Keeping the “Mission” in “Missional”
“Missional” has been the buzz-word among evangelical churches for several years now. Many conferences, books, blogs, and even seminary curricula are dedicated to the idea that the church must be missional in order to be relevant today. If you want your book to sell, just insert the word “Missional” in the title.
Broadly speaking, the idea of being missional is to be outward (“extermally”) focused as a church; that is, to move out from behind the walls of the building to impact the surrounding community. This is a vital and important reminder.
Practically though, for many churches, to be “missional” has become synonymous with engaging in projects like tutoring in schools, working at food pantries, or doing any number of noble good deeds. These are worthwhile activities through which the Church should leaven society. However, I must ask, is this the mission for which Jesus trained his 12? I think it falls short to define “missional” in terms of good deeds done for the community.
Jesus’ mission was to usher in the Kingdom of God (not completely – for that will not happen until the end). The Kingdom is “life when God is in charge”. Jesus came preaching and demonstrating the Kingdom of God. For 3 years he taught his 12 to fulfill the mission so they could do so when he left .
In Luke 4 Jesus announced his mission, then immediately launched his ministry by 1) casting out a demon (Luke 4:31-36) 2) healing the sick (Luke 4:38-41) and 3) preaching the good news of the Kingdom (Luke 4:43-44)
After several chapters of watching and helping Jesus do these 3 things, the disciples get their turn. In Luke 9, Jesus sends out the disciples on their first mission, and what does he tell them to do? The same three things they watched him do: preach the gospel, heal the sick, cast out demons. “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.“(Luke 9:1-2) And reading the book of Acts we see the whole church doing a lot of those 3 activities as they fulfill the Great Commission.
I haven’t heard many “missional” speakers/teachers urge us to do those 3 things Jesus told his followers to do. Why not? Have we succumbed to rationalism — reading the Bible with a filter over our eyes which strains out anything that smacks of the supernatural? Is it easier to say “your sins are forgiven” than “rise up and walk”?
I am not suggesting that we eliminate helping the poor from our definition of what it means to be missional. But it is far too narrow (and ineffectual) to define missional primarily in these terms. We also need to reclaim our missional heritage by doing that which only Jesus’ Church can do: preach the Gospel, and demonstrate the Kingdom of God through healing the body and spirit by the power of God. The great moves of God around the globe are marked with many of the signs found in the book of Acts. In order to fulfill the Great Commission we need to equip members of our churches with all the tools God provides.
Next month we will be offering a workshop at our church on how to pray for the sick. I look forward to seeing many followers of Jesus become missional as they fan out into their neighborhoods and workplaces, equipped to demonstrate the love of God through the power of God.