This is the sixth post in our series about missional ministry. You can read my prior posts by following the links:
1 – Introducing missional theology
2 – Why you can’t be missional alone
3 – Why prayer is the fuel of missional ministry
4 – Why missional ministry requires vulnerability
5 – Why Missional is Urgent and Lean
Today we explore how making the missional shift requires a great deal of focus. As a brief reminder, a simple way to get a better of a handle on the concept of missional is to replace it with “missionary.” I’m sure there were good reasons for choosing missional over missionary, probably related to some of the cultural baggage associated with missionary, but the two words are both derived from the root word “mission” and essentially mean the same thing. At it’s heart being missional is about placing God’s mission at the center of the life of the individual and the center of the church’s existence, where it was surely meant to be all along.
So why does being missional require focus? The answer is fairly simple, in order to recapture the ancient church’s sense of mission standing at the center of the church’s reason for being we have to unlearn a bunch of habits of thought and practice that we have come to attach to our definition of being church. Because these are deeply entrenched habits they seem, at first glance, to require no justification. We don’t question them. And that’s why becoming missional requires focus.
Some authors who write on this topic suggest that almost all of our current ways of understanding and practicing being the church must be redefined or rejected. Sunday worship? Church buildings? Ordained clergy? All can be done away with according to these writers. The church can become a diffuse organic network of related Christ-followers spread throughout a city and living their lives in mission. This is a wonderful part of the story of being the church, but its just that–only a part of the story.
The risk here is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The New Testament tells us not to foresake gathering together, as some were in the habit of doing, because we are formed into disciples in context of the church community and in it’s reflection on Word and sacrament.
Can you see the tension? As missional Christians we’re living in the middle of a paradox. We gather in order to scatter and we scatter in order to gather. The church’s reality is both centrifugal and centripetal–the Spirit pushes us out in mission and gathers us in worship.
It requires great focus, continued recalibration, in order to live with this tension rather than simply collapsing into a simply attractional model of the Christian life (where evangelism is inviting people to church programs) or a cultural model of the Christian life (where gathering is not valued because all I need is Jesus, me, and now).
How does your church manage this tension? If you’re a pastor, how can you guide your people to understand and embrace this paradoxical element of the Christian life?