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:
Arnau van Wyngaard
Cobus Van Wyngaard
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This is a blog where I would like to share some of my ideas about contemporary mission. I have more than 25 years experience as a full-time missionary in Swaziland, have done a PhD on the theology of mission – specifically on the relationship between mission and eschatology – and am presently specialising in the problem of HIV/AIDS and how the church should approach this problem. You are welcome to respond and share your ideas on this blog.
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