Is Missional Going Mainstream?
Some recent blog posts/articles have me asking the question, “Is ‘missional’ going mainstream?” Specifically I mean, is the missional aspect of the emerging church movement finally taking centerstage within the evangelical movement here in the U.S. and around the globe?
Here’s what I’m picking up on:
Branching Out (PDF)
The Baptist General Conference (BGC), the denomination I was raised in, is “branching out” with a new “missional name”: Converge Worldwide (based on Acts 2:1). While attaching the “missional” word to the new name sounds intriguing, the description leaves me wondering if they truly get what “missional” means. They write, “The Converge Worldwide name casts a vision of believers coming together in churches and districts across the United States and around the world to experience the transforming power and presence of God and to do the work God calls us to do” (emphasis mine).
Now this could just be me interpreting this through my own lens, but when I hear people talk about “Christians coming together in churches,” I immediately assume that this means church buildings, because that is the predominate means of church gathering that exists today in the mainstream of evangelicalism. It’s a safe assumption, right? So this means that the BGC, errr Converge Worldwide is seeking to bring Christians together in buildings to experience “the transforming power and presence of God and to do the work God calls us to do” … inside the walls of the church. Not much here, at least nothing clear it seems to me, about there being an outward focus to this new “missional” vision.
Alan Hirsch Defines “Missional”
This looks like a helpful place to look for answers as to what “missional” ought to be about. I haven’t listened to it yet, but Len Hjalmarson has summarized it nicely on his blog: “[Hirsch] does a good job of showing how these two words [missional-incarnational] should be held together, and he also compares this mode and theological frame to ‘purpose driven’ and the ‘extractional’ [attractional?] dynamic that tends to result and works against the missional-incarnational impulse.”
I’m especially intrigued by these two points Hirsch emphasizes: “the continuing refrain of ‘neighborhood'” and “the hiddenness of God in the incarnation,” both of which “point to more than the sentness of the church, but also the ordinariness and among-ness we are called to.” As Len explains, “Like Jesus, we have to truly enter the neighborhood and identify with ordinary people in all the mess, muck and joy of daily life. This is a huge shift for the average believer, and as Hirsch points out, requires a new and post-Christendom imagination.”
It’s AD 30 All Over Again
Watch and listen as Reggie McNeal explains this whole shift to being outward-focused/missional to a recent gathering of the Reformed Church of America. Reggie just has this winsome (but powerful) way of rattling people with the (good) news of what God is doing outside the walls of the church:
Bob Roberts on Mission and Church Unity
Coming off some exciting meetings with international church leaders in Nairobi, Kenya, Bob Roberts of Glocalnet writes, “Everyone talks about the ‘Unity’ needed in the church. Unity, for unityâ€™s sake, will never happen. Unity, because we should all be nice and love one another, will never happen. Unity, because God has called us to a common mission and purpose, is the only way we will die to ourselves and come together” (emphasis mine). I’d hasten to add that this “common mission and purpose” is the mission and purpose of God, the stuff that the Holy Spirit is “on about” in the world, the missio dei.
Sunday Adelaja is the founder and senior pastor of the largest church on the continent of Europe, Ukraine’s Embassy of God. In the June 2008 issue of Charisma magazine, Adelaja writes (emphasis added):
Too many Christians and Christian leaders spend their energy, creativity and precious time promoting churches instead of the kingdom. They work for the success of their church or perhaps for a group of churches in their city, or they work for their ministry or denomination.
They believe that by building churches and ministries they are building the kingdom. They think church and kingdom are practically synonymous. This isolation of the church from the world has led to ineffectiveness and failure to carry out the Great Commission.
The church is not the kingdom. Jesus said: “Nor will people say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21, NKJV). It’s not confined to temples and churches. No church can contain or control the kingdom of God. The kingdom is meant to inhabit the entire earth, not just your church sanctuary.
The Great Commission is not what many of us have understood it to be. We have understood it to be evangelism—bringing people from the world into our church buildings. But the Great Commission mandate is to go out and disciple nations. The focus is not in here, but out there. This was Jesus’ goal in coming to Earth. It is supposed to be our goal as redeemed people.
The Great Commission Jesus gave us is, “‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations'” (Matt. 28:19). Jesus did not say, “Go and build great churches.” He did not even say, “Go and save individuals.” He never said, “May Your church come on Earth as it is in heaven.” Neither did He say, “Seek first the church and all its righteousness.”
Rather, His heartbeat is for nations to be ruled by kingdom principles. That is the calling of every believer and every church. …
Some people believe that if they work in the nursery or sing in the choir they are fulfilling their area of ministry. But this is not truly ministry; it is merely housekeeping.
Your work as a choir member, nursery volunteer or usher is what we all must do to keep the church functioning, but it is not necessarily fulfilling the Great Commission. The Great Commission happens outside the church. Ministry is what you do to bring your life and your sphere of influence under kingdom rule.
The thought that global church leaders are getting this “missional” stuff as much as (if not more than) the Western church folks is really exciting to me. I realize it’s all a bit scary to other folks who probably view this as some kind of “End Times” apostasy coming true, but I won’t let that dampen my enthusiasm. May the numbers of those around the world with a truly missional passion increase!
Meeting at the Empty Super-Church
Finally, to put a little counterbalance on my “mainstreaming of ‘missional'” exuberance is this fictional report from the future. If “Dr. Eutychus Bailey” is to be believed, “I still [in the year 2043] wouldnâ€™t consider these kind of churches — or missional churches — to be the mainstream. But Iâ€™m not sure if they ever wanted to be or will be.” (sigh) Oh well …