My friend Kathy recently posted about why the word “missional” bothers her. One of several reasons she cited was: “It feels pretty cruddy to be someone’s mission.”
The other reasons she gives are pretty valid, too, but this one really resonated with me because since my journey of deconstruction from institutional Christianity began, I’ve found myself on the radar of some well-meaning Christians, as well, and felt like I had become part of their personal “mission” as they tried subtly (or so they thought) to steer me back to the fold. (Assuming, of course, that I’d actually left said fold.) I’m saying I know what it’s like to be targeted in that way, and Kathy’s right–it feels pretty cruddy.
Another event that reinforced this idea for me occurred a few months ago when I met with a couple of Christian artists for coffee and a Bible study. I brought up the idea that I wanted to gather with like-minded believers in the music scene who had a heart for mission and wanted to discuss ways we could reach out to people in a real way, without agendas. To which one of them asked: “But isn’t that an agenda in itself? Aren’t we targeting those people by sitting here talking about how to ‘reach’ them?”
That stopped me short, because although unintentional, I realized I was communicating my thoughts in a way that was still transmitting the idea of a “target.” People are not as naive as we think–they can usually tell when they are the object of someone’s “mission.” So this made me re-rethink a few things. 🙂
So I definitely get the irony here. With our idea of mission, there has to be an objective, and that objective is usually targeted toward a group of people. And yet, we ourselves are the objects of Christ’s mission–we are why He came. So the question is, how do we tap into that sense of mission without causing alienation, or an us-and-them mentality?
Now, granted, some of this is semantics, and it has more to do with the fact that the meanings and connotations of certain words change for us over time. For example, in the early days of the church, Christ-followers counted it an honor when someone referred to them as “Christian” (even if it was done mockingly) because the word meant that they were behaving like Christ. Today, however, the word “Christian” has so much baggage and imagery attached to it that a growing number believers actually eschew the term.
By the same token, the word “missional” when it was coined had a positive idea attached to it–the idea that a person or a church was retooling their perspective around the mission of Christ. Great concept. But as we’ve lived with this word a little bit, now we’re starting to see ways in which, as my friend pointed out, the word “mission” sort of paints a target on people, so we’re starting to feel a bit reluctant about it now.
But what do we do? We have to use words to communicate things. What do we do when the terms get polluted? I know people who practically can’t talk anymore because they’re so busy trying not to use certain terminologies.
I guess what I’m saying by this is that we start to regret using certain terms because the connotations are constantly evolving, but that doesn’t mean that original meaning behind the words is invalid. It’s still a good thing when people behave like Christ, even if the connotation of the word “Christian” has changed over time. Likewise, being “missional” doesn’t have to mean we’re painting targets on people. Like I said, Christ Himself came to earth on a mission, and that mission is still ongoing. We’re getting more hung up on what “mission” has come to mean for us than how Christ actually modeled it.
The thing is, I believe Christ’s idea of “mission” (which, if memory serves, He never actually used that term in Scripture) and our idea of it are really two different animals. As I’ve pondered this for a number of years now, I am seeing my own ideas of mission start to transform and expand into something different than what I grew up believing it was. My sense of mission is changing into something far more palatable, and far less offensive. In the next post, I’ll elaborate on what I think this means, but for now, I just wanted to get you thinking about it a little. If you have any thoughts to share on this idea, feel free.