A bunch of us in the blogosphere are attempting to capture (recapture?) the meaning of the word missional. So many great books have been written on the subject that I honestly feel silly trying to articulate it in the few paragraphs of a blog.
It's a hot topic, at least in my tradition. Since that is the theological teat on which I was succored (I firmly believe you should use the words 'teat' and 'succored' whenever possible), let me start there.
There's this denominational magazine that gets sent to pastors every few months. The title of it is GROW. It's all about, as you might guess, growing churches. How to, Who is, What they are doing, What you can do to be like them, etc. I don't mean any vitriol by that, it's just what is (I intentionally left a link to the magazine out).
And here's the thing, the growth is measured--almost exclusively--in terms of the number of people who show up at a service on a Sunday morning or a Saturday night (aka, "the weekend" in North American church speak). It's existence is funded by an attractional understanding of church. The point is, if I am correctly reading the subtext, butt's in the seat. So gracing it's pages are frequently numbered lists of churches with titles like: "Highest Worship Attendance", "Largest Gain in Sunday School," etc. Secretly, I find myself scanning the list to see if we "made it" or if someone I know "made it."
Now this isn't all bad. I think we on the missional side of things throw too many stones. I am regularly re-oriented to God during those corporate worship times. My life is made sense of in terms of God and I find myself renewed, reordered and refreshed. I actually want to face my life again. Do we not want people to have this experience? Isn't this part of the purpose of corporate worship? Do we want it to be an experience people don't want to attend? Is there anything wrong with making the environment where it happens conducive to the experience of God we want people to have?
Here's a bit of the rub. The magazine features interviews of pastors "making it happen" and one frequent refrain is about how a new Sunday School program or discipleship effort is "missional." Honestly, I just scratch my head and turn the page. I don't think they get it. I think they think that because they've organized everyone and everyone knows what they are to do and they are doing it for Jesus...well, then, that's missional.
So is it? And if it isn't (I don't think it is--it seems way to focused on self-preservation to warrant that descriptor), then what is it? Many others have spent time defining it on the other blogs of this synchro-blog, so instead of a defintion, here's an example to end this way-too-long post:
We have a local ecumenical retreat center in town called Richmond Hill--very sweet place--that loves and cares for the city (they do personal retreats btw. And talk about history, they are just down the street from St John's Church where Patrick Henry taunted the Brits with giving him liberty or death). They pray for metropolitan Richmond 3 times a day...and then they go do something about it.
*They've connected virtually every elementary school in the predominantly Title 1 Richmond Public Schools with a congregation that comes in an mentors and tutors kids.
*They work tirelessly to unite the fractured political jurisdiction that is metropolitan Richmond (too long a story for this post), and they are place of hospitality and retreat for the entire city.
*They give themselves away and expect nothing in return. They focus on what's outside themselves and spend their time and money there. And here's the thing, as a result, I want to be where they are located. The warmth of the place is amazing.
*In short, they embody Jeremiah 29:7.
Ben (their outstanding pastoral director), one of the most well-connected people I know who uses those connections to love the city, said this in a newspaper interview that I think gets at the heart of what it means to be missional.
We want to make sure we're real clear that God's interest is in the health of the metro area and it's people and not simply in churches. We want God's agenda out there for all of us.
So how does the local church become this when we live in "Highest Gain in Sunday School Attendance" land? Can you get there from here?
Here's are links to the other bloggers writing about today's topic:
Cobus Van Wyngaard