So this morning, I was all like, do I write a post about chicken sandwiches, or do I try and finish this two-part blog post I started a few weeks ago that got interrupted? When I saw that Matt over at The Church of No People wrote a pretty cool one about chicken–and considering that Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sunday, anyhow, so there’s nothing you can do about it today–I had my answer. 🙂
Besides–perhaps getting back to a discussion about mission is the best response I could give to the Great Fast Food Chicken Sandwich National Controversy: a way to re-focus on the important stuff. (Oops, maybe that statement was too chicken-sandwich-post oriented. Sorry.)
A few weeks ago in part 1, I mentioned how my blogger friend Kathy had expressed some concerns over the word “missional,” and how one reason she gave (that I related to in particular) was that missions tend to target people, and no one likes to be the target of someone else’s mission. I also talked about the way that certain words we use to describe things tend to get baggage-laden over time, because of the different connotations the words begin to evoke. (“Christian”, for example, meant something waaay different in the early days than it does today.)
For me, I have some mixed feelings about it, because while I understand not wanting to convey the wrong idea over the word “missional,” at the same time I grow a bit weary of always trying to find some other word to convey my meaning that is perhaps less offensive. Maybe in my case it’s because as a full-time freelance writer, I’m always looking for the “right” word, and on my down time I’d rather not mince them as much. 🙂
In the case of the words “mission” and “missional,” I think the issue is not what these words mean, but what they have come to mean. Although I don’t think Jesus ever actually used the word mission to describe what He was doing (or what we should be doing), I think it’s pretty clear from Scripture that He was on a mission, and that the mission He was on continues today. But it also is a mission that, if you really look at it, seems a lot different than what we do when we’re “on a mission.” And that’s what’s really informing my own changing sense of mission. In other words, I don’t think we need to stop using words like “mission” and “missional”; I think we need to get back to what they originally meant–and by that, I mean we need to get back to mimicking how Jesus practiced His mission. Because His mission is what this is all about, anyhow.
It’s kind of hard for me to verbalize what I’m feeling about this, but let me begin by throwing out a statement about what mission is NOT:
The aim of mission is not necessarily conversion.
One of the most distasteful things about mission (especially to those who are “targets” of the mission) is when it becomes apparent that our agenda (or our “objective”) is to convert people, to convince them that Jesus is the Way and get them to join our ranks. It is distasteful because it basically attaches an ulterior motive to every kind thing we say or do. I don’t see this agenda in the life of Jesus at all. Instead, I see consistent, unconditional expressions of love (raining upon the just and the unjust, as He put it). The invitation to follow Him was always present, but the love was not a reward for the choice to follow–and those who chose to follow did so of their own accord, in response to the free gift of God’s grace/mercy they felt from Him. I don’t see Jesus ever working overtime trying to convince people He was the Son of God (in fact, He often tried to downplay that fact)–and the only people to whom He specifically said “Follow Me” were those whose hearts were already turned toward Him. He even stated explicitly that no one could even come to the Father unless the Holy Spirit was already drawing that person. Jesus’ earthly ministry (which I believe was a model for us to follow) was about sharing God’s love in a tangible manner, and only dealing with the conversion part of things when it was apparent that the Holy Spirit was at work in that direction.
The truth is, if you were to boil Jesus’ mission down to one word, I think it would not be “conversion,” but a much stronger word: redemption. He came to redeem mankind to Himself–and beyond that, the Scripture says He came to redeem all things to Himself. Redemption (which includes restoration) can take many forms. Yes, it happens when man’s relationship to God is restored; but it also happens when we say or do something that encourages, or brings healing, or shows love, kindness, grace or mercy–without any expectation of response from the other party. It happens when we do good things for the environment. Redemption can be expressed in a multitude of ways without the sinner’s prayer ever coming into the picture.
My point is this. Did Jesus want people to come back to God? Certainly. Should we also want the same thing? Most definitely. But you and I can save no one; only God can do that. What we can do is love people without condition. What we can do is demonstrate with our own lives what following Christ looks like, whether or not anyone copies us. What we can do is take specific steps toward making people’s lives better, or making a positive difference in the world–whether or not the name “Christian” is attached to that action. I believe all of these things fit into the overarching mission of Christ, enabling the overall cause of redemption.
To explain this further, let me personalize it. I believe I am on a mission, as part of the greater mission of Christ. My mission has an objective, and a “target”–the objective is to be a blessing to the creative community of my town, and by definition the “target” is the people within that creative community. But among the many relationships I’ve formed within that creative community, I don’t think there’s anyone in particular who feels “targeted” by my mission. Many of these people know I am a Christ-follower, but when I offer encouragement or help, I do so without any agenda attached. I have had numerous conversations about God, and I’ve shared my own story, but I don’t feel compelled to convince anyone that they should live the way I do, or to follow Christ the way I have chosen to do. I can’t save these people, but I can love them. And in loving them, I have hope that some will come to Christ through our interaction. But my job is not to win them, and my success is no longer based on how many people “get saved.” My job is to love them, to do good to them in whatever way I can. If I do that, I am participating in the mission of Christ, and the rest of it is in God’s court.
It’s an interesting thing about unconditional love; no one feels targeted by it. Just saying.
This understanding has truly liberated me in my own sense of purpose, because the truth is, I’ve never been comfortable with the idea that my job as a Christian was to power-sell the gospel to others. I am now free to show the love of Christ to all without feeling like I have to “target” certain people for conversion. I am ready to share my witness with anyone, but I do not feel I have to attach the agenda of conversion to every kind thing I do. Jesus was there with that person before I ever met him/her, and He will be there after I leave. He alone knows whether that person will ever be ready to be reconciled to the Father, and He alone knows the moment when that person is ready to make that choice. By being involved with that person’s life, perhaps I will be permitted to participate in that moment of conversion, as the Holy Spirit directs. I’ve been part of those moments before, and they are wonderful moments. But whether or not that moment ever comes, by simply being present with unconditional love, I remain part of the greater mission.
So all this rambling to say, I don’t think we have to forsake the idea of mission, or being a missional people. I just think being missional doesn’t have to mean we have to make people feel targeted. In effect, the truest sense of being missional is to conduct ourselves toward others the way Christ modeled it for us–in acts of unconditional love and mercy, without any other agenda.
That’s what I think, anyway. 🙂