(This is part of Rick’s synchroblog on “What Is Missional?” See the end of this post for the list of participants.)
I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew.
Although I’ve been a Christian most of my life, and involved in some form of church “ministry” function for most of the time I’ve been a Christian…I have only known of terms like “missional” and “emergent” for the past year and a half. And just when I’m getting used to reading, hearing and saying these types of words…apparently there is already some frustration about their usage, about the labels, about what is associated with them–what they mean, or what they should mean. Hence, the reason for the synchroblog.
Being fairly new in this stream of thought, I’m actually looking forward to reading the other participants’ responses, because I am far from expert in this category. But when a word like “missional” starts being over-complicated, it helps to go back to the basics; and I think I know enough to get to the heart of this word, and that’s what I think we’re looking for.
First things first–I think we need to begin by swearing off the word “missional” as a label. Descriptive terms become labels when we stop using them to describe what we do and using them instead to describe who or what we are. And when a descriptive term becomes a label, meanings start getting confused, stereotypes start getting applied, and prejudices pile up until eventually we grow weary of using the word at all. (This is precisely why some believers are now avoiding the word Christian, and this is also happening already to the word emergent as well.) So whatever “missional” is, it needs to describe our actions and activities, not identify us as a type of group.
That said…here’s what “missional” means to me…
The word “missional” has to do with the mission of Christ. So I think being missional means simply to live from the heart of Christ’s mission. I think the way we do that is to participate in the ongoing mission of Christ, and to emulate Christ’s approach in fulfilling His mission. (This second point–emulating His approach–is key, and I’ll explain why in a minute.)
What was Christ’s mission? Simply put–to demonstrate God’s love to people and to reconcile them back to God. That was the mission that brought Him to earth; it was His mission while on earth; it was His mission when He went to the cross; it is still His mission today. Missional people recognize that the work of Christ is ongoing on the planet, and they are looking to see what Jesus is doing, and how they can participate in it. They see being a Christ-follower as more than just a personal relationship with Jesus; they see it as following Christ into His mission as well.
Now, what makes being missional different from being merely mission-minded is in the approach–the way things are done. There are many mission-minded people in the modern church today–people who recognize our call to reach people (they call them “the lost”)–but the modern church’s methods actually look very different from the way Jesus approached life, ministry, and mission.
Sometimes the missional approach is compared with the attractional approach. Institutional Christianity typically uses the attractional approach to ministry–setting up a central location and trying to attract people to itself. This method is working less and less as time goes on. The missional approach tries to see the Great Commission for what it is–a “go-to-them” thing rather than a “come-to-us” thing.
Sometimes the word “incarnational” is also used with the word “missional”. I love this word, because it speaks of Christ’s incarnation–how He put aside His heavenly glory and actually became a living, breathing, fully human being. God became man, so He could reach men and women where they were. This is a key part of being missional–to infiltrate the culture rather than invade it; to connect with people where they are at; to approach people from a spirit of humility and acceptance rather than pride and superiority. Jesus humbled Himself and became a man; that’s how He did it. That’s how we should do it.
The number of ways that this can play out is staggering. What truly excites me about emulating Jesus’ approach to mission is that it can take so many creative forms. The missional approach won’t set up a cookie-cutter version of “church” to reach a community; rather, it will let the community flavor what the church will look like. It won’t super-impose a churchy culture upon its mission field; it will allow the church to be formed from within the existing culture, while still keeping Jesus at the center. Every time this happens, the church will look and feel different (which is a wonderful thought to me, since I’m bored stiff with the current models of church). And all the while, when Jesus is at the center of it all…there will be unity within the diversity.
If you think for a moment about the infinite creativity of God–a global church that looks like this would be a far more accurate reflection of Jesus Himself than we have now, don’t you think? (Getting preachy, now…sorry about that.)
One more thing before I finish. To me, being missional is more than an approach to ministry; it is something to be woven into the fabric of our life. It is seeing life, ministry and mission interwoven together. Jesus didn’t turn His “ministry career” on and off; He lived from the heart of love day by day, touching people as He went. Ministry happened as He lived His life. If we’re truly going to be followers of Christ, we need to see things the way He does, allowing His approach to reshape the way we view ministry.
That’s what I think, anyway.
Please visit the other synchrobloggers listed below!
Cobus Van Wyngaard