This is part of a multi-part series Marty is writing that will eventually become The Guidebook for the Missionally Challenged…or something like that.
What the heck is “missional?”
Have you noticed that everything is “missional” these days? What does that even mean? I mean did Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, and Mike Breen get together one day and create a word that would redefine what it means to be church? According to the source of all internet knowledge, Wikipedia, “missional” means: “In Christianity, missional living is the adoption of the posture, thinking, behaviors, and practices of a missionary in order to engage others with the gospel message.” Well that is not so bad. I mean shouldn’t we be living as missionaries wherever we are anyway?
This language harkens back to Leslie Newbegin’s Foolishness to the Greeks, and David Bosch’s work Transforming Mission. These were among the many formational texts those of us who are “theologically educated” spent a lot of time with in our seminary classes on evangelism and mission. Neither this definition or those seminal academic works really tell us how to live this out in rural communities or urban neighborhoods. How can we really live “missionally.” The purpose of this series is to put the cookies on the bottom shelf. To explain in some really, practical, and practiced ways to translate all those great concepts into our daily lives.
It is really about how you choose to view the world.
The media is full of stories about the decline of the church. The Pew Foundation has done multiple stories on the “Rise of the Nones” and the emerging “post-Christian culture.” Newsflash, this is not news. It is simply the awareness of what has been being lived out for decades. For years I’ve heard church leaders lament about “Cheasters,” Christmas and Easter Christians who only showed up when they felt obligated to do so. The difference now is that they don’t even feel motivated on Christmas Eve or Easter. On any given Sunday more people pass through the doors of the local Starbucks than in 90% of local churches.
It is time to take off our Christian culture colored glasses. We have become what Willimon and Hauerwas predicted we would become more than a decade ago. Christians are now Resident Aliens. Suddenly we are awakening to the fact that while we were sitting cozily in our cloistered halls singing hymns and arguing over praise songs and worship styles, the world changed. It didn’t change a little, it radically shifted from embracing Christianity to being annoyed, to being angered by it in some places.
Living “missionally” means living like you are a missionary. Taking a missiological posture in your conversations and actions. It means demonstrating the love of Christ long before you speak of it. It means gaining credibility in the community and serving sacrificially without looking for a return on investment (ROI). Perhaps the most difficult thing is that it means inviting people into your life, not just inviting them to church.
When you take on a missionary world view you begin to see the world differently. You embrace the truth that 70% are staying home on Sunday morning, or hitting the ball field, gym, or coffee shop. Church attendance is no longer the default setting on Sunday morning. If you are a real missionary it may mean you have to change your ideas about Sunday morning as well in order to be where the people are. I mean, to be where the normal people are, the everyday, hustling to make a living, overspending, and exhausted people who live in our neighborhoods. When you are a missionary you realize they they are “spiritual but not religious” which requires you to adjust the settings on your expectations and develop real, long-term, sustainable relationships. They don’t need one more thing to do, especially on the only morning of the week they can sleep in. What they do want is a real connection with others, with God, and the invitation to do something with their life that really matters.
What does this mean for you? It means that you have to set another place at your table. You will need to open up your dining room and coffee tables for real relationships to develop and invite them into your home, even when it is a mess. Guess what, their house is probably a mess too.
You will need to invite them into your life, long before you ever consider inviting them to church. This is a radical shift for most people of faith. We don’t mind inviting folks to sit, sing, and soak up information based sermons in an institutional environment (the church), but inviting people into your life can get messy. Suddenly my spiritual life and my “real life’ collide.
It also means when you do find other disciples, or those desiring to be disciples, you invite them into the even deeper places of your life where you share accessibility and accountability. You allow them unfettered access to your spiritual and life journey. You hold them accountable for living out their faith and invite them to hold you accountable.
Finally, and this is fast becoming the last step rather than the first one, you invite them to the communion table where they can encounter Christ. Worship becomes a celebration of what God has done. Coming to “the church” is a validation of the spiritual journey they have already been on, not the first step.
Living missionally means your life is going to have to change. It means you are going to reorient your focus toward living out God’s calling for you to make disciples. It means that you will be setting a few more places at the dinner table. So, set another place, open the doors, pick up desert and have a few folks over for dinner. You will be glad you did. Welcome to the table.