This post is concerned with what it actually looks like to live as a missionary. This is really just a series of observations thrown into two larger buckets. Those buckets are: “How do I live as a missionary individually?” and “How to I live a missionary lifestyle as part of a collective (church, organization, etc.)?”
The concept known as “missional” (all phrases that include the word: “thinking missionally,” “going missional,” “part of a missional church / movement”) is enjoying some time in the Sun these days. The concept of “becoming more missional” seems to be fueled by a few main tensions. While I admit these are widely open for discussion, here are just a few:
1.) The economic disparity between the western church and the developing world. We have wealth. Much of the world doesn’t. We’re wrestling through this one. History teaches us that a wealthy culture can often move the church to the periphery. The gospels tell us that wealth can keep us from kingdom living. Perhaps western Christians hear the faint echo of western 16th-19th century Europe and wonder silently if the American church will soon follow suit.
2.) The theological necessity of authentic evangelism. Another factor contributing to the rise of missional theology surrounds the irreducible kernel of authentic evangelism. We long for revival. We’re tired of crusades and televised events. We instinctively feel that revivals can be no more planned than they could be contained. Something has to give. If the Spirit is at work at all on Sunday morning (and hopefully throughout the week), something will happen. Perhaps our move toward missional thinking is a state of readiness.
3.) The ever-swinging pendulum of American church culture. “We didn’t plan it. We didn’t build it. We’re just in it. When we have our seat at the table we’ll probably change it.” It seems to be that every successive generation of believers seems to say the same thing. Perhaps our movement toward a more missional church is really just a reaction against what we perceive as negative from past generations: Our parents polluted the earth. They messed up music. They standardized church programming. If that is the case, here’s some food for thought: It’s rarely a good idea to be known by what you’re against – far better to be known by what you’re for.
So where do we go from here? I want to encourage us to think on two levels: micro (dealing with ourselves as individuals), and macro (dealing with ourselves as part of a collective).
Thinking on the small / micro-scale: There’s no getting around the idea that Jesus was attractional. While there was nothing externally attractive about Jesus (at least in the way that we might think about attractive-ness), there was something about him that resulted in follower-ship. The problem becomes, when we plug ourselves in the equation, conscious Christians will likely feel dirty or self-messianic to say that there also ought be to something attractional about us. And that’s a good feeling. We’re aren’t good at being attractional. We are, however, good at building relationships. Carrying the gospel across the well-laid pathways of our relationships is probably the most attractional thing we can do. Not because we’re attactional as individuals, but because the message we carry – the irreducible core of the gospel – is absolutely attractional (“May His beauty rest upon me / as I seek the lost to win / And may they forget the channel / seeing only Him”). Attractional then, becomes not the opposite of missional, but a just piece of the pie.
Thinking on the large /macro-scale: Reflecting back on point 1.) above: Resources are one the greatest gifts the American church has. We have been given buildings. We have been given leadership. We have been given the financial support of congregations. The question needs to be asked: As a church, are we being the best possible stewards of what we’ve been given? Perhaps more frightening is the follow-up: If not, why not? We need to be macro-missional. And that means resources. If you’ve ever planned an event for any number of people, you know that you don’t see noticeable changes to the bottom line by changing a $30 / person giveaway to a $25 / person giveaway. You see noticeable changes when you cut out the giveaway all together. I’m not advocating that we fire staff and get rid of our buildings – although in some cases, that’s not a bad start. The kind of paradigm shift that I’m advocating means re-thinking a few key areas of our church life – namely stewardship. In my estimation, that’s a far more courageous road. What would it look like if our churches began scaling back to reach out?
So. When I go home from work in a few minutes, I’m going to hopefully connect with my neighbor. When I go to church on Sunday, I’ll give out of obedience, trusting my church leadership to take my gift and stretch it as far as it can reach. When I’m asked what I think about both of those two things, I’ll probably pray.