Monday, November 25, 2013

“Missional” and its “Trial-Sized Free Sample” form

Mosaix 2013

Note: The following is a bit academic, and somewhat narrowly focused on the concerns of Christian leadership for the congregations and communities we are called to serve. There are, however, some parts of the post below that I think almost anyone might find interesting, provocative, or even entertaining. Where you find the need to question or comment, please do, and I’ll respond as soon as possible.
Recently, in the online forum component of my doctoral program, my friend Mark Nicklas posted notes from one of the plenary speakers at the Mosaix Multicultural Church Conference. Efrem Smith also led a workshop entitled The Post-Black, Post-White Church, in which he compared The White Church, The Black Church, The First Century Church, and our need of a church that is Biblical (reflecting the mosaic of God’s design), Missional (in that we are called to serve the least of the least—Mathew 25:31-40), Multicultural (reflecting the demographics of our communities), Connectional (“all of us eating at the same table”), and Devotional (“where we get closer and closer to Jesus”).
Efrem Smith
This raised the question for me, “Which is the cart and which is the horse?” That is, given the reality of holding only one task at a time in clear focus, is there one of these definitions that encompasses the rest? If you’ve read much of this blog, or listened to even a few of my sermons (available here:, then you know my preference “to serve the least of the least.” I’ll try to focus on that in a post before too long. But for now, here’s my contemplation of that “Missional” focus.
Referencing Mark’s notes from Smith’s lecture, “We need a church that is…”
I would choose “Missional,” except that my seemingly allergic reaction to the term probably signifies toxic overexposure to its usual additives and impurities. Calling it “cruciform, sacrificial servanthood” requires just as much explanation, but I think that’s a more precise label, even if equally prone to misuse.
If, however, the cruciform, sacrificial servanthood on which the Apostle Paul expands in II Corinthians 4 is correlated to the Matthew 25 sheep under the “Missional” banner, then the following seems to follow logically.
"Try Our Bite-Sized Sampler Plate"
The “Missional” approach and its resulting congregational demographic is Biblical. Where it builds relationships with individuals, families, organizations, and structures within the community we are called to serve, it is integrally Missional and authentically Connectional. And where it engages the needs of that community, overwhelming as they are, it is Devotional: we realize quickly that we cannot continue even marginally in this kind of ministry without getting “closer and closer to Jesus.”
Is that what we mean by Missional? Or do we buy into “Missional-Lite?” I find that I react strongly to the clichéd, seminar-driven, “take this home and try it” version of “Missional.” It seems designed as a “trial-sized free sample” to be topically applied to the façade of a church wanting nothing more than fresher marketing materials.
But I also don’t hold real hope for most churches’ efforts to “absorb these concepts into their DNA.” The congregational heart transplant necessary can only be prescribed once diagnosed, and only diagnosed when the symptoms are exacerbated by exertion. Bed-ridden, atrophying bodies of Christ only abound because we withdraw from our communities, pretending that authentic life in Christ can happen even when constrained within the four walls of the church (or in reclusive mono-cultural Christian networks).
"Come here when you're hurting."
"You're hurting? We're on our way!"
Imagining the local church as a hospital or, worse, a self-help social club, is far too prevalent. We frequently presume, often correctly, that those in the communities we are called to serve recognize their own damaged, diseased, and dysfunctional condition. But we also presume, tragically, that they are somehow attracted to a gospel of help and hope…available only by congregating among Christians who recoil from them, rejecting their neighborhoods, and who “rescue” their own children from the community’s schools.
Adopting a few slogans, teaching some lessons, and preaching a six-week sermon series on “the mission-field on our doorstep” is a topical analgesic, numbing us to the realities around us while we congratulate ourselves on being “Missional.” But where there is even one who begins to serve the needs of their neighbors, who might then be joined by others who see the interrelationships of other needs and others in need, and then, whether “congregationally-approved, sanctioned, and/or budgeted” or not, engages in ministry as a member of both the community and congregation—even these first steps will strain the weak heart of most churches.
But as anyone who’s undergone competent cardiac rehab knows: that’s a good thing.



Paul Louis Metzger said...

Bill, I appreciate your critical scrutiny regarding terms we use in Christian ministry. Terms such as “missional” can easily be framed in terms of marketing and missional-lite, as you say. Yet, as you also point out, other terms can easily be abused, too. We must be on guard against the “take this home and try it” version of “Missional,” as you rightly note. Far from needing “fresher marketing materials,” you and I agree that we need refreshed hearts on a daily basis so that we can proceed by way of the missions of God—his Son and Spirit. Thank you for your cruciform missional witness.

Wm. Darius Myers said...

And thank you for your comment, especially from one whose "Love Comes to Town" perspective qualifies spiritually as competent cardiac rehab.

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