As fads go, the current fad in the church of being “missional” isn’t a bad fad to have. I, for one, would love to see the missional fad stick around for awhile. Of course, that desire depends a great deal on what one means by being missional.
I my understanding and use of the word, missional means to be oriented toward mission and active in bringing the Good News of Jesus to people who do not know or trust in Him. Missional strongly implies that the church can’t do all that Christ has called us to do by keeping His gifts to ourselves. Instead, we must take His gifts to the people with whom He has placed us in our workplaces, families, neighborhoods, schools, moms’ groups, etc. and we must invite those people to experience His gifts where they are shared from the pulpits and at the altars of our congregations.
That’s what I mean when I say that I am missional and I believe that it is what other Lutherans mean when they use the term. This is the sense of being missional that I used as the basis for developing the LASSIE framework for witnessing during my fifteen years of parish ministry and church planting in Florida.
I recognized that the culture of the community that I served was pluralistic and postmodern. Using traditional evangelism approaches to reach new people didn’t seem to be working very well. We needed a way of evangelizing that would lead to sharing God’s Word in a manner that people outside of the church found engaging. LASSIE – Listen, Ask, Seek, Share, Invite, Encourage – provided that approach.
It was being missional prior to the fad of missional. I guess that I was missional before missional was cool.
Unfortunately, as with many good fads, there are people who have hijacked the word missional and made it into something that works against its original intent. Instead of engaging people outside of the church in order to speak God’s Word with them and invite them to into the fellowship of the Word and Sacrament ministry of our congregations, they are focused on forming communities outside of the church and offering something other than the gifts that Christ gives through His church.
They start well (and I believe, for the most part, well intentioned), but they fail to bring to people and bring people to the Means of Grace – the only thing that can change their hearts, forgive their sin, and bring them life and salvation. They’ve replaced being genuinely missional with forming “missional communities.”
The proponents of “missional communities” often contend that Jesus formed “missional communities” in His earthly ministry. On the surface, they seem to have a strong case. Jesus did engage people who were “outside of the church.” He frequently connected with them in creative ways that considered where they were at and what worldview they held. He addressed their non-spiritual needs and He broke social taboos to fellowship with people whom polite society had marginalized.
But Jesus never stopped at forming a “missional community.” He knew that His mission to “seek and to save the lost” required Him to speak God’s Word to the people with whom He connected. When He did, some remained in fellowship with Him. But many did not.
Jesus wasn’t committed to “missional communities,” He was truly missional. I guess that means that Jesus was missional before missional was cool.
Fads come and go in the church. The current missional fad is something that we should make good use of in our labors to bring the Gospel to those who are perishing outside of the church. Time is short and our world is fleeting.
I ’m sure that the missional fad and the “missional community movement” will soon give way to the next great thing in and for the church. There are even people committed to the “missional movement” who are predicting that it cannot last long (e.g., Mike Breen’s article “Why the Missional Movement Will Fail” posted on numerous web sites). When being missional inevitably goes the way of all church fads, I hope that we will seize the opportunity to be faithfully missional after it was cool.
Questions to consider:
- Why do fads, like being missional, come and go in the church? How are they helpful? Harmful?
- What would being missional look like in my daily life? How does my actual daily life compare to that?
- Why isn’t it enough to show people the love and compassion of Jesus through living in “missional community” with them? (Consider Romans 10:17)
- When and how have I responded to Christ’s call to be His witness by caring for people without sharing God’s Word with them? What have I learned from those experiences?