Monday, January 17, 2011

"Something is Missing in Missional" by Garris Elkins

I recently posted the following on my Facebook wall:

"Missional" is a buzz word in church leadership circles. According to the Book of Acts, is it possible to be 'missional' without a visible demonstration of God's supernatural signs and wonders?”

I asked this rhetorical question with an answer in mind – No, it is not possible to be fully missional without the inclusion of signs, wonders and miracles in our definition.

Some people who read my Facebook posting understood the word “missional” and others were left scratching their heads. I don't blame them for scratching their heads. I still scratch mine from time to time. Church leadership likes new words that describe ancient functions of the Church. The word “missional” most likely migrated out of a seminary setting and has been a topic of discussion and refocus for the church in recent years. It is a good and needed conversation.

A missional definition can end up being rather large depending on where you come from to arrive at your definition. For me, I need something simple.

Missional contains, at its root definition, the word “mission.” This mission, to live out the message of the Kingdom of God upon the earth, is carried by the missionaries of the message - the followers of Christ. The Church is designed to live and function as the incarnated presence of Christ upon the earth. This is the Great Commission.

This kind of ministry is bi-lingual – it speaks the language of God's Kingdom in words that are hopefully understood by the hearers. Missional speech is not wrapped with religious language. Being missional is learning how to contextualize the message of Jesus Christ in a way that the people you want to reach can understand and interact.

Missional language becomes all things to all men. This language is intended to take place outside the walls of the institutional church where it has been held captive and made ineffective. Truly missional Christianity doesn't require people to peel back layers of religious-speak in order to get to the core message of biblical Christianity.

The following excerpts are not exhaustive, but provide elements of a missional definition from some notable teachers in this discussion.

Ed Stetzer said, “I think perhaps the common thread through all the variations “missional” would be the concern that churches have become inward focused and self-concerned and have given up the missionary nature of the Christian and the Church. “Mission” isn’t just a program or something some of us do, but something we are and something we’re all called to do as it reflects the characteristic mission of God.”

Alan Hirsch, another strong voice in this conversation, rightly relates that the Church is incarnational, rather than solely attractional. Attractional models build an event or program and invite the community to come – people are attracted to the Gospel by the event. Incarnational models, on the other hand, go out into the community and become God's ministry in flesh among the people.

Hirsch tells us that we do not have to come to some “sacred space” to see what the incarnated Gospel looks like. The Gospel can be seen at the local supermarket because a believer is standing in the check out line sharing the love of God with someone. Hirsch also teaches that the Church is messianic. Like Christ, we walk into the world without walls of separation. Christ walked right into culture and brought the love and power of God center stage.

Hirsch defines the function of the Church as apostolic, rather than hierarchal. In this apostolic community the ministry structures are not vertical – they are lateral across the board releasing the function of the five equipping gifts listed by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.

I appreciate these men and what they bring to the table. Their study and passion makes me want more. There are many others saying the same thing with the same passion. In this missional conversation I have found places where I have been dulled into insensitivity to the world around me. I have been challenged as a believer by listening to others.

These are not new conversations. I have been leading in the Church for three decades. Missional conversations, with other descriptive labels attached, have surfaced throughout Church history. These needed conversations of our mission are simply rediscovered from time to time to keep us focused on the pure and undiluted essence of the Gospel.

During my growing up years I was part of Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches. I am now part of a church movement (Foursquare) that some would describe with words like, Pentecostal, Spirit-filled or Charismatic. In many ways these defining terms are themselves, outdated. The Kingdom is always expanding and with that expansion our definitions will need to expand. Denominations and ministry affiliations no longer fully define any of us.

My Pentecostal, Spirit-filled or Charismatic orientation is an element I bring to this discussion. All definitions contain elements from our various backgrounds that make up the whole of who we are as human beings.

I write today to those in the missional conversation to say we are missing a critical element in the definition. We are missing the supernatural works of God. If we are truly going to walk in the incarnational ministry of Christ upon the earth, we will need to express His life in its fullness to the world around us. Without the supernatural element demonstrated by Jesus in all four Gospels, that includes signs, wonders and miracles, our missional definition will become incomplete and not fully incarnated.

As we build a missional mindset, create a sense of community, touch those in need and reach out beyond the restrictive walls of our church buildings, we will come into contact with frontiers of darkness. Our ministry models are the vehicles that take us to people in need. Once we arrive at dark frontiers of human and cultural brokenness, these frontiers are only breached by a supernatural demonstration of God's power. Demons and disease don't give way because we have developed a kind and sensitive community in touch with our history. To continue our conversation about what is missional without an expanded definition that is drawn from the purity and fullness of what we read in the Gospels or the Book of Acts, we will be left ministering in a partial definition of what it means to be truly missional.

Missional is doing what Jesus did. He forgave. He restored. He cast out demons. He experienced supernatural encounters. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He confronted religious systems. He ate in people homes. He forgave people caught in sin and pointed them towards their destiny. This is what it means to be fully missional.

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