See Parts 1 & 2 at www.raisedbook.com
See Part 1 of the series Transitioning to Missional Church.
In Part 1 of this series, we established the difference between a church with a mission and church as mission. A Missional Church is church as mission not church with a mission. Missional is its nature not just its vocation.
Why Mission is the Nature of the Church
Why is missional the nature of the church? Because it is the nature God. Mission is not only an action of God; it is an attribute of God. God is a missionary God. That’s what the term Missio Dei means “the Sent God.” God has always been on a mission for his glory, that self-glorifying mission breaks out into creation, thru the fall, in redemption unto New Creation. In particular, we see the missionary nature of God in his sentness. Father sends the Son, Son sends the Spirit, Spirit sends the Church. The church is cut from the cloth of the missionary God. We have a family resemblance. We have a missionary nature because we have a missionary Father.
In other words, mission is the breath of the missional church. Mission is not a tack-on to your life; it is your life. You exhale mission because you inhale gospel. The gospel flows through you, pulsing at various strengths but pulsing, in order to pump the blood of Jesus through the body of Christ so that it can exhale the hope of mission. This missional breath affects everything—how we check the mail, how we structure our week, how we relate to neighbors, how we do our work, how we read the Bible, where we live, how we live, how we make your everyday decisions. Missional is radical, like taking up your cross and following Jesus. Missional church is a gathering of cross-bearing, Jesus-following disciples who are committed to his mission.
Missional church requires nothing less than a rethinking of our identity and our practice, of who we are and what we do. Therefore, in order to effectively embrace the challenge of moving from church with a mission to church as mission, new ecclesiastical structures are absolutely essential. The old church structures support mission as a task but not as an identity. They promote mission as an event but not as disciple-making, reducing mission to an option for the elite not essential for everyone.
Challenges in Transitioning to Missional
One of the greatest challenges in transitioning to a true missional church is syncretistic missional ecclesiology (SME). Syncretistic Missional Ecclesiology is the fusion of missional church values with institutional church structures. Many churches that attempt to make this transition, try to insert missional values into non-missional church structures. Leadership, decision-making, community structures all remain somewhat the same, while the leaders beat the drum of mission. At best, this will create more mission works but will fail to make missional disciples.
The nature of missional church requires more than cosmetic adjustments to our inherited forms of church. Missional ecclesiology requires an entirely new way of thinking about church, from the bottom up. Church plants and established churches have failed to recognize this important point. As a result, they have blended institutional church with missional church. This syncretism is both theologically and practically defective.
- Institutional mission relies on preaching, teaching, and writing to implement missional ecclesiology. Missional Church relies not only on a Sunday ministry of Word, but promotes a rest of week ministry of the word that is carried out by a speaking-the-truth-in-love community.
- Institutional mission adopts a program of mission during a set season of the year to implement missional ecclesiology. Missional Church does not see mission as a tack-on to your life; it is your life. You inhale gospel and exhale mission through ordinary rhythms of life.
- Institutional mission sees mission as the responsibility of a select group of people not the whole church including staff. Missional Church requires pastors and staff to live a missional life making disciples and redeeming social ill. It equips ordinary people to do ordinary things with gospel intentionality.
Some of you may have read the beginning of this series, How Not to Be a Missional Church, on my blog. I’ve pushed the series to Resurgence, where it will be running all week, and will conclude with the Evangelism-Driven critique. Others of you are reading some of this for the first time. As each post goes up this week, I will post some further commentary for explanation and interaction.
Event-Driven Missional Church:
I am not saying events are bad, but that event-driven churches miss the mark of missional church. If we put all our eggs in the basket of out-reach events, in the name of mission, we have misunderstood the purpose and nature of the missional church. The missional church is a Jesus-centered community that redemptively engages peoples and cultures. It’s not a switch you turn on or off, a date on the calendar, or an item we tick off the list. Mission is our identity, because we have be rescued by a missionary God and placed in his missionary family.We live missionary lives, doing everyday things with gospel intentionality.
At Austin City Life, we do events. We baptize, we preach, we gather on Sundays, we do fund-raising garage sales for Operation Turkey, we clean apartments for homeless women and kids, we visit nursing homes, we do Teen Therapy Room Renovations. One difference, however, is that these missional events are typically linked to a greater community over time. They are done with non-Christians, for non-Christians, to address real needs in the context of a long-term relationship. I like to call them strategic social partnerships (in-house language), to convey the importance of missional churches/communities making a long-term social, cultural, and relational impact through gospel witness. Events aren’t bad, but when we mistake event for missional church we get off track. People will see it as just another program, which it is, unless we explain to them that mission is our identity, responsibility, gifting, and joy. (scroll through to our mission series for more)
In his monograph, Mission-Commitment in Ancient Judaism and in the Pauline Communities, John Dickson challenges the prevailing evangelical view that every Christian should be an evangelist. Instead, he argues from Judaism and from the Pauline letters that Paul viewed the church, not as a band of evangelists, but as a partner in mission. More specifically, that churches “be actively involved in local outreach via authorized heralds (e.g., evangelists) and in the larger mission of the gospel via partnership with Paul.” (Review: Kent Yinger). So, Dickson redefines evangelism within the larger mission of the gospel and its expression within the church of Christ.
Yinger notes: “He discounts popular proof-texts traditionally taken to reflect an expectation that Paul’s churches (= every believer) would actively engage in local and regional mission (so O’Brien; cf. 1 Thess. 1.8; Phil. 1.27; 2.15-16; Eph. 6.15, 17). This sets the stage for a two dimensional view of mission (p. 177): apostolic heralds proclaimed, congregations partnered with them in a variety of ways (i.e., promoted mission).”
Dickson redefines the role of the church in evangelism as supporting apostles, prophets and evangelists and by participating in the larger activities of mission. In the Pauline epistles, such ways include:
- financial help
- commending the gospel by mixing in society
- adorning the gospel with honorable behavior
- showing and telling the truth
- in public worship
- ad hoc conversations with outsiders
In summary, Dickson claims that Paul expected his converts to work not only for the success of Paul’s mission but also for the salvation of those within their local sphere of influence, but through less than conventional means.
Dickson will be speaking at the Promoting the Gospel conference.
A Review: in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 27.1 (2004)