We live in a mission’s field. The day has passed when the mission’s field is “over there” somewhere across the sea. It is here. New England is a mission’s field by just about any imaginable standard, and that means that we need to start thinking of ourselves as missionaries, and it also means that we need to shape our church and our life around the mission of God, and seek to be a church and people that live on mission for God as missionaries here in Medfield and the Boston metro. We have to. As Jared Wilson has noted that "The need for Gospel- Centered Missional Churches throughout New England is Dire. We have to. And that brings us back to the subject of the missional church.
Last month, I started to talk about the subject of the missional church. I noted that throughout the church world, there has been a lot of discussion about the missional church. What it means to be a missional church, and how to be missional, and I looked at two questions. What is leading the missional church discussion? I noted that what was driving the discussion is that we no longer live in the world of Christendom, where the culture helped “Christianize” people. Now, we are people living in a pluralistic, pagan society, where we must see ourselves as missionaries, rather than people in a converted culture. Second, I asked “what are the theological motivations for missional church? I tried to show some of the theological foundations for the argument that the church should be shaped around mission, and I noted that God is a missionary God. He is the ultimate missionary, and we are sent, as the father sent the son. This month, I want to look at two more questions. What is a missional church, and how do we become a church that loves and serves our community missionally?
First, what is a missional church? What exactly does it mean to be missional? What does a missional church that is sent to the world look like? In short, it’s a church aimed outward. It seeks to point its nose outward rather than inward, and incarnationally serves the world, as the Son served the world, because it’s shaped by a love of community. It sees that God loves people, we are made in His image, and that means we are shaped by a love of the community, not just the landmarks, but the people in it.
Different writers give different lists, all with big overlap. According to the Gospel and Our Culture Network, one of the original team of missional thinkers, there are at least 12 hallmarks of the Missional Church:
- First, The missional church proclaims the gospel. It contextualizes the gospel (Contextualization is about making the church as culturally accessible as possible without compromising the truth of Christian belief), but it does not skimp on the gospel, or compromise the gospel.
- Second, “the missional church is a community where all members are involved in learning to become disciples of Jesus”. It is reproductive by nature. It seeks to grow people in the gospel. Since it understands that those involved are missionaries on the front lines, it seeks to train people as Disciples of Christ who are prepared to live on mission for Christ.
- Third, “the Bible is normative in the Missional churches life”. It has authority and shapes the life of the church.
- Fourth, “the missional church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ”.
- Fifth, “the missional church seeks to discern God’s specific missional vocation for the entire community and all of its members”. It goes into the cultures and learns who is in its community and culture, and seeks to minister there.
- Sixth, “a missional church community is indicated by how Christians behave toward one another”.
- Seventh “a missional church is a community that practices reconciliation”. It doesn’t just talk about repentance and reconciliation, it practices it.
- Eighth, “People within the missional church community hold themselves accountable to one another in love”. We call our brothers and sisters on their sin, and seek to push each other towards holiness.
- Ninth, “The missional church practices hospitality”. Not just the occasional meal, but really practicing hospitality, getting in each other’s lives often. Tenth, “worship is the central act by which the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and God’s promised future”. Eleventh, “The missional church community has a vital public witness”. It is visible to the community. It doesn’t hide in its church.
- Finally, “There is a recognition that the missional church itself is an incomplete expression of the reign of God”. This world is fallen, and will remain fallen till the day that Christ returns. It can’t be put right by us. But someday, Christ will make it right, when he comes to rule and reign in glory.
Now, if you’re like me, none of that seems all that radical. But let’s take a look at what Keller highlights about things that mark a missional church. Here is where the ante goes up.
- First, discourse in the vernacular. In Christendom, there is little difference between the language inside and outside of the church. For instance, the documents of the early U.S. Congress, for example, are riddled with allusions to and references from the Bible. Biblical technical terms are well-known inside and outside. But in a missional church, however, terms must be explained so that all understand what is being talked about, The missional church avoids 'tribal' language, stylized prayer language, unnecessary Christian jargon, and archaic language that seeks to set a 'spiritual tone.' Furthermore, the missional church seeks to avoid talking as if non-believing people are not present. Keller argues that “If you speak and discourse as if your whole neighborhood is present (not just scattered Christians), eventually more and more of your neighborhood will find their way in or be invited”. This approach has a great deal of respect for people who do not believe. It understands what it like not to believe, and allows this understanding permeates every aspect of ministry.
- Second, Keller says, we need to enter and re-tell the culture's stories with the gospel. “In "Christendom" it is possible to simply exhort Christianized people to "do what they know they should." There is little or no real engagement, listening, or persuasion. It is more a matter of exhortation (and often, heavy reliance on guilt.). In a missional church preaching and communication should always assume the presence of skeptical people, and should engage their stories, not simply talk about "old times." To "enter" means to show sympathy toward and deep acquaintance with the literature, music, theater, etc. of the existing culture's hopes, dreams, 'heroic' narratives, fears. The older culture's story was--to be a good person, a good father/mother, son/daughter, to live a decent, merciful, good life. Now the culture's story is-- a) to be free and self-created and authentic (theme of freedom from oppression), and b) to make the world safe for everyone else to be the same (theme of inclusion of the 'other'; justice).” So what does it mean to retell the cultures stories? “To "re-tell" means to show how only in Christ can we have freedom without slavery and embracing of the 'other' without injustice.”
- Third, we need to theologically train lay people for public life and vocation. This is big. In 'Christendom' you can afford to train people just in private world skills- prayer, Bible study, evangelism -because they are not facing radically non-Christian values in their public life--where they work, in their neighborhood, etc. but in a missional' church, the laity needs theological education to 'think Christianly' about everything and work with Christian distinctiveness.
- Fourth, we need to create Christian community which is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. In Christendom, 'fellowship' is basically just a set of nurturing relationships, support and accountability. That is necessary, of course. In a missional church, however, Christian community must go beyond that to embody a 'counter-culture,' showing the world how radically different a Christian society is with regard to sex, money, and power. We understand that because of the gospel, everything is different; we have a different mindset, and different approach to all of life because of the gospel. Furthermore, he argues that “in general, a church must be more deeply and practically committed to deeds of compassion and social justice than traditional liberal churches and more deeply and practically committed reaching those that don’t know Christ and leading them to saving faith than traditional fundamentalist churches. This kind of church is profoundly 'counter-intuitive' to American observers. It breaks their ability to categorize (and dismiss) it as liberal or conservative. Only this kind of church has any chance in the non- Christian west.”
- Fifth, it practices Christian unity as much as possible on the local level. He argues that we need to focus on what unites us, and seek to co-operate where we can with other churches.
These are a few of the different attempts to define what a missional church looks like. As you can see, it’s faced outward, but it’s also deep, because it’s preparing missionaries, and not consumers. As I’ve thought and read, what I’ve seen is that these things just scratch the surface of the picture. Let me get at some of the things that I closer to the ground.
- First, being mission involves having lives shaped by the gospel, and recovering some of the personal spiritual disciplines that have shaped Christian life, for centuries. Personal spiritual disciplines, both internal (such as meditation on the word, prayer, fasting, and study), and external disciplines (such as simplicity and frugality, stewardship, holiness, submission, service, solitude, evangelism, hospitality, and chastity), and corporate spiritual disciplines (such as prayer, the preaching of the word, confession, worship, service, hospitality and fellowship, guidance, and celebration). In all this, there has to be a commitment to having the DNA of the individual and the church shaped by the gospel, and then continually growing deeper in our understanding of the gospel and its implications, rather than the values of our community and culture (such as success and standing, , career and money, hobbies, or even family)
- Second, being mission includes asking what God is doing, and how can we be a part of it? Where is God working, where are the needs, where is the brokenness, and what is God calling us to do in that place?
- Third, being mission involves becoming people who actively analyze as missionaries. Missionaries think before they act. This means we need to analyze our culture and the people around us to really understand who they are and what makes them tick. It also involves analyzing the media, and entertainment that we see, and rather than just enjoying it, think about what it is saying to us. What message is it communication, and how is it shaping us, and those around us? Should we accept that message, reject it, is it redeemable? We need to actively think through everything we can.
- Fourth, being mission includes radical service to the world around, as we seek to incarnate the gospel to the world around. We should not expect that people will just be drawn to church. Non Christians will not just walk in and decide to follow Christ. The reality is that the world has changed. This is not 1955 or even 1975. Most of our neighbors have already decided they will never ever step foot in our church buildings as long as they live, which means that if we want to see people come to Christ, we must get out of the building for as long as possible, and serve them, and paint a picture of the Christian life for the world to see. Most people need to see a picture of the Christian life before they will be willing to consider the gospel, but if they do, it can be transformative. The biggest things that led to the growth of the early church was the way they served the world around and painted this picture. One Caesar lamented that the “Impious Galileans” didn’t just take care of their poor, needy, and hurting, but also the poor, needy, and hurting of pagan Rome as well, and that built incredible standing and credibility for their message. We need to do the same. We must go, and serve, and incarnate the message, and to take the gospel to the watching world.
- Fifth, being mission requires that we seek to make disciples, rather than grow the church. When we try to create or grow our churches, we rarely get disciples. That's because disciples don’t just happen. Disciples are formed, loved, invested in, sacrificed for, raised up and sent . . . to do it all over again themselves. And that raises a question I was confronted as I have thought through the missional church material that I am getting from the denomination, and from my reading. How many of us have been discipled? I mean, like Jesus discipled the Disciples? Have you been? If you are one of the few rare followers of Jesus who have been, you know that in the time when that occurred, you grew more as a disciple than in all your other years combined. The early church got this, but we’ve forgotten it. And the result is that we’re not growing reproducing disciples, which is leading to the death of countless churches. We need to be seeking to make disciples for the sake of Christ, rather than building our church, because ultimately, it’s not about our church, but about God, and seeing people know and worship God. “Mission”, John Piper said, “exists, because worship doesn’t”. Building our church is a fading glory, building disciples who know God and live for his glory and honor, and then build more disciples, who build more disciples, is what we should be seeking… it’s not about getting people into church, but out of the church, so that we can take the news of the gospel, and evidence of the kingdom of God before the world continuously.
- Sixth, being mission means that we need to grow deep community. Our community must be more than countercultural, it must be deep. It has to go beyond just saying hi at coffee hour, but involve actively being in people’s lives, helping each other, serving each other, living lives that say we care about each other. Think acts 2:42-47. This will involve laying down rights and privileges, and not seeing ourselves as autonomous, self made, self focused individuals, but as people living in community for the sake of Christ. This also includes loving each other deeply. One of the statements about the early church was, “see how they love one another”. They practiced forgiveness and reconciliation, and hospitality, inviting the friend and the stranger into their homes, and so must we. We must practicing these things as we seek to show that we care about each other because of the gospel. And here’s the thing, community is key to making disciples. As people see the community, and see the lives of the members of the church community, they are attracted (or should be), that allows them to talk about what’s going on, and process the gospel within community. As I’ve thought about Dennis coming to Christ, it started with him getting dragged to church, where he got introduced to people, and then as he came into community, and got to know people, he heard about the gospel from multiple people, and he heard preaching from me, and others that were recommended to him, and eventually, he came to trust Christ. Ultimately, the introduction to people in the community and building of relationships leads to the sharing of the gospel in a much more organic way that so much of what has passed for evangelism does, which makes deep community all the more important.
Will moving in this direction be easy? No, it will be messy and hard, what is easier by far is coasting along unchanged, affecting nothing. Satan would like nothing more than a church that just coasts, I promise you that. But that’s not what God is calling the church to do, and the call to missional church is a call to see that we are the gathering of the redeemed sent to participate in the work of Jesus in this world. It’s not to huddle together for warmth. It’s not to just pour most of our time, energy, money on serving ourselves or our loved ones. It’s to go out as sent ones. I’ve been seeking to paint this picture for awhile, because I believe that we need to see ourselves differently, not as a club, but as a community of people whose very purpose is to be people who go as “the sent ones” into our communities to be salt and light. The call of the missional church, the call that has been grabbing at me, and I hope you, is that we need to be shaped by the need for reaching the world rather than the comfort of those in the pews, because the church is not primarily about us, but about God’s mission in the world.
Now, let me be clear, this all feels like it will be a massive deconstruction of how the church approaches things. It may even feel like a deconstruction of the institutional church. it’s not. Some say that deconstruction is the right road. But I don’t, and neither do any of the serious and best missional thinkers. Instead, this is a critique of the approach that hangs up a shingle, and waits. It’s is a critique of the seeker sensitive movement, it a critique of the fact that as Christendom ended, and it’s a cry, led by people who love God and love church, that we need to get in gear, and reach those around us. It’s a scream, for us to recognize that we are missionaries, and to start thinking like missionaries, learning to understand those around us, learning how to serve and care for them, and love them, because God loves them, and wants them to know him and then grow as his disciples.
Ultimately, being a missional church is not about being one style of church or another. It’s about galvanizing into distinct movement, understanding that you are sent into an irreligious world to live as a Christian and to lift up and proclaim the good news of the Gospel. It’s about seeing that every believer is sent on this mission by God just as Jesus was sent on this mission (John 17:14-16, 18; 20:21). It’s about seeing that if the people outside of the church will not relate to anything we are currently preoccupied with protecting, we need to shift. It’s about being a theologically-formed, Gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered, united community of believers who seek to faithfully incarnate the purposes of Christ for the glory of God.
The mission of the church is found in the mission of God who is calling the church to passionately participate in God's redemptive mission in the world (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).
Remember that this goes so much deeper than just having a missions program, and being “missions-minded” A missional church is a church that sees mission as being not just one part of what the church does, but instead, finds that the church’s mission shapes and forms its identity, lifestyle, strategy, priorities, spending, leadership, structure, and decision-making and has a focus on missional outreach. This mission is based upon the life and mission of Christ. Every member of the church is “sent”. It’s not about “sending and supporting” missionaries. It’s about “participating here” rather than having someone “represent you there”. It’s not a program – but the very essence of the church.
So, how do we become a church that loves and serves our community missionally? How do we become what might be called a missional church? We don’t do it to be cool, but to be faithful. So how do we get there? Honestly, that’s where I’m the weakest, in large part, because that’s the 64 million dollar question that everyone is trying to figure out. It’s pretty clear, that with culture as diverse as it is now, it’s not one size fits all. There is no church in a box, silver bullet solution. If there is one thing that I have found out as I have read, and read, it’s this.
As I have indicated, I think it starts with shifting our thinking. We need to understand that this is not a program, slap it on, and we’re good to go. Ultimately, being missional is about how we see ourselves, and that requires a change of mind, asking, ourselves, are we people who see Christianity as one ball to be juggled, or as people who are shaped and defined by the gospel, and then live out of the gospel in every area, as we seek to bring the gospel to the world around. And are we doing it because we want the church to grow, or because we want people to know the savior who has radically transformed our lives.
Second, I think it includes dealing with some things. We have rifts that need to be healed. It occurred to me, as I reflect on my time here, that there have been countless skirmishes and battles, and that we do not love each other the way that we should. Division has marked my time, and that saddens me. But then I reflected more deeply, and realized that this is the history of the church. We need to repent of our sin, especially when it comes to our rights, and expectations, and selfishness (remember that one part of those founding First Baptist were driven by not wanting to pay taxes, that strand of selfishness is still in our DNA), and ask for forgiveness of those we have wronged, and those places where we have insisted on our rights, and really seeking to love one another with deep Christ-like love, so that the town of Medfield will say, “see how they love one another”. Then we need to be in each other’s lives, showing that we care about each other.
Third, I think it requires that we stop lamenting the end of Christendom (I’m talking to myself as I say that). Christendom made the church a cultural captive. Because it was the arbitrator of culture, it couldn’t call culture on its systemic sins, it could only confront the private sins. But if Christendom is gone, and that releases us from cultural captivity, allowing the church to not be the arbitrators of the culture, or even the cultures morality, but to call people to run against the grain, and live lives marked by the gospel and the disciplines of Christina life.
Fourth, I think it includes understanding that this will take time, and is dependent on God. This is more of a process, like growing a garden than starting a machine. It’s not church in a box. Furthermore, only God brings revival. I can’t promise that we will succeed in anything we try; only God grows the fruit. I plant, Apollos waters… God makes it grow.
Fifth, I think it includes really connecting to those in our community, and getting to know our neighbors, and really seeking to know them. And asking what are the challenges people are facing. What are they struggling with? What’s happening in their lives? It also involves asking, where can we find ways to bless our town, in Jesus name, because we want to love them as Christ loved them? It starts with finding ways to partner with others in our community, to serve Medfield, and Metro-west, and meet its needs, simply because God loves this community.
Furthermore, I think it includes thinking theologically, biblically and missionally about how you live, and how you can be someone whose live is a powerful witness to what God has done in your life.(Acts 4:32-34). It includes regarding yourselves as “Ambassadors” of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-20), and guard your heart against syncretism (worshiping things other than God- looking to what Keller calls counterfeit Gods) and sectarianism (huddling away from the community). It includes looking at everything we do through the prism of the gospel, and not visa-versa (Acts 10). It includes loving God, His mission, and His people, and having your own life shaped by the gospel. It also requires that we do everything we can with excellence, in a way that says, we care about the community, and that includes even the little things like taking care of the building. The list is endless.
But there is one more thing that we can do as we seek to become a church with this missional instinct. The Boston Southwest Association has invited Glynis LaBarre, one of the denominations few missional thinker (as best I can tell), to lead any churches that are interested in a “missional church learning experience (MCLE)”. It’s not a perfect program, but it’s designed to allow our church to work alongside other churches, and try to take baby-steps in serving our community and incarnating the gospel.
Ultimately, this will require everyone working in the same direction, and learning together I’m going to admit upfront, I can’t turn make this shift happen on my own. I can’t save the church, as many hope that I can do. Furthermore, I think that we need to stop worrying about saving the church, and reaching Medfield with the gospel. We need to understand that success is measured in people knowing Christ, not saving the institution. And for this, I don’t have a complete roadmap for success. I’ve got suggestions, and lots of thoughts. I have freely barrowed from many sources in putting this together (If you would like a list of some, email me, and I will provide you with some things to chew on), but I don’t have a ten point plan (intentionally). I don’t want to present you with a top down plan of, here is how we do this. Instead, my hope for all this, is to jump start a conversation about how we can reach our community and region together.
I know it will require sacrifice, and that we might be tempted to reject the task because of the cost. But I also truly believe that we all want to obey God and see lives changed by the gospel, and that’s the reason to go through what looks like a daunting transition (daunting even for the change pastor). In the end, it all comes down to the desire to further the kingdom. To see people know Jesus, and become his disciples. To obey our king, serve our king, and follow our king. To be sent, as He was sent. We know that the world is changing, that Christendom is past, and we face a new paradigm for ministry. We know we’re not alone in feeling like the world has turned upside down. We know we’re one of a hundred churches that feel the same way, just in the Boston area. From seminary presidents, to denomination officials, to pastors and church leaders, and church members, everyone is struggling to find the answers. We’re going through the biggest cultural shift since the reformation and enlightenment that led to the rise of modernity. Everything is out of balance; we’re all being bombarded with change that is requiring personal, systemic, and cultural transformation inside and outside of the church. And yet in this, God is acting, and we need to be working together to see lives changed by the gospel.
So how can we bring the gospel to people in such a time as this? What is he calling us to? Lets spend the summer talking about this. If He is a sending God, how can we be living on mission together in a way that reaches Medfield and Metro-west and makes disciples? That’s the conversation I hope to get you all involved in. As I ponder this, I know that I am still a relative newcomer. This was your town and region first; all of you know this community and region far better than I do. I have no doubt that you see things I miss. Reaching our community is going to require all of us working together, and I need your help, as together we seek to hear from God and follow God, and live for the glory of his name. Consider these last two articles. Consider the Mission field of New England, and of Medfield and Metro-west, and consider what that requires of all of us, together, as we seek to live as people sent on mission. My hope is that wherever God is taking First Baptist, and the greater church community, that we will go through this change well, and that that the result will be that the kingdom of God is furthered, and that people connect to the gospel, grow in the gospel, becoming mature disciples, serve from the gospel, share the gospel, and that all are truly changed by the gospel.