“Missional living is the adoption of the posture, thinking, behaviors, and practices of a missionary in order to engage others with the gospel message.” So says Wikipedia. It may not impress scholars, but I’m going with this definition because, in all honesty, Wikipedia is the cultural low investment source and the baseline of collective understanding. Of all it’s faults, it often boils something down to it’s most easily grasped concept … and I can’t currently think of any subject matter Christian leadership culture has been less successful at grasping and conveying to the masses than the concept of missional … except maybe the Trinity, or the work of the Holy Spirit, or discipleship, or … never mind. I’m only going to address missional here.
It seems to me, in a quick glance, that we should note the concept of missionary that is central to the definition. Missionary as one who is sent. Few of us could claim ignorance at what that means. The confusing piece is that this idea of being sent, at least in these past 25 years of my pastoral timeframe, has been hidden by personality, production, and performance driven ministry designed to bring people in the “hear about” the good news found in Jesus. With some notable exceptions, church for some is a place to experience music that better be inspiring and teaching that better be engaging, if not entertaining. For others, it is a place to see people we know and are comfortable with in an environment we know and are comfortable with, listening to a message we know and are comfortable with.
Imagine if you would, those great missionaries of old … Hudson Taylor, Jim Elliott. Imagine them feeling called by God to reach those unreached cultures in far off lands, and their first point of business being to employ ships or planes destined to China or the Amazon jungles. The purpose being to transport these cultures back to Great Britain and the United States so that they could hear about Jesus. Never mind that the language, culture, and environments would be foreign to these people groups, they had confidence that the Spirit would convey to these poor lost souls what they themselves couldn’t. Imagine that all prominent seminaries following would be teaching this same model … go get them, bring them here, pray for the Spirit to intervene. If you don’t recognize the absurdity of this plan, you can just stop reading here.
It is admittedly totally absurd to imagine, and yet this is exactly how most of the US model of church operates and in doing so, excludes the universal call to missional (missionary) living. To be missional, one needs to understand, have compassion for, and interact with the culture and people God has a heart for … most of whom live in our neighborhoods and the neighborhoods of our churches. I live in a city that has historically had more churches per capita, and yet less claiming faith than any city in the country. A dozens of churches are within a 15 minute walk of my house and yet virtually no sign of them beyond the signs on their buildings. If there is evidence of their love and partnership in the neighborhood it is seen as an anomaly. This is almost entirely the result of our church culture embedding the idea that we need to pray for our neighbors to adopt the posture of missionary that we ourselves don’t want to adopt. If you advertise, they will come. We want them to cross cultural barriers, to visit uncomfortable environments, and disseminate a language they aren’t familiar with … all so that, with the right mix of music, personality, and production, the Spirit of God will break through to them. We haven’t been able understand or teach accurately the call to “go” Jesus conveyed in the Great Commission any more than we have the idea of “make disciples” in the same calling.
So here’s the good news. It doesn’t have to end up here. The conversation has begun. Within my pastoral lifetime, the idea of living a missional life has finally begun to point back to Jesus and the seemingly, but not, complicated call to “go into all the world” which does in fact include the neighborhood outside our doors. There are some very uncomplicated and not necessarily spiritual ways in which you can join God in what he is already doing. You can be free to share the concepts of the kingdom and grace without the pressure of getting someone into the building. You and your church can be placemakers and peacemakers in your neighborhoods without feeling compelled to hide your identity as a follower of Christ. It doesn’t require advanced knowledge or degrees. It doesn’t require a great band or charismatic pastor. It doesn’t even require a cool building, or any building at all. It only requires people who love God and love others, with the help of the Spirit and some practical application. We already have the help of the Spirit … some of the practical application will have to wait till next week.