Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

The Missional Church and the Needs of the Community

As I was thinking about the meaning of the missional church, I did ask myself the question whether the term “missional church” isn’t a tautology. Timothy Cowin correctly indicated that many terms which are (or should be) true for any healthy church is being claimed by so-called “missional” groups as being exclusively true of “missional churches”. As I have so often indicated in the past – the most recent being here – what is often being claimed as a new way of thinking is in actual fact just the old (Biblical) way of thinking. The expectations that Jesus had for the church, 2000 years ago, are still the same. What we need to do today is to find ways to become what Jesus had intended in a new and changed society. If the term “missional” is used to describe a church obedient to what Jesus expected from the church, then I’m happy with this. I maintain, however, that all churches should then be missional, because not being missional would imply that a church is not obedient to what Jesus expects from the church! (Is a non-missional church still church?)
My understanding of “missional” would be a certain mind set within the church (or even a certain part of the ministry of the church) which focuses on those outside the church. Certain aspects of the church are directed primarily or even solely towards the believers within the church. Catechism – the teaching of new believers – has as its focus those who are already inside the church. Spiritual growth courses would be another example. These things are not wrong. On the contrary, they are good and necessary parts of any church’s ministry. The problem is that many churches focus entirely upon those already inside the church. Becoming missional means that we change the focus of the church, from inside to outside. Without neglecting those already inside, we need to understand that God’s heart lies with those who are not yet part of the church. And if that is where God’s heart lies, then our hearts should be there as well. And that, to me, is to be missional.
Being missional would differ from place to place, from time to time and from person to person. Twenty years ago, the people in Swaziland hardly knew about HIV or AIDS. Our focus at that time, for various reasons, was on evangelism campaigns, preaching to unbelievers and helping them become part of the church. With time the situation in Swaziland changed. Most areas have already been saturated with the gospel through evangelism campaigns, visiting groups from churches and universities, all bringing the same message of the gospel over and over again. And the number of people who came to listen dwindled. But now we are faced with one of the biggest pandemics the worlds has ever known. And so our focus changed from merely preaching the gospel to living out the gospel within the community so that people not only hear about the love of God, but that they could experience it firsthand through Christians caring for them. Being missional for us means primarily focusing on those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
But then again, I think of people in Russia, a great number of which are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Being missional for a church in Tagliatti or Kuzneetsk would probably mean that the church would need to start with a rehabilitation program or something else to reach the people in the society within their circumstances of addiction. (Many churches in Russia are already involved in this type of ministry.) In the USA and Europe the needs would be different again. The secret is for the church to determine how God wants to apply the principles of sharing the love of Christ within each community.
Missional churches are set apart from “non-missional” churches by the way in which they become involved with the community. And then I often think of the words of the emperor Julian (the Apostate) who once wrote in anger:

“These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.

“Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.”

This is the type of thing that could happen if a church becomes missional.

As this post is part of a SynchroBlog, you are encouraged to click on the following links to read what others have written today about the “missional” topic.

Other synchrobloggers on the missional topic today:

Alan Hirsch
Alan Knox
Andrew Jones
Arnau van Wyngaard
Barb Peters
Bill Kinnon
Brad Brisco
Brad Grinnen
Brad Sargent
Brother Maynard
Chad Brooks
Chris Wignall
Cobus Van Wyngaard
Dave DeVries
David Best
David Fitch
David Wierzbicki
Doug Jones
Duncan McFadzean
Erika Haub
Jamie Arpin-Ricci
Jeff McQuilkin
John Smulo
Jonathan Brink
JR Rozko
Kathy Escobar
Len Hjalmarson
Makeesha Fisher
Mark Berry
Mark Petersen
Michael Crane
Nick Loyd
Patrick Oden
Peggy Brown
Phil Wyman
Richard Pool
Rick Meigs
Rob Robinson
Ron Cole
Scott Marshall
Sonja Andrews
Steve Hayes
Tim Thompson
Thom Turner

Monday, June 23, 2008 - Posted by | Church, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Russia, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology |


  1. Arnau,

    Excellent thoughts. I am an 18-year “veteran” church planting missionary with Southern Baptists in Spain. As I read what you write here, I find myself asking if we need to make a distinction between “felt needs” and actual needs. In Western Europe, as North American evangelical missionaries, it is difficult to identify clear “felt needs” that we are uniquely equipped to meet. I think that is a big part of what makes our job so difficult. Yet, the actual spiritual needs are enormous. I was wondering how you might suggest reacting appropriately to this reality, under the general paradigm you are presenting here.

    Comment by David Rogers | Thursday, June 26, 2008 | Reply

  2. David,

    I’m not 100% sure if I understand you correctly, You said that: “In Western Europe, as North American evangelical missionaries, it is difficult to identify clear “felt needs” that we are uniquely equipped to meet.” Do you mean that there are certain “felt needs” but that we do not know how to meet them? I just want to be clear on that.

    But I think one of the biggest problems have been that Western missionaries often identify, what I call, “percieved needs” and that they address those needs, without really undertanding the actual needs of the community. I’ve blogged about this a number of times. In Africa another problem arises (and it may be totally different in a country like Spain.) You never go into a home and ask people what their needs are. First of all you create an expectation that you are going to meet those needs. And secondly, they will come with a list of needs that will be impossible to meet – things like running water, a car, a job and many more.

    You are probably in the ideal situation to identify actual needs. You’ve been with the people for 18 years. You know how they think. You see how they live. The question remains how to address those needs. Jesus (and the apostles) often addressed spiritual needs by first addressing actual needs. But not always. Therefore we need the wisdom to discern what the actual needs at a certain place and at a certain time are. And we have to be ready to address those needs in order to demonstrate the love of Christ.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, June 26, 2008 | Reply

  3. Arnau,

    By “felt needs” that we are not uniquely equipped to meet, I am thinking mostly of physical and social problems that socialized government programs pretty much already address, at least from the standpoint of throwing resources at them. As Christians, obviously, we have spiritual resources, as well as some personal and relational resources, that the “world” cannot offer. But, it is not always easy to find people who are ready to openly confront and deal with their deep-seated needs in these areas.

    We are presently finding the greatest response from immigrants that do have some more clearly evident physical and social needs. Also, some ministries have had a significant impact with drug rehabilitation ministries. But, the great majority of mainstream Spaniards are not greatly affected by these ministries.

    In any case, I appreciate your thoughts on this. I think you are entirely on base, and have some important insights worth sharing.

    Comment by David Rogers | Friday, June 27, 2008 | Reply

  4. David, I did misunderstand you then. A question I am asking myself more and more is whether the church shouldn’t be the primary organ through which social help is given to the community? Did the church perhaps make a mistake by giving that privilege to the government? I don’t have an answer, but I think it is an interesting question to discuss.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, June 27, 2008 | Reply

  5. Arnau,

    In answer to your question, in Spain, you have to first ask to whom you are referring when you say “the church.” If you are referring to Evangelicals, I don’t think they have ever had much of a say regarding what the government does or does not do. If you include the Roman Catholic Church, I am not sure they have voluntarily yielded this prerogative to the government. But, in the end, they don’t have a whole lot of choice about it either.

    It does put missions into a different perspective, though, when practically all of the social and physical needs of the people are taken care of by the government. We must necessarily be more creative about how we show the love of God in practical ways to the people around us.

    Comment by David Rogers | Friday, June 27, 2008 | Reply

  6. Ah! The church. What DO we speak of when referring to the church? Another good question!

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, June 27, 2008 | Reply

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