gospel at all times, when, necessary use words” (actually its doubtful if Francis actually said this and certain he never lived by)
So what is mission, is it evangelism or social action? Is about people’s lives in there after or the here and now? I want to say YES to both those questions. Here is why, Jesus was obsessed by the Kingdom of God, read the Gospels, especially the first three, its on his lips on nearly every page. Its pretty clear that for Jesus, His mission was inextricably linked to the Kingdom of God, the reign of God. What exactly the Kingdom of God is has been the subject of innumerable PHDs by people much smarter than me and has earned NT Wright a very good living. So it’s not an easy concept to tie down but I think the key to understanding it is found in Jesus model prayer for his disciples when he teaches us to pray “Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Without reciting all the scholarly stuff this is not about creating gold streets and celestial mansions down here. Heaven in “Jewish Speak” was synonymous with God (it meant they could avoid using his Holy name) so its about God being allowed to reign fully here and now. The Kingdom of God is when God’s original intention for creation is restored fully, which is why its also described as a “new creation.” Jewish people thought this would happen at the end of history but shockingly Jesus claimed that the Kingdom was invading the “here and now” through who He was and what He was doing and would continue to do so through His people. The New Testament claims that, in and through His people, God is demonstrating the future He has planned for all of creation. The church is a colony of God’s Kingdom among the Nations, it is to live by different values and demonstrate those values in practical ways.
One the best ways I have come across to conceptualise this is comes from Mike Frost, he asks us to think of our mission as being like a trailer for a film. A trailer shows the best bits of the film and makes you want to go, see and experience the whole thing. In the same the mission of the church is act as a trailer for the Kingdom of God. Mike’s take on this is so good it needs to be quoted at length
“The church is to be a trailer for the New Jerusalem, a taster, with all the best bits on display. If we conclude that the world to come will be a place of complete and perfect justice, it follows that the mission of the church is to create foretastes of the justice to come. Likewise, if we believe that the world is a place of love and mercy, we are to be a trailer of that love and mercy, a free sample for those looking to buy into the whole thing. Read the Scriptures and compile a picture of the world to come, justice, love, peace, reconciliation, and then go forth to fashion foretastes of that world. But of course, if we believe that in the New Jerusalem “every knee should bow …. and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Phil 2:10-11 our mission is to create foretastes of such worship by encouraging belief where there is currently unbelief. In that way we both demonstrate and announce the reign of God through Christ” Frost The Road To Missional p 29
So to me the mission in “missional” the mission that is to shape us is about demonstrating and announcing the Reign of God through being and creating foretastes of the world to come. So what implications might that have for the values of those who want to be missional. Well here are my thoughts but I’d love to hear yours
1. REFUSE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN EVANGELISM AND SOCIAL ACTION …. We don’t say that in spiritual formation prayer is more important than Bible reading or vice versa, so why do some churches prioritise evangelism over social action or vise versa in mission? This should be demonstrated in how we spend our money and use our time.
2. BE OUTWARDLY FOCUSED …. Mission is not about us, its about the Kingdom of God, we’ll seek to make an impact beyond the church, not just grow the church.
3. HOLINESS WILL BE SEEN AS VITAL …. In the mission of the Kingdom of God, our message has no meaning if its not embodied in lives and community, quite simply to be proclaimed the Kingdom must be demonstrated. All of that entails holiness, personal holiness, corporate holiness
4.WE’LL VALUE EVERYONE AND WHAT THEY DO …. The heroes of mission are not just the evangelists, pastors and preachers whose mission is focused within the church, but everyone, for we are all called to bring foretastes of the world to come to our homes, our relationships, our work.
So what do you think?