A lot of churches want to be missional. The pastor or a denominational is moved by a book or a story they hear at a conference and wants to start changing things. Usually they get stuck on one idea (“we’re for the city!” or “we’re not attractional!”) or something of the like. But if you look back a year or two later, there isn’t always a visible difference, either in their church or their neighborhood.
The problem with words like missional is that they become so ubiquitous that they loose their meaning altogether. To fill the vaccuum, leaders often resort to doing what they’ve always done, only with new branding (“Missional VBS!” “Missional Sunday School!”) Before you can move in a new direction, you need a core group who know where it is they want to go.
Before you try to be missional, get your team to read and pray through the following steps:
Revisit the story of scripture. Ask some questions like: What is the overall trajectory of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation? Where did we get started? Where are we now? Where are we going?
The point of this is to uncover God’s overall mission, and the various sub-missions, that have always directed his interaction with his people. Your church should fall right in line.
Step Two: Research your Culture.
Culture is the water we fishes swim in. We don’t even think about it. But not every fish swims in the same water we do, especially if we’ve spent most our lives in church. When we study our culture, we learn how to speak the gospel in words that make sense to the listener. The average church leader can explain scripture to other church people, but may get blank stares from someone from a different background.
A few tools to understand your culture:
- Percept – For a fairly reasonable price, they’ll give you an indepth breakdown of your neighborhood.
- The Shaping of Things to Come – Although this book isn’t new any more, Frost and Hirsch’s text does as good a job as any of explaining where western culture is going.
- Culture Makers – Andy Crouch, who is among other things, board member of Fuller Seminary, as well as a writer for Q and Christianity Today, breaks down what exactly culture is, and why the church should invest in it.
Step Three: Explore existing missional thinking.
Sound overwhelming? The good news is that you are not the first one down this road. JR Woodward has assembled an exhaustive list of missional resources. A few must reads I’d suggest are:
- Lesslie Newbigin “Can the West Be Converted?” An introduction to the thinker that originated the missional movement.
- Darell Guder, et. al, “The Missional Church” a collection of essays, credited with launching the present missional discussion.
- Alan Hirsch “The Forgotten Ways” (You might start with my overview of the book.)
Step Four: Start With Hospitality.
At the end of the day, being missional is about people. It’s about reaching individuals (people) and tribes (groups of people) who aren’t following Jesus, and re-presenting the church to a culture (lots of people) that wants nothing to do with it. All the reading you could ever do is just theory if you don’t know people.
Hospitality means welcoming people who are different. Having your friends over for dinner isn’t hospitality, it’s hanging out. Having a stranger, or someone of a different class, political persuasion or lifestyle over for dinner is hospitality.
Having worked both in megachurches and malls, I am convinced that Christian leaders who don’t see the need to be missional just don’t have many relationships outside their church. If I could suggest one action item for leaders who want to go missional, it would be to go have a drink with someone who doesn’t follow Jesus and ask them their story. One of the results is that you’ll inadventantly feed steps one and two. Knowing and learning to love people who aren’t yet following Jesus will make you want to better understand God’s mission and their culture.
Have you or your church transitioned to missional? What have I left out?