I’m not too big of a fan of the term “Missional Church”. It is fairly redundant, like the Redundant School of Redundancy.
At one point of our collective history, we didn’t need to clarify that a church was “missional” because we simply were; being “church” implied being “missional.”
For the uninitiated, the word “mission” comes from the Latin “missio” which means “sending.” If I have a “missio,” it means I need to go from one place to another for a purpose on behalf of someone, even if it’s a missio impossibilis (Latin for “impossible” according to Google).
For many of our modern American churches, our call to be missional became seasonal. We didn’t really have to “go” to people because people were coming to us. In the 1970’s, people would move into a neighborhood and look for the nearest church with the cross and the flame (the logo for the United Methodist Church).
Why would we have to go out when everyone’s simply looking for us?
Instead, we concentrated on making sure our house was in order. We wanted to be ready to receive people.
This led to us becoming less missioners and more maintainers — maintaining a supposedly Christian status quo. And today this is something that too many of us still do, thinking that is our calling.
This is evident when we have to call ourselves a “missional church” to differentiate ourselves, because “church” no longer implies that.
Going to people, not expecting them to come
I once served a church where the pastor kept insisting the biggest missional opportunity for the church is Sunday mornings. The Sunday morning worship gathering was our big opportunity to show people what we’re about. He wasn’t wrong, per se. But the underlying tone is still “get people to meet us where we are gathering on Sunday mornings.” That’s not being “sent.” That’s waiting — and waiting for people to come isn’t missional, unless you’re still maintaining an out-of-date status quo.
With that mentality, we want people to join us in what we are already doing. ”Join us where we are already gathering; join us in the conversation that we are already having.”
We end up being that friend that never meets us half way. Everything has to be on their terms and their timeline. We all have that person in our lives. And if you don’t, perhaps you’re extremely lucky… or you’re that friend.
It’s easier to have people come meet us on “our terms” because we’re in control, whether we like to admit or not. And — whether we like to admit or not — it’s easier to control people than it is to love people.
If we were truly missional then we would be joining people where they already are; joining them in the things they are already doing; joining in the conversation that they are already having. All the while bearing the light of Christ, not with doctrines and dogma but with our words and actions drenched in the love and grace of God.
In this season of my life, I’ve replaced one redundant term for another: instead of saying that we’re missional, we’re focused on being incarnational[DR1] . Sure, at the end of the day it is semantics and being a church should already imply that we are missional and incarnational. However, in the current iteration of being “missional” it can still allow us the false luxury of staying where we are: telling people Sunday morning is our biggest mission opportunity, waiting for people to come to us so we can engage them.
Being incarnational already implies that we are boundary crossers. God did not wait for us to come to God.
Instead, God became incarnate and therefore Jesus met us in our context; met us where humanity exists, walking amongst us.
Jesus crossed social boundaries, fraternizing with the least of these — so much so he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard.
Jesus crossed religious boundaries by being with and touching the “unclean.” Jesus constantly went to the people, he didn’t wait for them to find him.
And Jesus was stern with those who kept getting things wrong (the already religious) and grace-filled with those that felt their existence was wrong.
When Jesus was about to leave, he commanded us to embody his mission by telling us to Go.
When someone asks for a book recommendation about starting a new ministry, I always recommend Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle. It’s not a book about church planting, per se. It doesn’t have instructions or guidelines about benchmarks or how to create a mission/vision statement. The book is filled with stories about how Fr. Greg was/is incarnational — meeting the people where they are; joining in their conversations; immersing himself in their context. It’s a book full of stories about God changing lives through Fr. Greg’s work.
You really want to be missional?
If you want a mission, be willing to take risks by putting yourself out there by meeting people in their context.Don’t feel the need to explain or prove God’s existence or defend your doctrines. Instead be willing to listen to their experiences and stories. It will take time, but soon we’ll get to see how their stories intertwine with our own--and how all of our stories intertwine with God’s narrative.
You really want to be missional?
Pay attention to the activity of the Holy Spirit, because she’s always leading us somewhere; always leading us into lives of others.