Note: This is the second of a four-part series.
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the opportunity caused by this pandemic to be more missional in our churches and lives. What exactly does that mean?
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. "They've a temper, some of them - particularly verbs, they're the proudest - adjectives you do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!"
"Would you tell me, please," said Alice, "what that means?"
Humpty Dumpty gave a lengthy explanation of what he meant by the word.
"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
"When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."
We probably should pay the word "missional" extra for what it means to so many people. I want to help you see the term in the immediate and real context of the pandemic and how we as churches might be better equipped to serve the Lord and his mission in the days ahead.
That said, I need to give a little background. The word "missional' is rooted in the word "mission." Missional has, like the words "mission," "evangelism" and "preaching," meant different things to different people. The term Missio Dei, or "Mission of God," has to be understood in order to see how to be a missional church.
For example, Tim Keller, retired pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian and well known missional thinker, told me that "many people who cite the Missio Dei concept are going beyond the teaching about common grace/natural law to say that the Spirit is working in people's lives in a major, virtually saving way apart from belief in Christ."
Obviously, neither Keller nor I understand it in that way.
How you define the Missio Dei determines how you will understand being missional. In the fairly recent past the term was combined with the "Preferential Option for the Poor" that became prominent in the 1970s, so that the World Council of Churches at its 1980 mission meeting at Melbourne focused on economic liberation as God being "at work" there.
We need a clear sense of what it means to be on mission for God. That's at the essence of missional, after, to be sent forth on His mission. Here is how I described it previously:
The message of the Missio Dei is that God is on mission to glorify Himself by means of advancing His kingdom on earth through the means of His people, empowered by His Spirit, who share and show the gospel of God's kingdom in Jesus Christ.
Missional flows from the Missio Dei. The word "missional" is a true wiki-word. Practitioners, theoreticians, fans and foes have defined, defended and dissected it.
There are probably three key early thinkers (in order of publication) who are most significant in understanding the concept:
—Francis Dubose, God Who Sends (1983).
—Charles Van Engen, God's Missionary People (1991).
—Darrell Guder, ed. The Missional Church (1998).
Take the time to read the reviews of Van Engen's book at Amazon, as they illustrate some of the debate in missiological circles.
In the next two posts I will look specifically at some thoughts from Dubose and Van Engen.
I first read about the idea of the missional church in the thoughtful writings of Guder and others in The Missional Church and later in the Gospel and Our Culture Network. I think these are most influential.
The Missional Church introduced me to the ideas of church and mission. I read both Van Engen and Dubose as part of my Ph.D. program but had read Guder, et. al. before I began the program. Actually, Guder's missional focus for North America is one of the reasons I went into missiology instead of church growth. That led me to discover Bosch, Newbigin, Van Gelder, Van Engen, Dubose and others as part of my Ph.D. at Southern Seminary.
My interest in missiology stems very much from reading that book. So, as you think about leading your church to become increasingly missional in these days and those to come, let me offer this simple meaning:
Being missional conveys the idea of living on a purposeful, biblical mission. Mission is the reason the church exists, and the church joins Jesus on mission. And this mission is from everywhere to everywhere.
Missional means starting from the idea that God is working in our world and will use us in the mission as we follow him, led by the Spirit. We see this lived out practically in the New Testament.
Jesus told his followers they would be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). When they received the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost, what did they do? They spoke in ways all the nationalities represented could understand, "the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:11b). As all were immediately and essentially on mission proclaiming Christ, Peter stood as spokesman and preached the gospel.
The early church, including those newly converted at Pentecost, continued to spread the message of Jesus (see 3:11 and following; 4:13, 20, 23 and following) and to show the mercy of Jesus (Acts 4:32-36).
As we serve the redeeming, on-mission God at this moment in history, let's be a missionary force for the kingdom. A practical way to get started is to prayerfully ask the Lord, the people in your church and yourself where you see God at work right now in your community in this pandemic.
Ed Stetzer holds the titles of Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College; executive director of the Billy Graham Center; dean of the Wheaton College School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership; and interim teaching pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.
For the original article, visit edstetzer.com.
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