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Missio Dei, Missional

>"Missional Church": A Fad Worth Following?

>I recently had a conversation with a friend who works with a church in Austin, TX that is seeking to establish a missional mindset among their new and growing congregation. In seeking this endeavor, my friend told me that a professor at a prominent seminary in the U.S. had responded somewhat pessimistically concerning the recent “missional church” movement, stating that it is merely a “fad” that will come to pass. It is true that the conversation of ecclesiology in the recent years has become much more focused on the concept of “missional church,” and there are a lot of folks who have jumped all over the “missional church” bandwagon for the sake of being a part of the next coolest thing. However, there are also a lot of folks who are following the leading of the Holy Spirit in their communities for the sake of obedience to the Mission Maker. So, the question poses itself: “Is the ‘Missional Church’ a fad worth following?”

It might be helpful, to provide a description of what is meant by the idea of “missional church.” In a broad sense, the term is a a manifestation of the Missio Dei or Mission of God. Most missiologists and theologians describe the Mission of God in terms of the Triune God’s activity throughout history, beginning with Creation and culminating in the return of Christ. Darrell Guder, from Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, defines it this way,

“We have come to see that mission is not merely an activity of the church. Rather, mission is the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s purposes to restore and heal creation. ‘Mission’ means ‘sending,’ and it is the central biblical theme describing the purpose of God’s action in human history.”

A crucial component to understanding the Missio Dei is that it is derived not from “ecclesiology or soteriology,” as Guder states, but rather flows directly from the Trinitarian nature of God. Thus, just as the Father sent the Son and the Son sent the Spirit, so too is the church understood as the sent people of God. Just as the three persons of the Trinity cannot be separated from the singular essence of Trinity but are intimately united as one (i.e., perichoresis), so too are the people of God intimately connected to the activity or mission of God in history. This is seen in the creating and sending of Adam and Eve into the earth to “fill and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28), it is seen in the calling and sending of Abram to be a “blessing to all nations” (Gen. 12:3), it is seen in the emancipation and sending of Israel into Canaan to be a “holy nation, a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:5-6; Duet. 4:5-8), and it is seen in the redemption and sending of the church to “declare the divine excellencies of God” (1Pet. 2:9).

From this it is clear that to be “missional” is a characteristic that is not anthropocentric but again, theocentric, centered in the Trinitarian activity of God. Colin Gunton describes the missional portrait of the church as a, “finite echo or bodying forth of the divine personal dynamics,” “a temporal echo of the eternal community that God is.” Such a perspective then shifts the activity of the church from simply being about “missions” to being “missional.”

The irony though, and I believe this is what the seminary professor’s comment was hinting at, is that many American churches have taken this concept and have made it into being about “missional church.” In other words, they have made this concept a fad to follow rather than an identity to incarnate. One does not realize who they are in Christ by wearing Christian t-shirts, watching Christian movies, or joining Christian blogs (although many are sadly deceived and believe they do), but instead by submitting to the Word and Spirit of God. In the same way, the church must not simply observe the latest “fads” of ecclesiology or missiology or etc., and jump on the bandwagon, but instead must carefully evaluate these “fads” in light of the Word, by the guidance of the Spirit, and with the help of the church, both past, present, near, and far, and then determine if this “fad” is really the character of God in disguise. In the case of the “missional church,” I believe this is one “fad” worth…becoming.

It would be great to hear how you and/or your church is playing a part in the Missio Dei. The great thing about being a new creation in Christ and about being a “missional church” is that not everyone looks the same. Each follower of Christ and each body of Christ is placed in a specific context at a specific time in history and in the world. Each of these portraits will look differently, yet all will and should be united around the same mission: to bring all peoples to know and follow the Triune God. So what does that look like for you?

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Discussion

9 thoughts on “>"Missional Church": A Fad Worth Following?

  1. >Hylander,Thanks for sharing. It sounds like the community at Kaleo is truly embracing the Missio Dei. I pray your faithfulness will bear great fruit. “Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.” Isa. 55:5

    Posted by bRad | August 16, 2007, 3:24 pm
  2. >Brad,The Church I attend is called, “Kaleo Church” in San Diego,CA. They are a part of the Acts 29 Network under Mark Driscoll. Some of the things we are currently doing, especially in light of the new school year, is reaching out to help those students at SDSU (San Diego State)- for example, helping them get moved in, repair the Greek houses and small things like that. We also have some dedicated people who minister to the strippers. Alot of the strippers work at night to pay for their college courses during the day. Many of them are single moms as well. There are also other things we are involved with the community as well. We strongly believe that we need to demonstrate a committed and enduring passion to minister to those who do not yet know Christ. Once there is an obvious display of true christian character within our relationship with these people, hopefully they will have tasted and seen that the Lord is truly good! That will hopefully open them up to share their narrative with us. Once they have shared their story, they of course want to know where we are coming from as well. As you said about those wishing to identify with the metanarrative, I believe those who are called, will naturally wish to seek an answer for the hope that is in us and that will hopefully allow us the opportunity to share the gospel. The key is to be truly genuine. Otherwise, it will all be for nought.

    Posted by hylander | August 15, 2007, 2:21 am
  3. >I really need to jump on those times of opportunity to listen to others stories or their narratives and bond with them a little, in order to share how their story can only be fulfilled within the context of the metanarrative.I’m very encouraged to hear that your church community is having these discussions (what church and where is it?). Jean Francois-Lyotard defined postmodernism as an “incredulity towards the metanarrative,” and I believe he was right (he said this before internet, iPods, and cell phones). This is what the church in American and Europe must contend with, “How do we communicate to an audience that rejects the Metanarrative and embraces micronarratives?” or as you said other peoples “narratives.” Ironically, I think all postmoderns who embrace the micronarrative over the Metanarrative are subconciously seeking a part in the Metanarrative, they just don’t want to or cannot submit to the Metanarrative (i.e., b/c of their sinful state). I believe the church, as a whole and as individuals, must recognize its part in the Metanarrative (i.e., God’s mission to bring all peoples to Himself), seek to activate itself to this Mission, and call others to become a part of it. Only then can those who are seeking some significance in the Metanarrative truly find it.This is not easy, its not like following a fad, it is us, me, you, as hylander said, “need[ing] to jump out there” and love people in a tangible way. It would be great to hear some stories of how you are doing this.

    Posted by bRad | August 14, 2007, 8:19 pm
  4. >doh!I forgot to include in my last post to include the word, “Missional” in front of the Acts 29 Network Doctrine. 🙂

    Posted by hylander | August 14, 2007, 3:18 am
  5. >Great topic!This comes right out of the doctrinal statement for the churches that belong to the Acts 29 Network:-We believe that our local churches must be faithful to the content of unchanging Biblical doctrine (Jude 3). -We believe that our local churches must be faithful to the continually changing context of the culture(s) in which they minister (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). -We believe that our mission is to bring people into church so that they can be trained to go out into their culture as effective missionaries. We just had a meeting last week regarding what it meant to be missional according to the gospel. And, what really struck home with me was how much I lag in this area. I really need to jump on those times of opportunity to listen to others stories or their narratives and bond with them a little, in order to share how their story can only be fulfilled within the context of the metanarrative. Do I think it is a fad? I think for some it may be. But, I think that real churches have been missional from the beginning, especially in light of what Paul has written.Peace,

    Posted by hylander | August 14, 2007, 3:16 am
  6. >A fad worth following? Yes. The term definitely a fad with some but that shouldn’t cause us to avoid this important paradigm.”.”A crucial component to understanding the Missio Dei is that it is derived not from “ecclesiology or soteriology,” as Guder states, but rather flows directly from the Trinitarian nature of God. Thus, just as the Father sent the Son and the Son sent the Spirit, so too is the church understood as the sent people of God. Just as the three persons of the Trinity cannot be separated from the singular essence of Trinity but are intimately united as one (i.e., perichoresis), so too are the people of God intimately connected to the activity or mission of God in history.”Good stuff, especially the part about how the missio dei is derived from the nature of God rather than ecclesiology or soteriology.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | August 10, 2007, 11:01 pm
  7. >I think that being the Sent People is indeed at the root of genuine Christian practice, and further I think that if we Christian teachers taught the gospel of John more often and better, folks would see quickly how absurd it is to call missionary living (still haven’t brought myself to use the neologism “Missional” consistently) some kind of fad.Absolutely! It is the responsibility of Christian teachers, pastors, leaders, parents, to take the helm at shifting the paradigm from seeing our identity in Christ as simply raised from death to life, but to seeing our identity as people intimately connected to the Mission of God through Christ and by the Spirit. However, this places a great challenge on those of us who heed the call to help shift this paradigm b/c it comes not just in our teaching but in our living. Just as Paul never exhorted Timothy or Ephesus to give attention to the teaching of Scripture (1Tim 4:13) for the sake of sending a few guys up to the pulpit, but instead to reorient their worship to the one true God. We too must ensure our teaching is not done within a vacuum, but instead carefully applied to our context.

    Posted by bRad | August 10, 2007, 9:24 pm
  8. >As Nathan said, a fine post.I think the fad part comes in when churches try to become missional rather than recognize and respond to the reality that the nature of the church is missional. Those who don’t understand the fundamental nature of the church as the “Sent People” of God will simply try to adopt certain external practices and methodologies that other “missional” churches are doing. Most pastors I know will do anything that works. So, if they see another church across town or across the country doing X, they will do X too and consider themselves to be missional as well.

    Posted by Dwight | August 10, 2007, 9:19 pm
  9. >A fine post. I think that being the Sent People is indeed at the root of genuine Christian practice, and further I think that if we Christian teachers taught the gospel of John more often and better, folks would see quickly how absurd it is to call missionary living (still haven’t brought myself to use the neologism “Missional” consistently) some kind of fad.One does not realize who they are in Christ by wearing Christian t-shirts, watching Christian movies, or joining Christian blogs (although many are sadly deceived and believe they do), but instead by submitting to the Word and Spirit of God. In the same way, the church must not simply observe the latest “fads” of ecclesiology or missiology or etc., and jump on the bandwagon, but instead must carefully evaluate these “fads” in light of the Word, by the guidance of the Spirit, and with the help of the church, both past, present, near, and far, and then determine if this “fad” is really the character of God in disguise.Certainly submission to the Spirit is at the heart of being Sent. I’m glad that you didn’t set up the ethical (in the Heideggerian sense) imperatives of the Gospel against submission to the call of God. As you rightly say, they are one.P.S. I caught an egregious lapse of English grammar in my initial comment and deleted it for the sake of posting this version; I didn’t realize that a deleted comment left such a nasty-looking footprint. 🙂

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | August 10, 2007, 2:41 pm

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