So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.— Paul (2 Corinthians 5:20)
The future of the church will be shaped by Christian leaders who are daring enough to engage this cultural moment with a fresh missional imagination.— Winfield Bevins
I have been writing about what I think the future church will emphasize. A word we hear often is ‘missional.’ ‘Missional’ is an exciting approach to understanding the church. But what does it really mean?
Why not just use the word ‘missionary’ in the traditional sense? Unfortunately, the word comes with a lot of baggage (see point four). And because of this baggage, the contemporary church has been rethinking what the mission of the church really is. The word ‘missional’ doesn’t change the meaning of the word ‘missionary’ so much as it resets the focus to what has always been there. The word ‘missional’ does this in four important ways.
1) We are God-focused, not institution-focused
We are a God-focused faith and NOT an institution-focused church. The word ‘missional’ wants to say, “Hey, you all talk a lot about budgets, buildings, statistics, and programs. That’s fine, but put it in perspective. Your building and statistics take up your time and energy, but they aren’t the point. The point is what God is trying to do in the world. God wants to bring healing, hope and redemption to a lot of people who are struggling and need hope, meaning and love. God is an active God!! God sent Jesus into the world. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the world to you. And now he is sending YOU into the world to do the work of the Kingdom. That’s right. You!”
2) God wants us to be there for other people
The word ‘missional’ is a reminder that not only does God love you, but God wants you to be a person that can be there for other people. Once upon a time, a missionary was a special class of Christian that was sent far away. They were ambassadors for Christ.
The word ‘missional’ wants to say, “Hey, guess what? You too are an ambassador for Christ. People need to know that God loves them, in your work, in your family, in your circles. And they won’t believe that God loves them unless you love them too. Don’t rely on the clergy to do it. Don’t rely on someone trained. You have what you need right here and right now. Yes, of course you can always learn more. But God is not waiting. Trust that God will work through you now. YOU are the one that God wants to shine his love through.”
3) Transcending the boxes
The word ‘missional’ tries to transcend liberal vs. conservative dichotomy.
The word ‘missional’ wants to say BOTH: “Hey, if you ignore the important needs of the world and the serious injustices that people face, and you just talk about God, then people won’t listen to you. They have to know you care before they want to listen to anything you have to say.”
AND it also wants to say, “Hey, it is great that you are feeding the poor and advocating for justice, but you need to know that there are people out there who want to have faith conversations. They are searching for spiritual meaning and want to explore what that that looks like. They want to know that they are loved, and you need to be willing to speak about that if it comes up. This is important. God is going to put people in your path. Be ready to talk about why this is important to you.” These two perspectives go together!
4) Correcting harmful methods of evangelism
Finally, the word ‘missional’ corrects colonial ways of evangelism that have done tremendous cultural harm. It wants to say, “Hey, the Gospel is good news. If the Gospel does harm, then it isn’t really the Gospel. You can’t speak until you listen first. You can’t speak unless first you love. You can’t speak unless first you respect. Why? Because God has already been active and alive in every context and situation long before you ever showed up. Before you speak, learn what God is already doing in people’s lives!”
That may seem complex and maybe controversial. Why talk about it at all? There are a lot of important reasons why we need to talk about it. Let’s continue the conversation.