Postmodern Missionaries

I’m intrigued by the idea of being a missionary to a postmodern society.

I say that because I’m seeing a trend that gives me pause. It seems a lot of people assume the “emerging/missional church” is the magic wand, silver bullet, cure-all solution that – if applied – will automatically produce faith communities as they were meant to be. Others seem to think “emerging/missional” = house/simple church. It could ... but enough of us have visited dysfunctional house churches to know they can be just as self-absorbed, self-congratulatory, and self-destructive as any other church structure or de-structure. 

After visiting a local Christian bookstore and noting the rapidly-expanding “emerging/missional” section, I’m concerned that postmodern ministry could become no more than the latest Christian marketing fad. The resulting bandwagon could get crowded, weighed down by those learning the insider lingo, reading the approved books, and yet never engaging culture on more than a surface level. 

And then, in a few years, dropping “emerging/missional” like last weeks potato salad and chasing after the next sure-fire, this-will-fix-everything-and-the-glory-will-return fad. 

I’m more inclined to approach postmodern society as a people group, which we look at from a missionary’s point of view. 

We learn the language and culture of postmodern society – not with non-reflective “postmodern = good, modern = evil” hyperbole – but in recognition that the gospel must be contextualized to whatever cultural setting we find ourselves in. Some of us are postmodern almost instinctively, but I  believe anyone willing to invest time and energy can become conversant with the cultural changes. You’d do it as on the foreign mission field – if postmoderns seem foreign to you, why not do it here? 

We dont capitulate to cultural values. We may look, sound, and “taste” like the culture around us, but we dont adopt their values. We are salt and light.

We invest ourselves in our “tribe.” It’s not a quick-fix nor is it a short-term strategy. We join the tribe and invest our lives in building relationships. Missionaries often lived among the locals for years before seeing any fruit from their labors. Our “fast food drive-thru” expectation of quick results doesn’t apply. That’s the week-old potato salad – toss it.  

We learn new ways to tell our Jesus-story. Larry Norman once challenged us to learn how to share our testimony without using the same words twice. In other words, drop the “canned” testimony script and learn (by doing) how to make connections with real, live people around us. Opportunities to share will come as we “earn the right to be heard.” 

Some are concerned about going “social gospel” (so focused on meeting people’s physical needs that the gospel is neglected). Remember the missionary metaphor? Missionaries often brought medicine, educational reform, agricultural assistance, etc., as part of working with their “people group.” We can do no less with the poor and needy around us. 

Ministry in a postmodern, post-Christian culture requires a missionary’s mindset of learning the culture, joining the tribe, and contextualizing the Gospel. Otherwise, we run the risk of becoming tasteless salt or light hidden under a bowl (Matthew 5:13–16).

May God grant us faith and wisdom to engage our postmodern culture, for the Kingdoms sake.

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