NOTE: this is part of the missional synchroblog organized by rick meigs at blind beggar, over 50 bloggers participating, reclaiming the now fairly over-used and ever-popular word “missional.” although i don’t talk about it much, i consider myself a friend of missional and highly respect their work & heart to infect the kingdom with missional values. i encourage you to check out the other links (i listed them all below to make it easy) and hear what a diverse group of people across a wide strata of experiences, geography, and perspectives are sharing about living in the trenches as Christ-followers. the question was “what is missional, really?”
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i honestly do not use the word for one primary reason–the people i know who are really truly “missional” don’t talk about it too much & the people who are trying to catch the latest church-trend use it a lot. when we were planting the refuge a little over two years ago i had a few church leaders share with me how “they were becoming ‘missional’ and were we going to be, too?”, like it was the latest and greatest thing that no one had ever heard of before and surely we wanted to jump on the bandwagon. oh how that taps into all my church institution craziness! there i was, sitting across the table with leaders who had been in ministry, making decisions for churches for years and years i thought “you don’t even know, like really know, a poor person, do you? you have never ever been in close relationship with a single mom who just got beat up by her ex and is trying to raise her babies on $1,000 a month, have you? you have never held someone’s hand when they relapsed, have you? because if you had, you wouldn’t be asking me that question!” (sorry, but these are the things that get me a little amped up). Jesus was never about words without actions, hip & cool, or the latest trends. he was always about just doing it. he came for the sick, not the healthy, and he demonstrated what it meant to be in the deepest ugliest parts of people’s story and call out their dignity and value.
i do think it’s great that the “missional” movement is catching hold and that many people are getting out of their seats and into their communities in more intentional ways (i wonder how much we owe to bono & oprah?) i think why i shy away from the word is that it gets hoisted on the shoulders of church leaders as “see, look at us, we actually do care about the poor!” and then somehow everyone feels a little better. missional is much more than some cool service projects and short term mission trips here and there while everything else structurally, programmatically, you name it, is exactly the same that it always been–focused on serving the people in the pews (or in the newest and most comfortable chairs) and making sure they are happy, bringing people “to us”, and not having to really engage in sacrificial life-on-life in real, authentic ways that get under our skin, make us feel uncomfortable, and change our hearts forever.
to me, missional–individually & corporately–is:
- a way of living. it is a way of the heart, and is something that is better left unsaid in words and promotional materials and said loudly in humble, simple, natural actions that actually don’t get any press.
- the upside down inside out and beautifully uncomfortable ways of the kingdom that are completely counter-intuitive to the worldly principles of business school that have infiltrated our church culture.
- messy, chaotic, situational, and in many ways utterly unmeasurable.
- embracing not only in action but in the core DNA of our hearts the values of the beatitudes in matthew 5 (spiritual poverty, the ability to mourn & feel, humility & gentleness, advocacy & social justice, mercy & compassion, and sacrifice at great costs)
Jesus uses these guiding words from the sermon on the mount to powerfully demonstrate that his ways will be hard, sacrificial, intensely counter-cultural. my theory related to church ministries is “if it looks good, feels good, and helps you sleep well at night, beware!” the ways of the kingdom are radically uncomfortable.
i think missional means that these core principles from the beatitudes are woven intricately and deeply into the fabric of our hearts, our communities:
spiritual poverty, an honest realization that we really need God – we realize we can’t do it, a program can’t do it, our skills and abilities can’t do it. i think many churches teach that “we can do it if we just add the right ingredients here and there.” when it comes to being in the darkest parts of our cities, our neighborhoods, people’s hearts, i think one thing is clear–we’re not one formula or book away from being able to do anything. missional means we’re radically humble, painfully aware of how complex real life is and that we are in desperate need of God’s spirit really showing up.
an uncanny ability to feel, comfort, and enter into others’ pain. we give up self-protection and allow ourselves to feel, care, weep with others, weep for ourselves. we are painfully aware of the human struggle not only in others lives but also our own. we aren’t about quick fixes and simple solutions but rather the long hard journey of relationship with other people where we cry together, celebrate together, feel each other’s pain and offer each other the comfort and hope we’ve received from God. this means that we actually have to be in relationship with others, like really in relationship. we can’t cry over a story we don’t know. we can’t know a story without really getting to know another person. to me, missional is all about incarnational relationship (ah, yes, another lovely buzzword, but without incarnational i don’t believe there’s really such thing as missional)
incredible humility. let’s face it, on the whole, christians aren’t known for our humility. rather we are often known (and often valued by others in the club) for our pride, self-sufficiency, exclusivity and one-upness. missional means that we don’t just have something to give, we have something to receive. we have so much to learn from other people but sometimes we get caught up in being the savior, the more squared away ones, that we think we can do something “for” or “to” people instead of “with” them. “with” relationships means we must humble ourselves and actually receive instead of distract ourselves and protect our hearts by only giving.
a deep passion for advocacy. to me, a missing piece in so many churches and communities is the tangible practice of advocacy. Jesus was and is our advocate, and we are called to be like him. this means we must stand up for the underdog, risk our position and pride for the sake of another, refuse to support systems that hurt our friends & neighbors, and actively use any power we have to be a voice for the voiceless. missional means we are actively participating in standing up for those that for one reason or another aren’t in a position to stand up for themselves.
motivated by Christ’s love, not power or prestige or weird christian kudos. we must always ask ourselves what are our motives? is our motive to feel good about ourselves and be able to say at the end of the year “see how cool we are because did all of these great things for other people?” or is it about being so in tune with Christ’s heart not just for us but all people that we are compelled to love naturally? is it about converting people or just simply loving with no agenda? do we have to drop our name to get the credit or can we just serve and love anonymously?
active networkers & bridge builders. missional means we work for peace and partnership among not only our friends but also our so-called “enemies” (aka people who don’t believe the same things we do but do an amazing job taking care of people in our cities, the world), we involve others in the bigger kingdom story, and model open handed generosity instead of hoarding and flaunting. we are known as mediators, facilitators, counselors, conduits.
viewed as stupid, slow, non-strategic & crazy. we take a hit for loving the unlovely when loving the lovely gets so much bigger bang for its buck. people worry about us that we have bad boundaries and are “ministry cowboys” (thanks, ken loyd), we never have money or security or all of the things that would probably make us (and our loved ones) feel a lot better at face value but will no longer satisfy us because we’ve tasted and experienced the mess & glory of humanity & divinity mixed together and can never turn back.
yeah, the world, our cities, our neighborhoods, our hurting friends couldn’t care less about the word “missional”. the only thing they’re wondering is: “who will bring some love & hope into this darkness?” Jesus started his public ministry with the words of the beatitudes and ended it with this reminder, in his last night with his disciples: “love each other in the same way i have loved you. there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” will we be people, communities, deeply committed to the upside down inside out ways of great sacrifice or not? i guess that’s the question.
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other bloggers participating. check out their wide perspectives (and some much shorter posts, ha!):
Alan Hirsch * Alan Knox * Andrew Jones * Barb Peters * Bill Kinnon * Brad Brisco * Brad Grinnen * Brad Sargent * Brother Maynard * Bryan Riley * Chad Brooks * Chris Wignall * Cobus Van Wyngaard * Dave DeVries * David Best * David Fitch * David Wierzbicki * DoSi * Doug Jones * Duncan McFadzean * Erika Haub * Grace * Jamie Arpin-Ricci * Jeff McQuilkin * John Smulo * Jonathan Brink * JR Rozko * Len Hjalmarson * Makeesha Fisher * Malcolm Lanham * Mark Berry * Mark Petersen * Mark Priddy * Michael CraneMichael Stewart * Nick Loyd * Patrick Oden * Peggy Brown * Phil Wyman * Richard Pool * Rick Meigs * Rob Robinson * Ron Cole * Scott Marshall * Sonja Andrews * Stephen Shields * Steve Hayes * Tim Thompson * Thom Turner