13 October 2005

Begin with the mission?

So there's this really exciting idea that's been floating around certain Christian circles for the last 10 years or something (probably longer), called "Missional Church." Here's a really good FAQ on the concept (it's a PDF). If you don't feel like reading that, I'll summarize: a Missional Church is a community of Christians (of any size) who define their Christian identity primarily and fundamentally as that of a people on a mission. This mission is thought of as having been given to us by Jesus himself, and to consist of following in his footsteps, passing on his teachings, continuing and growing the community he formed, and doing the deeds he did. Put another way, our mission is to welcome the entire world to receive and enter into the Kingdom of God, God's New World that Jesus spoke constantly about and demonstrated through his actions.

Reactions to these ideas range from,"Well, duh!" to "What on earth are you talking about?" Which is only to be expected. But honestly, I think folks with the latter reaction are closer to the truth. I mean, if you honestly think that this is how most Christians of any persuasion have approached their faith down through the ages, I'd have to quibble with your assessment of history and current events. And I've come to believe that if Christians do come to see their faith in these terms, it can be revolutionary.

But I'm not writing to evangelize you about being missional. I'm writing to reflect on the implications of the missional idea for evangelism. I've never really thought that the classic evangelical presentation of the Gospel ("you are a sinner, the wages of sin is death, Jesus died so you could live, choose Jesus choose life") would be very effective with most people I know. But I'm really rather intrigued by the potential of the Christian equivalent of the old Uncle Sam poster: "Jesus wants YOU! He's got a mission for you: to help him usher in a New World."

Conventional Christian wisdom, it seems to me, would put any discussion of mission way, way at the tail end of any process of evangelism or disciple-making. First you "convert" someone, then you invite them into the community, then when they start to get committed, you approach them about serving within the community, then and only then you might start to talk to them about serving and transforming the world. Or, if you believe in "belonging before believing" (as I surely do), then you reverse the first two steps, but the rest probably proceeds as above. Membership, Maturity, Ministry, then Mission, to quote a four-step disciple formation system first pioneered at one of the innovative megachurches and now being adapted, with my wholehearted approval, at my own church. It's logical, right? But what if it's backwards? What if mission should (at least sometimes) come first?

I'm pretty convinced that there are lots of folks out there, particularly younger, postmodern, post-Christian folks, who want very much to make a difference in the world, to transform it a little, to make it a slightly better place. But they don't know where to begin. If they do find a way to help (for example, volunteering for an organization that's doing some good), often they don't stick with it for too long, because while they sincerely want to transform the world for the better, they themselves have not been transformed; they haven't encountered a tradition, a community, and a God with the power to transform them. And because of their background and experience (and this was me for many years), the idea that the church could be such a tradition and that the God of Christianity could be such a God seems really improbable.

But what if we began with the mission? What if our evangelistic icon weren't that classic chasm-with-us-on-the-left-and-God-on-the-right-and-the-cross-bridging-the-gap, but instead were that "Jesus wants YOU!" Uncle Sam poster? (Note for the metaphorically impaired: I don't mean really.) Would it cause folks to run away, or would it make them curious enough to try belonging and joining in the mission, in a context that could lead to both personal and local/global transformation?

I don't really know, but I wonder.

1 comment:

janinsanfran said...

No quarrel and much hearty agreement -- IF we can figure out how to get across that Jesus is not some blonde European guy. That's harder if we are blonde Europeans ourselves, but in God all things are possible.

Can you tell I serve on something called the "mission renewal team" for my parish?