Saturday, June 26, 2010

In Defense of Missional - Why Is this still an important term?

So what is the big deal about "missional"? Why is this term even needed?

The term missional was not coined by marketers trying to sell religious books. While there were forerunners to the missional concept such as Leslie Newbigin and David Bosch, the seminal work that introduced the term was Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. In this work, written by the Gospel and Our Culture Network, the authors were seeking to describe the fundamental sent nature of the church, particularly in light of what the church in North America had become-a vendor of religious goods and services.

The term missional is from the Latin word, missio, which means "sent." From this term we derive the words "missionary" and "missions." While these terms are not translated as such in English Bibles, they could be, for they are roughly equivalent to the generic use of the term apostolos, or apostle, which also means one who is sent. See Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silas (1 Thes. 2:6), and Andronicus and Junias, who were “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom. 16:6). All of the gospels and the book of Acts have versions of the Great Commission, in which the disciples, which represent the church, are sent into the world (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:8; Lk. 24:45-48). John’s gospel particularly brings out the concept of sending.
  • 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn. 20:21)

  • 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt a in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:7-8).

The Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit, and the Son sends us. Thus, mission is rooted in the very nature of God. God is a sending God, and we are a sent people. The authors of Missional Church state this: “’Mission’ is not something the church does, apart of its total program. No, the church’s essense is missional, for the calling and sending action of God forms its identity.” –Missional Church

What are we sent to do? Well, Jesus, of course is our model for mission. And from Jesus’ own words, he came to do at least these three things: 1) seek and save the lost; 2) serve and give his life for others; and 3) proclaim the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God. The church is missional when its life and mission is modeled after the life and mission of Jesus Christ and does these things. There is much more, of course, to being a missional church, but this is a starting point.

So why is this such a necessary concept? Well, for centuries the church failed to see itself as being in a mission context. Under Christendom--where there was a blending of church and state and everyone was viewed to be Christian--churches were not set up aroudn mission. Their structure, budget, etc. was set up to be religious vendors, serving existing Christians. In the 18th century and on, there was a revival of "missions," but this was relegated to reaching the lost overseas.

In 20th century, the number of Christians and church goers began to shrink. With this environment, churches began to market themselves to Christians, seeking to attract more “consumers” (who were already Christian) for their product. Reaching the lost and serving the community was forgotten or relegated to a small sub-section of the church. Meanwhile, America became more and more unchurched.

The writers of Missional Church saw this environment and what the church had begun and wrote this work. They saw the need to “send” people across the street, as the US is now the 5th largest mission field in the world. By using the term missional church they wanted to help reshape people’s imagination from what the church had become—an inward-focused, vendor of religious goods and services to consumeristic Christians—to what God had intended for the church—to be a people whose purpose was to fulfill the mission of God. They write:

'Mission' means 'sending,' and it is the central biblical theme describing the purpose of God's action in history . . . It has taken us decades to realize that mission is not just a program of the church. It defines the church as God's sent people. (p. 4-6)

So why keep the term?

  1. It helps people to check their idea of what church is. It does not exist for itself, but for God’s purposes for the world.

  2. It helps reshape the imagination. There is incredible power in language, which postmodernism has taught us. This term helps people imagine what the church is supposed to be.

  3. It provides an opportunity for teaching. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it provides a teaching moment to share God’s original vision for the church.

  4. It challenges the status quo. People may be comfortable with what their experience of church has been. They may not want anything to change in the church, because the rest of their lives have so much change. But change is absolutely necessary. We now live in a world in which for the first time in modern history we have 6 generations alive at the same time. The amount of information in the world doubles nearly every years. If we are to stay current, we must change. And God’s people have always grown the most when they have gotten outside of their comfort zone—when they are in the desert or facing persecution.

  5. It puts up front and center what the church is called to be—the people of God on mission. By referring to ourselves as a missional church, there should be no ambiguity as to what our central purpose should be. Those who are most excited about mission will get this. Those who are most consumeristic or believe that the church exists to serve itself will be the most resistant.

I recognize that missional church is a conceptual thought, and those that are intuitive, conceptual thinkers will be most drawn to it. Those that are more concrete thinkers will need to have more explanation. But this is good, as it provides a teaching moment. As I give Missional Outreach seminars around the country, I encourage people to use the term, as it is helpful, but to also explain the concept in many different ways. Always, of course, we should point people back to the life and mission of Jesus.

For myself, this is a profound part of my journey. I can remember reading Missional Church in 2000 as a part of, of all things, a congregational ministry class. Having grown up going on mission trips with Let’s Start Talking, it struck me, that this was exactly what the church was supposed to be. That we must see North America as a mission field, and all that we do should focus upon this mission. I know others that were struck by this as well.

Are some people jumping on a missional bandwagon and using the term in ways that they do not understand? Sure. But whether the term itself does or not, missional is a profoundly biblical-theological concept that will stand the test of time. And as for me? Well, I was missional before missional was cool. And as one who has led two churches directly in becoming outward-focused, and as one who gives missional outreach seminars around the country and attend conferences on this around the country, I can say that it is a term that helps reshape the imagination and motivate many people towards mission. It is not the only way to get across the concept, but it is a helpful term.

We absolutely cannot stay with the status quo. Church attendance in the US is 18%-20% and falling. Read my last blog post for additional stats. If we keep people in their comfort zone, we will continue to fail to reach the world for Christ. And our own children will suffer for it.

Go missional!

What do you think are good reasons for using the term missional?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Kingdom of God and the Parable of the Sower

Matthew's gospel has the most extensive teaching on the kingdom of God, which he refers to primarily as the kingdom of (the) heaven(s). The central message of Jesus, of course, was that the kingdom of God, or kingdom of the heaven(s), was near-at hand--all around--in your midst. by using the plural form of heaven, the heavens, Matthew emphasized this nearness (Mt. 3:17). The ancient view of heaven was that there were (at least) three heavens. The 1st heaven is simply the air, the spiritual world that surrounds us. The second heaven is the stars, planets, etc.--the celestial realm. The third heaven is the throne of God, or what we often typically think of as heaven.

Why is repentance linked with the kingdom of the heavens? If God is all around us, if the power and peace of his kingdom is readily available to us, then we need to repent--to change our heart and minds, to open our minds--to his way and this new reality. The kingdom of God is God's rule or reign, and we must repent of trying to rule our own lives, and instead follow God and his ways, and depend upon his power.

If we do not understand this, then we miss most of Matthew's gospel, which is filled with parables and teachings about the kingdom. So now I want to take the parable of the sower. The sower sows seeds, and this seed is the message of the kingdom--that God and his kingdom power is all around us. Note Jesus' explanation of this parable:

18“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown" (Mt. 13:18-23).

1st Group - Some people hear this message about the kingdom, and they don't understand it. How can God be near us? How can he have any real impact upon our lives? They live their lives as if there is no spiritual reality. They do not pray expecting God to do much, if they pray at all. They think that what they achieve is done by their own power, intelligence, and hard work. They live secular lives.

2nd Group - The second group gets excited about the message that God and his kingdom is near. They want to live spiritual lives, dependent upon God. But they are rather shallow--perhaps thinking that God can be manipulated, or prayer works like magic, where God can be forced to do our will by having the right formulas or saying the right words. And when hard times come, they just give up the whole thing.

3rd Group - The third group also gets excited. But they fail to really trust God. They worry about things, rather than depending upon God. They pursue wealth as a means of empowerment, rather than trusting God for their power in daily living. And so, while they may still have an outward belief in this message, they are unfruitful. Nothing comes of it, because their loyalties are divided.

4th Group - The fourth group understands this message of the kingdom and lives by it. They really believe that God and his kingdom are all around. They trust in his power when difficulties arise. They pray fervently and expectantly. They have great understanding. And because of this faith, he produces a crop that is 100 times what is sown. Notice that in this case, God uses the faithful believer in the message to do amazing things.

So my question for you is, which group do you fall into? Do you know and understand the message that the kingdom of the heavens is near? Do you trust in God's presence and power in your life? Or do you trust in your own power? Are you stressed and worried? Or do you trust in God?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some Startling Statisfics on the Decline of Christianity in the US & the Need for Church Planting

Mission Alive has put out the following statistics on population growth, church decline, the fall of Christianity in the US, and the opportunity and need for church planting. Note the following:

Here is the bad news:
  • Between 1990 and 2000 there was a net gain of 4600 churches in the US; however, to simply maintain the pace with population growth a gain
    of 38,800 was needed.
  • Between 80-85% of churches in the US are in numeric decline.
  • From 1990-2001 the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as "Christian" dropped nearly 10%. At that rate, non-Christians will outnumber Christians of any denomination by 2042.
  • Many churches struggle with our changing society and increasingly post-modern culture. Perhaps out of fear, many turn inward and are unable to reach their community with the good news.
Here is some demographic data:
  • The US population is expected to reach 392 million by 2050, up from 300 million in 2006. Most of the increase will be in metropolitan areas. This represents a 31% increase in 42 years.
  • 10 US metro areas grew in excess of 40% in the past decade: metro areas as divergent as Naples, FL., Yuma, AZ, Fayetteville, AR, and Boise, ID.
  • Estimates are that 60% of the population increase in the US in the next 50 years will be among immigrant peoples.
  • By 2050, less than 53 percent will be non-Hispanic White, 16 percent will be Black; 23 percent will be Hispanic; 10 percent will be Asian and Pacific Islander.
Here are the opportunities:
  • American suburban life is changing to be characterized by isolation, individualism, and consumerism, providing both challenges and entree points for the gospel.
  • New churches tend to grow faster than existing churches, have a greater percentage of young people and incorporate people faster than existing churches.
  • Churches less than 15 years old gain 60%-80% of their members from people not attending any worshiping body, while in churches more than 15 years old 80%-90% of new members transfer from other churches.
It is clear from these statistics that Christianity in America is on a dramatic downward trend. Only God can reduce this decline. The influx of immigrants represents both a challenge and an opportunity for us. Legal immigration has been very good for America. In fact, this country was built by immigrants, who came motivated and inspired to life a better way of life. As far as minorities and churches, historically, our fellowship has not done a good job of reaching the non-White population. But immigrants are often very open to new faith, as the rest of their lives are in flux already. This is why groups such as Genesis Alliance, a Latino church planting group that I'm on the board of, are so important. We need to plant many new "minority" churches to reach these growing populations.

It is also clear that predominantly white churches and established churches of all ethnicities are needed to plant churches. The sad fact is, very few churches are growing at all, and those that are are growing through transfer growth. Unfortunately, most churches are satisfied if they merely meet the budget and gain members through transfer growth.

We need to plant many, many new churches, as this is one of the best evangelistic methods there is.

What stands out to you about these statistics?