Thursday, April 21, 2011

Missional, Missional, Missional: Can I be Anti-Missional and Still Saved?

In his article “Defining Missional: The word is everywhere, but where did it come from and what does it really mean?” Alan Hirsch (12/12/2008 online Christianity Today) writes, “It has become increasingly difficult to open a ministry book or attend a church conference and not be accosted by the word missional. A quick search on Google uncovers the presence of "missional communities," "missional leaders," "missional worship," even "missional seating," and "missional coffee." Today, everyone wants to be missional. Can you think of a single pastor who is proudly anti-missional?”
He goes on to say that Missional is not “emerging”, seeker sensitive, evangelistic, cell-group centered, or social justice. He defines missional as: “Because we are the "sent" people of God, the church is the instrument of God's mission in the world. As things stand, many people see it the other way around. They believe mission is an instrument of the church; a means by which the church is grown. Although we frequently say "the church has a mission," according to missional theology a more correct statement would be "the mission has a church." (Hmmmm... (me))
He goes on, “Similarly, to be missional means to be sent into the world; we do not expect people to come to us. This posture differentiates a missional church from an attractional church.” And, “The attractional model... seeks to reach out to the culture and draw people into the church—what I call outreach and in-grab. But this model only works where no significant cultural shift is required... And as Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, the attractional model has lost its effectiveness.
So far so good. Then he states, “Missional represents a significant shift in the way we think about the church. ... we ought to engage the world the same way he [God] does—by going out rather than just reaching out. To obstruct this movement is to block God's purposes in and through his people. When the church is in mission, it is the true church.
            Really? This is a significant shift? Are we only now, in the 21st century discovering the mission of the church? I remember hearing back in the 70’s, “Win a friend to win a soul.” Wasn’t that the same thing? Somebody wrote 2000 years ago, “be IN the world not of it.” Oh yeah, that’s in the Bible.
But who couldn’t agree with Ed Stetzer in this list:
  • From programs to processes
  • From demographics to discernment
  • From models to missions
  • From attractional to incarnational
  • From uniformity to diversity
  • From professional to passionate
  • From seating to sending
  • From decisions to disciples
  • From additional to exponential
  • From monuments to movements
And let me add a couple more to Ed's list:
  • From services to service
  • From ordained to the ordinary
  • From organizations to organisms
(Ed Stetzer, David Putman Breaking the Missional Code (Broadman & Holman, 2006))
There are some great things here! And I believe these are based on genuine concerns. Stetzer says: “I think perhaps the common thread through all the variations “missional” would be the concern that churches have become inward focused and self-concerned and have given up the missionary nature of the Christian and the Church.” ( And, he takes his concern, that the church may take the Missio Dei in the wrong direction, seriously (As in the Church Growth Movement) stating, “Missions historian Stephen Neil expresses the concern that when churches focus on societal transformation... then “everything” is mission. Neil explained, “when everything is mission, nothing is mission.” Those words were prophetic: he spoke those words to a movement that progressively moved away from church planting and evangelistic missions to a near total focus on social justice. (ibid)
Stetzer, like many others wants to do away with the "tyranny of the ‘or’.” As in, Do we help the poor or preach the gospel? Do we build an orphanage or spend our money on missions? In those choices the gospel and missions ought to triumph. But what if we took an ‘and’ approach?, they might ask.
Hmmm, good questions, are the “or” questions valid? Is a both/and approach better?
If you were to Google “definition of missional” you’ll find 20 or so definitions easily, all very similar. But you will also find hundreds of derivative statements; mission is..., mission is not... that try to define the definitions but many of those are contradictory.
            Jesse Johnson (Pastor, Local Outreach Ministries, Staff Elder @ Grace Community) in his seminar during the 2011 Shepherd’s conference makes some “counter-missional” observations for the sake of balance and evangelism. So many modern (Or should I say post-modern) ministers have defined missional in cultural and social terms. Doing church in clothes that look like your surrounding community’s clothing (Driscoll); Combining feeding the poor with preaching the gospel; or as a ‘middle ground’ between evangelism and mercy ministry (McLaren). Stetzer even says that missional takes away the distinction between doing ministry inside the church and missions outside the church.
Johnson has a problem with this. Not that ministry in the world is a bad thing. Building a house for someone who lost theirs and giving sandwiches to the homeless are admirable.
But some missional minded people would have us believe that houses and sandwiches are the mission of the church. I mean, if that’s “Missional” then the great commission includes sandwiches.
But it doesn’t, does it? Isn’t the Great commission making disciples? Isn’t the great commission preaching the gospel to the nations? Isn’t it being witnesses of the suffering and resurrection of Christ? Yes it is, according to Matthew, Mark and Luke anyway.
So what’s this about in a nutshell? Don’t be missional if it means turning the mission of the church into a soup kitchen or a Home Make-Over. Be missional if it means being primarily about what the Bible says is the mission of the church.
Does that mean engaging a culture where they are? Sure. Does it mean taking on cultural appearances to become all things to all men? Sure, within reason. Does it mean being Christ-like out in the world? Sure. But it also means that the main thing is the gospel and the gospel challenges the worldly culture, it doesn’t embrace it. The gospel condemns godless culture. The gospel is bad news before it is good news. The gospel is the Power of God, not sandwiches. Not ‘everything’ is the mission of the church. Preaching the gospel and making disciples is the mission of the church.
Don’t forget, “Missions historian Stephen Neil expresses the concern that when churches focus on societal transformation... then “everything” is mission. Neil explained, “when everything is mission, nothing is mission.

1 comment:

Feel free to tell me and others what you think. You can use the tools of rhetoric but please, be clean and nice.