The difference between being missional or missionary centers around our understanding of the work of God. His Missio Dei, the reason behind His sending us out to join hands with Him in His work is either interpreted as integral or ancillary. If we view God’s work as integral to His personality, then we will be a missional people. If, however, we see Him as something different, it becomes easy to differentiate between who we are to be and what we are to do, isolating “missionaries” as a group set apart to do a work that is unique and important, but not necessarily the focus of our lives.
Even in describing it this way, things start to get confusing. As is so common, our tendency is to make everything about ourselves and what we do. That is missing the point. The Missio Dei is all about God. We might be the ones sent, but God does the sending. He might invite us all into the work He is engaged in, but ultimately, it is His work. He is Sovereign. We are servants. Yes, we can rebel against His sovereignty, but that in no way diminishes His glorious desire to reveal Himself to the world through His Word and through the witness of His people.
Missionaries might be the superheroes of the faith, but missional people are the everyday average Joes living the Christ life in a way that shines to the nations. According to Michael Frost, missional is an adjective, describing the nature of the church rather than a few of its members. Frost insists that the concept of the incarnation remains central in the life and practice of the church. When that happens, the church is truly missional.
Beyond the incarnation, Frost challenges us to live out the ramifications of Christ coming to live in our midst and wrapping Himself in the context and culture of a fleshling born in first century Palestine. He calls us to be “excarnational” – a people embodying the life of Jesus to whatever culture we find ourselves in today. The work is not that of a few exceptional individuals but is the responsibility of everyone who calls themself a follower of Christ.
A good friend, David Schaal, US Ministries Area Director for the Western United States with Every Home for Christ laments that the church has become very good at demonstrating their faith. We excel in acts of kindness. We do lots of good things. But unless the Gospel is spoken, unless words are shared in a story that makes sense, we have not been faithful witnesses.
There is no confusion where my allegiances lie. Too often, we vivisect our faith, attempting to understand it in incredible detail, but destroying its wholistic nature. Missiologist David Bosch describes it like this: "Mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God." If we want to know God, not just ideologically, but experientially, we need to begin living out our lives in relationship with Him, doing the things He does with Him, and experiencing His presence as we do them. My call is towards a wholistic understanding, that not only studies what the Scripture says about God and His work but joins Him in it. We cannot divorce ourselves from missional living, or we are not the church at all.
So, what is God’s Mission? What drives His heart to beat with excitement? What cause does He contribute so much energy to?
The answer is found in Luke 19:10. The motivation behind the incarnation is us. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” People drive God to radical means. He gives of Himself to see them saved. The Son wraps Himself in human flesh, divests Himself of His divinity, and serves, even unto death (see Philippians 2), so that we don’t have to wander in darkness, lost and without hope for all of eternity. He came to turn over every rock we hid ourselves under and offer His hand to lift us from the holes we’ve dug ourselves into.
In “The Road to Missional” (2011) Michael Frost describes three measurements for determining how well our churches are living up to the call placed upon us. They are:
“1. A mission-shaped church announces the reign of God through Christ, locally and globally. This could be evidenced by
a. Regular opportunities for response to the gospel within the life and mission of the church;
b. Regular opportunities for members to hear of evangelistic projects and needs they might commit to;
c. A regular assessment of the needs of our immediate neighbourhood/locality to determine whether certain ethnic, demographic, or subcultural groups are not hearing the announcement of the reign of God through Christ;
d. A corporate commitment to at least one local and one global evangelistic focus;
e. Active and prayerful consideration as to how we can be involved with planting a new congregation;
f. A commitment to regularly pray as a whole church for non-Christians to turn to Jesus, whether they be found locally or globally.
2. A mission-shaped church demonstrates the reign of God through Christ, locally and globally. This could be evidenced by
a. The fostering of a community life that models compassion, generosity, hospitality, and justice as expressions of the love of Jesus;
b. Regular opportunities for members to hear of effective community development projects and needs they might commit to;
c. A regular assessment of the needs of our immediate neighbourhood/locality to determine whether certain ethnic, demographic, or subcultural groups are not benefiting from the demonstration of the lordship of Jesus;
d. A corporate commitment to at least one local and one global initiative aimed at addressing injustice, alleviating suffering, or showing practical love in Jesus‟ name;
e. An annual review of our budget and the degree to which our missional priorities are reflected in our financial commitments;
f. A commitment to regularly pray as a whole church for the needs of our world, locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.
3. A mission-shaped church embodies mission in the way of Jesus. This could be evidenced by
a. Regular teaching from the Gospels about the missional priorities, lifestyle, and message of Jesus, and the fostering of a faith community that reflects this;
b. Regular opportunities for members to discern their own missional vocation;
c. Regular training and resourcing for members to be able to incarnationally develop friendships and share their faith in culturally and relationally effective ways;
d. Active reliance on the empowering Spirit in the announcement and demonstration of Jesus‟ lordship;
e. Regular assessment of the time commitments of pastoral staff and lay leaders to determine that too much of their time is not spent on “in-house” church activities and that they are freed to engage regularly with unchurched people;
f. Regular teaching on the needs of our world and ways members can become actively involved.”
Let’s begin with a bit of self-evaluation. From there, we can build to becoming the people we need to be.