Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What is Missional?

Missional is currently a buzzword in the Christian culture. Just Google the word and you'll see a number of current articles, books, and websites dedicated to explicating and getting people on board with and understanding "Missional". Because the word "Missional" is "in" right now, we find that the word is being put on just about any and every activity of the church to legitimize those activities and through use of the lingo to bring more attention to those activities. The problem is that when everything is missional, then nothing is. If talking to my next door neighbor about the weather, buying some chicken from publix, serving at the local food pantry, giving money to support a foreign missionary, and so forth are all missional, then what does that word really mean? Haven't I been missional all along before this word even became in vogue? Maybe, but most likely not. It's important to define what we mean we use this word, especially since it is at the core of our vision and values as a church, and as you read some of the key distinctions below I think you'll find that while we all have missional impulses (how could we not as the people of God), many of us (myself included) have yet to fully and intentionally lean into living our lives as missional Christ followers.

1. Missional vs. Attractional

One of the key aspects with regards to the missional movement fundamentally drives at the model of the church. Is the church primarily to draw people to the Sunday service  and involvement in the ministries of the church or are we as the people of God primarily called to go and serve and disciple others in their contexts of community? The answer, of course, is both. Statistics indicate that the attractional model, inviting people to come with you to church to listen to the pastor or to get involved with what's going on at Trinity, is still, on average, effective at reaching about 40% of the population. This number changes based on individual contexts. This number is much lower, for example, on the West Coast. But what about the other 60%? That's where we are called to adopt a missional mindset. We go and we form creative expressions of church in neighborhoods, workplaces, and places that people gather. If you invite your neighbor to come to your church, you are being attractional - this will work, according to the numbers, about 40% of the time. If you begin gathering your neighbors together and in the process (more below) find a way to serve, love, and share Jesus with them then you are being missional - this is for the 60% who do not know Jesus.

Another way to think of it is like this. Are you being "one of" those you are trying to reach or are you asking them to come be "one of" you? Are you asking someone to try and adapt to and fit in with the Christian culture that exists at Trinity (attractional) or are you adapting as a missionary would and seeking to be one of them in their culture and communicate Jesus to them in that context (missional)? You can see how it would be more difficult to be missional, a missionary to a particular group of people, and yet this is God's mission, it is the mission of Jesus, it is the mission of the Church to seek and save the lost and our pastors and staff are here to lead, support and equip you in this. This is what we mean when we say YOU are the Church!

2. Missional vs. Missions

I love missions. I am the Missions Director here at Trinity after all! The way in which we interact with our mission partners is not, however, necessarily missional. These words are very similar and for that reason can mislead people to think, if I go on a mission trip or serve at a mission partner then I must be missional. This is not true. Again, the key difference hinges on whether or not you are becoming "one of" the people you are serving in order to share Jesus within their context or you are being "for" or perhaps even "with" them. Here's an example. Let's say you have a calling to serve the homeless community. If you are "for" that community, you may regularly support Trinity or even send direct support to one of our mission partners that helps those who are homeless. You are clearly "for" them. You care for them and want to see them cared for. That's good. We are called to have a heart for others and all of our mission partners have been helping in significant ways. You may even take the next step and decide to be "with" the homeless community. You may decide to serve with one of our mission partners that help the homeless. You may even know some of their names if you serve more regularly. This is missions. The missional step would be for you, and perhaps a few others with a similar heart, to begin to spend time with the homeless community outside of the mission partner, to eat with them, to listen to them and their stories, to share Jesus with them in a way that makes sense to them, and for you to eventually disciple them and worship Jesus together with them. The same way that God was not only "for" us and "with" us, but actually became "one of" us is the way we are sent to reach others. Jesus through the incarnation, taking on flesh, became "one of" us, so the missional impulse is for us to do ministry "incarnationally" becoming "one of" the communities we seek to reach going beyond missions.   For more on being "One of", check out the stand alone sermon shared through the Monday night service podcast - How Are We to Be the Church 10-6-14 or read this short free e-book about beginning the missional journey.

As a side note, many of our mission partners are themselves being missional to a certain degree. Those who run those organizations are often seen as "one of" the communities they serve. Yet they often fall short of calling themselves a faith community, of calling themselves the church and challenging those they serve to worship within their own context and rather encourage them according to the "attractional" model, to adapt and find a church culture they can fit in.

3. Missional vs. Hanging out with People

So developing relationships and being one of the people is all there is to being missional right? Wrong. If you are hanging out and listening to people you and not focused on trying to get them to make the cultural leap into the campus culture we have at Trinity then you're on the right path, but if you have no goal, no mission, then you've lost the whole impetus of the mission. The mission is to bring people into relationship with Jesus. Jesus came and was "one of" us but his goal was to seek and save the lost, to bring us back into relationship with the Father, to have His spirit dwell within us. If you hang out every evening at a local bar, everyone knows your name, you've developed trust, you know the language, and you stop there then you are not being missional. You're just hanging out at a bar. If you intentionally are looking for ways to develop a Christian community in that context, to disciple, to share the story of Jesus, to invite them into community with you and ultimately with God, then you've made the shift from hanging out to being missional. That sounds really difficult right? Again that's why our pastors and staff are here to help direct you to resources and equip you ourselves in context appropriate ways to develop, as our vision says, "creative expressions of church." As "incarnational" is a key word in the last paragraph, the word "intentional" is key here. We are to be intentional about the ways in which we seek to bring others into relationship with our heavenly father.

I hope this might be helpful as we seek to live into what we mean by missional. Again, we are called to share the gospel with all. For 40%, traditional evangelism, missions, and invitations are effective. We must continue this and do it well! For 60%, only if we are sent and go in ways that feel radically different to traditional church will we have an impact for the kingdom of God.

As always, feel free to ask me specifics by email (sweems@trinitywellsprings.com), by commenting below or we can schedule some time for one on one conversation.