Thursday, July 17, 2014

Missional = the New Attractional?

There has been a lot of emphasis placed on the concept of being "missional" in recent years. (Yes, I think that sentence might qualify as an understatement of Godzilla-like proportions.)

And beyond the concept of simply being missional, there has been a growing emphasis on being part of a "missional community".

Now, I'm someone who has always wanted to see our faith lived out in the open where all can see, so I'm definitely a fan of the missional concept. Christianity is a marketplace faith -- Jesus was a very public figure, from His miracles, to His many teachings (ie. the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5-7), and even His death, burial and resurrection. The Acts of the Apostles continues in that fine tradition of faith in the marketplace.

When people try to boil down a definition for being "missional", and being "in community", most would basically sum it up much like this graphic from Faith Connection Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Yay, Chattanooga! I lived there for two years when I was a kid. Pass the grits and sassafras tea!)

It's a good summary, in picture form:


And I appreciate the kind of language that people like Bob Logan use to describe the ethos of a missional community: sacrificial service, cultural engagement, authentic relationships, spiritual transformation. Putting wheels under the concept of "being missional" is an important step towards getting outside the four walls of church and back into the marketplace.

So why am I concerned that Missional might become the New Attractional?

Several unconnected conversations started me thinking:

The first was with my friend Duane (YWAM Calgary), during the Western Canada Leadership gathering this spring. We were walking to the Farmer's Market with several other YWAM leaders from across Canada, enjoying discipleship Jesus-style -- walking and talking -- when Duane simply asked:

"Is having an entire community be missional even possible?"

Normally, my immediate response would have been, "Of course!" After all, isn't being missional really just another way of saying "be deliberately Christian -- in church and out"? (Sorry for the oversimplification -- look at the missional couch picture again if it helps.)

But another conversation I'd had just prior to that day came to mind as well:

I know a number of social workers and crisis-placement foster parents here in town who are also Christians. Their 9-to-5, Monday-t0-Friday, week-in and week-out vocations are, by definition: missional. Serving the "least of these" (Matthew 25:40) is what they do as their passion, their mission, and their vocation.

But when they come to church (or a home group), the last thing they need (or want) is another rally-the-missional-troops discussion. They both want and desperately need to have their souls refreshed. That means meaningful worship, Bible study or teaching, authentic prayer, and deep fellowship. They've been missional all week long. They need to re-charge, re-fresh, and re-boot for the next week of missional engagement.

As one social worker put it: "I'm physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted after a week of being missional at my job. If I attend a 'missional community' on top of that, I'm going to completely burn out."

So, my honest answer to my friend Duane's question -- is having an entire community be missional even possible? -- would now be: NO.
Not if we mean that the entire community has to be involved in whatever missional endeavours that particular church/house church has identified for themselves.
Not even if the church has numerous missional endeavours to choose from, but equates "missional community" with involvement in one or more of these church projects.
If "being missional" is (unintentionally, I'm sure) reduced to projects initiated and run through the church -- and who doesn't love the sense of community that results among us as we serve together? -- then we have missed a very important part of "being" missional. 
If we hope to combine "incarnational" and "missional", then the last thing we should want is for the entire church community to work at the same projects, at the same time, in the same place(s). We need to engage the culture to be missional, but we need to spread out in order to be incarnational.
Note: I don't mean that church projects are a bad idea. I love them. But they are not the be-all and end-all of missional service. And we need to be sensitive to the spiritual needs of those in our churches who are already deeply missional outside of our church contexts.
Another Thought:

Missional is in danger of becoming the New Attractional when we invite people to come to our church because we market ourselves as a missional church. Nowadays, there's been so much positive focus on churches being more culturally engaged, incarnational, and seeing themselves as "on mission" with God, that we run the danger of missional marketing. "Come to our church: we're missional!"

In a perfect world (and yes, I've noticed that it's anything but), we wouldn't need the word "missional"; we'd just be Christians, living our lives and our faith in the marketplace, just like Jesus, the disciples, and the early church did. 

Until that perfect world comes (Amen, come, Lord Jesus. - Revelation 22:20), we need to keep "being missional" as a well-thought-out vision statement, not just a well-intentioned slogan. (Again, look to the missional couch for an encouraging reminder.) And we need to give people the freedom and encouragement to be incarnational as they pursue missional, in whatever context they find themselves. If we do this, we can avoid the trap of becoming the New Attractional.

And everybody will benefit.

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