One of the questions most often asked around the Missional Church conversation is, “What does this look like when it lands?” I know what is being asked. When we stop talking and start doing, how will we know if we are being missional?
For the past four years, we have been using a definition of Missional Church that goes like this: “It is a renewed theological vision of the church on mission, serving as a sign, servant, and foretaste of the kingdom of God.” What does that mean? Firstly and simply, this is not new. We are just in need of being reminded again that God is King. Secondly, it is about our missionary God and His mission. David Bosch reminds us that God’s mission has a church and not primarily that our church has a mission. Thirdly, when we picture a future for the church, we need to view ourselves as witness bearers to the nature and action of our missionary God. We are privileged to serve as a sign (indicator), servant (help to reveal), and foretaste (sample) of the kingdom of God.
When we talk about the missional church, we need to be clear on our definition and on our foundation. We have fallen into the trap of talking first about the church and how we make it grow. Instead, we need to be reminded that we need to begin with an understanding of who God is (theology), what He is doing in the world (missiology), and then who we are and what He is inviting us to do in our context (ecclesiology). This must be our foundation for this conversation. This is not being negative about the church at all, as some who claim to be missional seem to be. Instead, it is a commitment to a high view of the people of God, being made in the image of God and being formed into the image of the Son through the power of the Spirit for the sake of the world.
When it comes to then describing what this looks like and coming up with indicators of whether we are missional or not, we need a framework to act intentionally within. There are many frameworks, and it may be unfair to say one is the best. However, we should continue to be partial to those we glean from scripture. Two such frameworks have been central to much of our discussion over the past four years. First, we might use either the Schema (Deuteronomy 6) or the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee about the greatest commandment. Both articulate in some way that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (one another). This is a wonderful framework that can be used to describe what it means for us as God’s people to bear witness to who He is by the way we are formed in His image and live this out in our neighborhoods. Another framework that is proving to be quite helpful is around Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:9, “For you are a chosen people (identity—new father and family), a royal priesthood, a holy nation (character—be holy like our father), a people belonging to God (vocation—join family business), that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness.”
Over the next number of months, we will look at each of the areas of loving God (Heart, Mind, Strength, Neighbor, One Another) and articulate a number of ways in which we can learn in each of these areas to bear witness to God as we live in the world—or to be missional. Today I want to close with just these three simple statements that will get us leaning in the direction we want to go. Our world is rapidly changing, and we must come before the Lord as His people and evaluate our life together.
1. We must not forget or trivialize the past or settle for doing things the same way and expecting different results. We need to begin to talk about how we are both formed in the image of Christ in an increasingly secular world and how we bear witness to the reality of a living God.
2. However, we must not just talk about what the present holds and the future could be; we need to act with conviction as we follow Christ.
3. But, we must not just act; we need to become witnesses in every way possible. This means both being formed into the image of Christ, but also paying attention to be able to point to the activity of God at work in the world.
I believe that when we live this way, our lives become simply irresistible to others around us. I look forward to fleshing out what it means to live as Christ in these areas in the months ahead.
NAB Vice President of Missional Initiatives