I got to be a part one of my favorite interactions a few days ago. I sat down at Sylvester's Restaurant for a couple of hours with long-time friends and fellow Jesus-followers from CT. I've known each for over 20 years. They are serious about Kingdom stuff. One is a highly experienced worship leader, the other a pastor with a deep heart for intimacy with God. Up until two years ago they didn't share ministry under the same roof, now they do.
They wanted to get together to have a conversation because God has been putting a dangerous fire in their hearts (first in the worship guy), for a number of months. He is summoning them to transform a conservative, traditional, denominational, "this is the way we've always done it, and we're just fine - thank you very much" New England, small town church into a missional movement with a vision to love and serve their community that they might open young and old to the Gospel. Now that's a sentence, boys and girls!
Because I left a ministry of 20 years in CT at age 59 to plant imagine/Northampton, I've some street cred with them. I took a big risk to do this and have learned a few things even though there is much still to learn. I've also studied what it means to be missional in the DNA of a church, and am in the midst of trying to make it happen here.
As I talked with them, answering their questions, offering my experience and challenging them to trust God, it became exquisitely clear I'm utterly convinced being missional is at the center of being the church. We are here for "them" as much as we are here for us already gathered. The phrase "missional church" should be recognized as a redundancy: the church is a missionary, a missional Kingdom enterprise by definition.
Here is why:
1. Since the rebellion in heaven God has been on a mission to redeem all Creation. The Spirit works through the local church to make it so, one person at a time all over the world.
2. Jesus sent the disciples out with the command to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." At the heart of the church was the mandate to go to the world.
3. The missionary impetus and movement has continued in one form or another throughout the world up to this day. The Church never just dried up and blew away, even in the bleakest of times. It will continue on its redemptive trajectory until the return of Christ at the end of the Age.
4. The will of God has never been for us to settle into a passive relationship with our communities i.e., our doors are open on Sunday. We have a sign and a website telling people we're here. If people around us want to come to church we're not stopping them. Right . . .
5. The missional mandate is: we are here as much for people outside our walls as within them. The church is not ours to keep for ourselves. Our loyalty should not be merely to our local church or pastor, but to God who puts every church in communities where "strangers and aliens" may come to know him. Yes, we are to love each other madly within the church, but because love must be given away to truly be love, we are gathered to give God's love to our communities as a result of the love God has for us and we have for one another. If we keep it to ourselves it will putrefy over time, full of self-protection and self-serving rigidity.
6. Being missional keeps the church alive and relevant to the lives of people far from it. Because the missional church learns the history, culture, values and demographics of the community in which it lives, it can speak its language and serve its people in a way that wins trust. Walls and barriers get broken down because relationships are built. The church is valued because it makes a difference adds repeatedly to the common good.
7. Being missional is prime for unleashing creativity because it is challenging to make the Gospel come alive in the larger community. There is no common language between the two so the church must find fresh ways of speaking clearly to people who have no frame of reference. Therefore, the missional church must create welcoming environments for its artists and musicians to foster exploration and innovation. Through the arts bridges are built.
8. Being missional helps us get into the mess of people's lives rather than keeping ourselves spiritually distant and "clean." Jesus went into the muck and mire of broken people's lives. He was not turned away by the vulgarity of sin. He didn't adopt an "I don't wanna know," attitude. We need to be deep in the lives of people whose language is raw, their addictions have mastered them, their values are foreign, their relationships are entangled in a cycle of using and being used, their sexual morality is unbiblical and they don't like us much. We need to humble ourselves and have our hearts broken for people who have settled for so little.
9. Being a missional church will mean we have the opportunity to break free of our cherished culture of individuality. I am free to pursue who I want to be and "ain't nobody's business if I do". The American Dream is mine for the taking. I want the good life while on earth with plenty of money, creature comforts and the freedom to come and go as I please. Oh yeah, then I want to go to heaven where the real party is. Being missional means we live in true community with one another in the church and with our neighbors. Our strongest ethic becomes giving and sharing what we have for the blessing of all, not "I got mine" and "you can have what I don't want anymore."
10, Finally being missional will send us close to Jesus who is alive and well in the world around us, and in our midst. His values and interests will gradually transform ours. We will learn to shoulder a cross for him and learn to be where he is in our communities. We will go there as a way of life. We will learn intimacy through prayer and intimacy through sacrificial service. Jesus will be our deepest longing, our enduring love and our greatest pleasure.
If all goes well it will be said of us that we "loved God with all our hearts and with all our souls, and with all our minds, and with all our strength. In turn, it will be said of us we also "loved our neighbors as ourselves."
Why would we not want that?