There has been a question floating around me lately than I am very interested in. It is shaping my life, in fact. People want to know what it means to live missionally. I know in the Christian culture words are thrown around, catch on and are overused. They are twisted, morphed and changed to mean something they are not (gospel, ministry, community, authentic, “share your faith”, outreach, worship…just to name a few). Missional living is a very popular idea in some circles right now and I want to explore what it really means before the church twists it into something else. And just as a disclaimer, I am not an expert on this so please feel free to engage in this conversation with me. I am still learning and in no way want to be one that misunderstands being missional. By the way, if I use the words I listed earlier in their morphed and twisted way, I’ll put them in quotes. Later I’ll explain what I believe their true definitions may be.
In my experience, living missionally is a very difficult thing. Not because it is hard in itself, but because it is completely the opposite of how most of us were raised and taught. In order to effectively be mission minded we must reverse our thinking of what the church is, what ministry is, what the body of Christ is and what it means to serve.
In the last 400 years or so christendom has been a part of the modern movement. It begun as scientists discovered new laws governing the way the world works. Things became clear and concrete. Everything was run by rules that were very black and white. This took Christ from being the God of the affluent to being available to everyone (a good thing). After all, rules are rules and the truth does not change because you are rich or poor, farmer or banker, sinner or saint. “The gospel” became a clear cut list of facts you either believed in or you didn’t. Missionaries and preachers went out sharing the “Good News” with lost people, showing them their sins and letting them know the steps to repentance and forgiveness. All of this was a good thing. The message of Christ reached far and wide and, in most cases, was very clearly preached. There were also many negatives of this movement. Preachers who “knew the truth” often became arrogant, fake and mocking. They preached the message but did not care about each person they were preaching it to. They became more interested in winning converts and increasing the numbers in their “saved” book than caring about the desperate state (financially, emotionally, physically) of the people that they were trying to save. Saving them spiritually was enough for them – they didn’t need to worry about saving them in any other way, because in the eternal perspective those other ways didn’t matter. Now, not every preacher was or is like this. This is a generalization of what could happen to modern style preachers.
Most of us were raised in this style of church. There is a lot of difference on the modern spectrum, but a generalization would state that the modern church of the 1960′s and beyond focused on preaching “the gospel”- which was telling people 1. They are sinners, 2. Christ died on the cross, 3. He bridged the gap to offer us forgiveness and make a way to heaven, 4. We can live in forgiveness if we accept his offer and pray a little prayer. You were encouraged to bring your “unchurched” friends to events so they could hear the message. You were instructed to pray for the lost, support missionaries traveling across the world to save the lost in other countries and help organize events at your local church building so people could be invited in.
Now, those things I just wrote about are very good things. But they are incomplete. They basically state “I have what you need. Come here, to my turf to get it. Join me in the right way of doing things.” As you can see, this can leave many people out. What if I am seen as an outcast by those on your turf? What if I am covered in tatoos ans peircings with a bright pink mohawk? Will you welcome me in your building for events without staring and judging? What if I am housebound? What if I am so hungry that I don’t want your events, I just want food? What if I have been burned by the arrogance and judgement of a fellow Christian of yours and I don’t want a God like that? What if I don’t want to be accepted and welcomed into your building for an event – I just want to know that someone loves me right where I am at (at the bar, the nightclub, the little league diamond, the PTA meeting, the grocery store)? What if I don’t need to be convinced that I am a sinner (for that is all to clear to me) and I have no faith in anyone who says they love me because I have never known unselfish love (or any love at all)? What if I am tired of people trying to convince me that I need God when they don’t even take the time to know me?
As you can see, there are a lot of things that prevent people from responding to this kind of ministry. And even more so, the way people think about truth is changing. The way people think about everything is changing. The way people communicate, receive love, and view God is changing. The modern ways of doing things and seeing things is changing. And no matter how many events we hold at our churches, we cannot push the tidal wave of culture back in the other direction. As Bob Dylan says, “The times, they are a-changin…”
Next up: Living Missional – Part Two Where We Are Headed…
By the way, please comment with your thoughts, questions, input. I intend for this to be a conversation, not a lecture or sermon. There are many things I have questions on and need to learn as well, and as I write I am not saying I know it all or even fully understand anything. I am just trying to put words to what I think is happening, as best as I can in my very limited way. Please, add to the dialogue.