Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fighting Fires & Following Jesus

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." —Luke 9:23-26


My father was a fireman for 32 years in the Dallas suburb of Garland. When he arrived home after his 24-hour shift, I’d ask what went on at work. Did he go and save the day? He’d often respond with something like, “Well, we chased the ambulance on a few calls.” (Firemen would follow the ambulances to assist on many cases.) Or he’d briefly talk about a small house fire or a car accident. On most occasions, he’d say that they didn’t have any runs at all, that they had a few inspections, performed some drills, or did some maintenance work on the fire equipment. As a kid this seemed rather mundane. 
Then there was the day when I was ten when my Dad made the news. He had walked into a burning house and scooped up a child from a crib and carried him to safety. On that day, my chest stuck out because my Dad had grown about six inches. He was a hero.

The conversation when he got home is burned into my memory. I asked, “What was it like to save a life?” He responded, “There were eight other firemen at the fire who would have done the same thing. That was just the room I was tasked to check. It’s just what we do.”

This was not at all what I expected him to say. I was looking for some kind of exposition on what it felt like to save a life and be the hero. But without any thought or reflection, he simply conveyed, “It’s just who I am.” Having his name in the paper or mentioned in the news meant nothing.

As ten-year-old boy, I did not get the significance of his words. While my chest remained puffed out, I must admit that it has taken me a few decades to understand his response. I was looking at firefighting with an eye to the spectacular. I only saw the action in the heat of the moment. In rides the firefighters to save the day, performing heroic activities to get the job done.

My Dad’s point of view was radically different. He saw firefighting as a way of being. His action sprung out of his core. His heart, will, and mind had been formed (discipled) in such a way that he performed the actions as required by the situation. There were a myriad of firefighting practices that had shaped his way of being so that firefighting actions became second nature. To me these second nature actions were spectacular. To him they were woven into his way living.

He didn’t just fight fires.

He was a firefighter.

The difference is subtle, but monumental.


When we think about following Jesus, we often think in terms of what we are supposed to do or not do. We look at the externals, which of course causes us to look at the spectacular. The spectacular comes in two forms. There are spectacular things that we are to avoid that Jesus' followers are not supposed to do; the moral stuff that good Christians don't do. And there are spectacular things that great Jesus followers do, radical stuff like mission trips, quitting your job to go into full-time ministry, working in ministries to the under-resourced, or praying and receiving a miracle for someone's healing.

But most of what it means to follow Jesus is NOT spectacular. Serving your spouse at cost to yourself will not get you any attention. Praying for your neighbor who is depressed won't make any headlines. Leading a small group won't raise any eyebrows. No one wants to hear about how you read the Bible and prayed this morning. We could add to this list all day long.

Almost all of my dad's job as a firefighter was unspectacular. After learning more about it, I discovered how he practiced his job every shift, doing the behind-the-scenes work so that when called upon, he would be able to respond without even thinking about it.

That's discipleship.

Without the mundane, without the unremarkable formation by the Spirit that occurs in ways that no one sees, we won't be ready for the radical when it's time.

Photo Credit: Use Aerial Fire Truck from MyStockPhoto.com

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Small Groups as Christ's Outposts

"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:17-18).

When Jesus spoke these words about how the church would operate, he was reshaping the Jewish picture of what it meant to participate as the people of God. They were looking for a conquering King; he was giving them his presence, which would change how they related to others. N. T. Wright explains, “Jesus ... apparently envisaged that, scattered about Palestine, there would be small groups of people loyal to himself, who would get together to encourage one another, and would act as members of a family, sharing some sort of common life and, in particular, exercising mutual forgiveness.” These scattered small groups would act as kingdom outposts that embodied his presence after his ascension.

Religion
Later in the development of the church, Paul clearly defines these outposts. I Corinthians 12 highlights how the body works. At the end of sixteen verses that reference the word “body” fifteen times, Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (vs. 27). Much ink has been spilled on the nature of the body, how the gifts should work, and the mutual interdependence upon the parts of the body on one another. “Paul’s basic concern was to restore the sense of unity in the Corinthian congregation by restoring the sense of interdependence among the believers. And this restoration required a true sense of their mutual relation to Christ.” To be the body of Christ is to act as a mutually interdependent group under the headship of Christ.

To be mutually related to Christ is to be mutually related to the anointed Messiah. The Greek word christos means Messiah in Hebrew. Many people miss this point as they mistakenly read Christ as a title representing Jesus’ divinity, or even his surname. A first century reader of the Old Testament would have understood that christos means Messiah, the Jewish royal leader who would drive out God’s enemies and restore God’s presence on the earth. Paul’s audience included both Jews and Gentiles, and he was trying to help individuals in these ethnically diverse churches realize that they are mutually interconnected to one another through the life of the Jewish Messiah.

Immediately after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God, Peter revealed his ignorance about what it meant to be the Jewish Messiah. Jesus told them he would suffer and die. Peter failed to remain silent and allow Jesus to reveal himself. Peter interjected his idea of the Messiah and Jesus rebuked him. Jesus, as “the image of the invisible God,” does not manifest the kind of God one would expect. As “the radiance of God’s glory” (Hebrews 1:3), he surprised Peter with a different definition of what God looks like.

Jesus is our picture of God. It was scandalous to even think about God becoming a man, but it was immensely more scandalous for God to come as a suffering servant. Bonhoeffer writes, “The offense of Jesus Christ is not his incarnation—that indeed is revelation—but his humiliation.” Jesus demonstrated a kind of glory that does not look like glory to us. His power came not as a conquering king, but as a lowly king of love, a suffering servant, one who gave up his life so that others might have life.

While we are thankful for our salvation because of Christ’s humiliation, we often miss the crucial fact that Jesus manifested the nature of God through his humiliation. He showed us the true way to love and to live through the passion of the cross. He taught us true power through vulnerability. He revealed how authority is not controlling, but gives freedom for the other person to respond or reject it. As the head of the church today, Jesus is still living the same way, his nature unchanged. He is not seeking to establish the church as a gloried authority on the earth. He was the suffering servant, and he still is through his presence in the church. As the head of his body, Christ is leading the church to operate in the same humiliating way that he operated.

To be the body of Christ is to function as the mutually interdependent body that expresses the same character that Christ demonstrated on the cross, “in service to God and for the benefit of others.” Immediately before facing death on the cross, Jesus instructed his disciples with this: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).

This is the way that small groups become Christ's outpost today. This is our call in the world. Is your group living up to this call? What stands in the way? What has helped you enter into it?

We cannot settle for less.

Adapted from The Relational Way, pages 52-53

Monday, July 28, 2014

Missional Church & Church Growth

In my first semester of seminary—in Texas—I took church growth evangelism with Calvin Miller. Honestly I was in awe of him, his poetic prowess, his way of turning a phrase, and his wisdom after 30 years of pastoring. It was the early 90s so we were reading stuff by George Barna and talked a ton about the demise of the church and what could be done to turn it around.

During that time, I also visited a ton of churches. The homogeneous unit principle was in full force. Church marketing was taking off. I remember one church who tried to set itself apart by saying they were "innovative."
Religion
A few years later, I finished my masters degree at Regent College—in Vancouver, Canada—and while there I took a class with Eugene Peterson. Again I was in awe of his poetic prowess, his way of turning a phrase, and the fact that he had been a pastor for 30 years. He shared in one class about his concerns about church growth thinking. He told us that he did not want to pastor a church where he could not know everyone's name.

Two of the wisest pastor's of the last 50 years. From one I was introduced to church growth theory. From the other, I learned to question it.

That was the 1990s. Today the conversation has shifted away from church growth theories to "missional." However, church growth thinking has not gone away. There is an ongoing—though often unrecognized—conversation going on between church growth thinking and missional thinking. IN fact, the relationship between the missional church and church growth reflects tension I experienced with my two professors.

Let me explain.

Many actually come very close to equating missional with church growth. Recently I read a book on church staffing which basically laid out a plan for developing a "missional" staff, but the premise of the book was squarely shaped by church growth presuppositions. In other words, God's mission in the world is to grow the local church numerically. As the church grows with new converts, then God's mission is accomplished. If you staff your church according to the advice they give, your church will grow and you will accomplish God's mission.

On the other side, there are 'missional' voices who challenge this mindset. They focus not on getting people involved in the church organization but on mobilizing God's people for mission in the world. They are not as concerned about evangelism and the growth of the local church as they are about the redemptive life of God in daily life.

Often the two side lob polemical arguments against one another. The church growth guys assume that the missional peeps don't care about evangelism and enfolding people into the church. And the missional guys assume that the church growth mindset only cares about building big churches.

Could it be that both Calvin Miller and Eugene Peterson both had something to contribute to my understanding back in the 1990s? And could it be that both church growth view of missional and the anti-church growth view of missional have something to contribute to the conversation today?

I've sat on both sides of the conversation through the years. As I reflect on my journey here's what I'd say to myself.

To My Church Growth Way of Thinking:
  • Don't limit God's mission to the numerical growth of your church. God's mission extends beyond growing the church. And it is far bigger than your church.
  • The focus must lie on participating with God in what God is doing in the world, not on you following the right kind of formula to grow your church. This is God's thing. Slow down and follow God's rhythms. You might be able to produce results by working harder and longer, but God has called you to himself first and foremost. Participate in God and God's mission will flow out of that.
  • Raise the bar of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Don't make salvation about praying a prayer so people can go to heaven when they die. 

To My Missional Way of Thinking:
  • People need to hear about Jesus and to have an opportunity to enter into life with Him. Don't shy away from giving people the opportunity to enter the Kingdom.
  • Gathering people in large groups is not necessarily a bad thing. Don't be growth resistant just because you see weaknesses in the church growth patterns. God wants all to be saved which would mean that growth would be the natural result. You just might have to figure out new ways to grow.
  • Don't discount the church growth teachers just because you disagree with them. You might see things differently, but they did not get everything wrong. As if you've gotten it all right.
 I would say much more, but that's enough of my conversation with myself.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Cross—The New (Old) Scorecard for Church Leadership

As I survey the landscape of church leadership training—including that which comes from a "missional" perspective, I get concerned about how the focus seems to center around the need to experience some degree of success in church life. By "success" I am not referring to it as an antonym of "failure", which is how we typically view success. I am not espousing some kind of church victim mentality where we revel in failure. Instead, I'm referring to success that we achieve through a form of triumphalism, the kind that comes when we take control and we make things happen for God. The kind that comes when we put the mission of God on our own shoulders so that we can avoid suffering, pain, and deep questions that stir our souls. It's a subtle lie, one that arises when we talk about grace when we preach, but the rest of church is something we as leaders assume is our responsibility so that we can make church work.

The only remedy to this kind of triumphalistic control is the journey we take with Jesus on the way to the cross. The "theology of the cross" was contrasted with the "theology of glory" by Luther. Modern theologians like John Douglas Hall, Jurgen Moltmann and Greg Boyd write of it. And the Apostles Paul and John put the cross front and center. 

“For Paul, Christian identity was determined by the cross, and the cross will inevitably mean a rejection of some culture elements and the purification of others.”[1] This sentence rightly points out the centrality of the cross for how Paul interpreted and taught theology and how he practiced ministry in the local contexts of the churches he started. The cross is the measuring stick against which all aspects of how truth and ministry are evaluated. While the conversation between Gospel and culture is fluid and makes room for adaptation, the cross is the anchor which ties the church and the Gospel to the revelation of Jesus Christ.

In other words, the cross is the "new scorecard" for the church and God's mission in the world. We are not primarily measuring "impact." We are not first trying to measure our ability to transform the culture. Those are secondary measurements. Everything that we do, all of our measurements—whether they are measurements of attendance on Sunday, how we close "the back door", or they way we impact our neighborhoods—must first go through the scorecard of the cross.

In reflecting on 1 Cor 1:22-24 the New Testament scholar, Nissan, “Religious egocentricity will inevitably find Christ crucified a scandal, for in the cross God does the opposite of what he is expected to do; the intellectual egocentricity of wisdom-seeking Gentiles finds the same theme, folly, because incarnation, crystallized in crucifixion, means not that man has speculated his way up to God but that God has come down to man where man is.”[2] From this passage we can conclude that Paul sees the cross is not just part of the message. It is the core of the message. The cross is the defining element of what it means for the church to be a “sign, witness, and foretaste” of the divine reign of God.
Landscapes & Nature
To say it another way, let’s look at the theme of agape love. Paul called the church to live in love as a way of being God’s people (1 Cor 13). In Colossians, after listing various virtues, it reads, “Over all these virtues put on love, which beings them all together in perfect unity.” However, love is an abstract concept for Paul. John held up the paradigm of love in his first letter, but he advanced it further, moving it from an abstract list of characteristics to the story of Jesus. Agape love looks like Jesus hanging on the cross, giving up his life for his enemies (1 John 3:16). The cross defines how we are to live in love.

Much has been written about the incarnational nature of the missional church. The incarnation is used as a contrast to the church being “attractional”. It is said that traditional forms of the church attract and then extract people out of the culture in such a way that it disembodies the church. And while there is merit to this argument, the answer provided by a theology of incarnation is most often incomplete. Basically, the common view of the incarnation could be labeled as “embodiment,” where the church is called to embody the Gospel in the midst of the world reflecting the character and compassion of Jesus. Mission gets turned into a very intense form of WWJD Christianity. We become the agents of the mission as we try to replicate the life of Jesus. We remain in control. We do what we are supposed to do in order to produce the right results. This is a veiled form of triumphalism because "we" become the focus.

When talking about the incarnational life of the church, some refer to the “powerlessness” demonstrated by the Jesus, but it is only one descriptor amongst others.[4] The cross is not one part of the the incarnation. The cross is the climax of the incarnation. It is the ultimate revelation of the character of God. When "powerlessness" is one of the characteristics alongside others, participating in the sufferings of Christ is not primary. It is too easy for us leaders to seek—like James and John—to sit at the right and left of Jesus. We want to be in the seats of power when Jesus demonstrates to the world that he is God.

From a biblical theology point of view the climax of the incarnation is the cross. They way that God shows the world what God is like is through the cross. This can be illustrated from the theology of Luke for instance where there is a clear shift at the end of Luke 9 where Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. The rest of the narrative is a pilgrimage toward the cross. Other examples could be given to support this claim, but it is beyond the scope of this short essay—which keeps getting longer. The cross is the grid through which we can rightly see the nature of God. The cross reveals the nature of God’s love for us. The cross is the defining element that sets Christianity apart from every other religion.

The missio dei is the way of the Triune God who is at work in the world. The church is called to participate in this life of the Trinity—as opposed to merely imitating the life of Christ as the church “pulls itself up by the bootstraps and seeks to make something happen that looks like Jesus.” But what exactly does this participation in the Trinity look like? While there are many facets to this, we must say that participating in God’s Triune mission involves participating in the way of the cross. As much as we would like to avoid it, the way of the cross is the way to the resurrection. We don’t get to embrace a theology of glory and enter into some kind of triumphal mission by trying to bi-pass the cross.

But this is exactly what a ton of church leadership (and missional leadership) literature promises. We are offered methods and models that will reform and resuscitate the church and move the church into a new future of success. The clamoring for triumphal success is causing us to miss the formation that God has for his church in the midst of the journey to the cross. God is shaping the church on the way toward the cross to embrace the cross so that we might be a people of the cross. This goes beyond the fact that we are saved by the cross. The church is the church as it enters into its context and embraces the suffering of the context. Bonhoeffer wrote in his comments on “Blessed are those who mourn”: “As bearers of suffering, they stand in communion with the Crucified. They stand as strangers in the power of him who was so alien to the world that it crucified him.”[5] They way of Jesus, the way of the Trinity, and the way that the Spirit moves today through the church and in the world is through the cross.


[1] Johannes Nissan, New Testament and Mission: Historical and Hermeneutical Perspectives, Fourth Edition (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2007), 108.
[2] Ibid, 109.
[3] Craig Van Gelder and Dwight J. Zscheile, The Missional Church in Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 110.
[4] See for instance, Alan Hirsch and Debra Hirsch, Untamed (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), 241ff.
[5] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship trans. By Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 104.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Way of Jesus

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." —John 14:6

I’m a fan of adventure stories, my favorites being those of J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Whether reading the books or watching the movies, I cannot get enough of this grand story. In the opening chapter of The Hobbit, we are introduced to the primary character, Bilbo Baggins, a self-proclaimed risk-avoider who does not go on adventures. In fact, he prides himself on staying to himself, not bothering other hobbits, and living in mediocrity. Bilbo could have written an enlightening book on the art of living a quiet, safe life, one that has very little conflict. The story opens:

“This hobbit was a very well to do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighborhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, no only because most of them were rich but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected; you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbors’ respect, but he gained—well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.”


Flowers & TreesFor most of my years of reading the Bible, I interpreted "the way of Jesus" as a destination. Jesus was someone to be acknowledged and attained. Jesus was a doctrine to be grasped, a theological truth to be controlled. In other words, Jesus was method for me to be right and others to be wrong, so that I could live the safe life.

The Hobbit offers an alternative view of the way of Jesus. It is a tale about Bilbo’s reluctant adventure with a small group of companions to take back stolen treasures from a fire-breathing dragon. Adventures are adventures because they are full of ups and does, struggles and victories, failures and pressing through failures. This adventure takes them through a wooded forest where they are bound by large spiders, captured by three huge trolls, imprisoned for trespassing, and almost drowned as they float down a river. And all of this occurred before they even get anywhere close to the dragon!

Adventures like The Hobbit teach us about Jesus' way. For me, and many like me, we begin following Jesus with assumptions that resemble the life Bilbo led at the beginning of the book, one that is defined by predictable outcomes, minimal risk, and getting results without having to give up the safe life. This is reinforced by the common life of our cultures. In our world, the goal is to get to a place in life where you can settle down and not take any adventures, to do what is expected and be respectable, which usually means “keep to yourself.” In other words, keep to an even plain, no ups and no downs. Stick to your predictable routine and all will be well. 

But this usually comes with strings attached, like isolation, the absence of belly laughing, and the joy of accomplishing something. Of course you don’t have to worry much about things like allowing others to hurt you, or deep sadness or the pain of failure. But neither do you get to experience things like helping people experience victory of pain, the freedom to be yourself when you feel loved, and the safety that comes with being with a good friend.

The way of Jesus is a way of adventure, not one of safety and comfort. It’s full of risk, challenges, and threats. It’s full of hard-fought battles that lead to celebrations of victory. The way of Jesus is a journey, not a destination.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Leading Great Small Group Meetings

Small group meetings are important. If you don't do meetings that well, then people will not want to explore life together outside the group. However, if we don't have much life interaction outside the meeting, how good can the meetings actually be?

It's a chicken and egg thing. Good group meetings can lead to life together. And life together generates good group meetings.

Business & Finance
In order to have great small groups the goal cannot be to have a great group meeting. As soon as we put the success of a group meeting in the cross hair, then we will miss one another. The point of it all is to love one another. We have great meetings to the extent that we see the other persons, when we encounter them in truth, and when we serve the other. Great group meeting occur when we turn our faces to one another and we experience the other.

When we value the success of the group meeting over the people in the meeting, then we fail. It's a paradox. We actually have a great group experience when we don't focus on having a great group experience.

So here are a few things that you can practice as a leader in order to focus beyond having a great group meeting:
  1. Pray for every group member. Ask the Lord to give you compassion for them and to open your eyes to see them. This will help you get your eyes off of yourself and your leadership.
  2. Prepare the lesson the night before. Don't wait until the last minute. You want your mind to be clear so that you can focus on the people, not on the lesson.
  3. Listen to what people are not saying as much as to what they are saying. Posture, tone of voice, and eye contact reveal crucial things about what's going on in our lives.
  4. Enlist someone to help you lead the meeting. Don't take on all of the pressure to do everything. Ask someone to lead the ice breaker or to lead worship. Yes you probably can do it all, but your primary job is to focus on the people, not to do all the parts of the meeting correctly.
  5. Remember that silence is actually an asset. Give space for people to reflect, to listen to God, and to form their words. If all of the time is filled with words, you may have an energetic meeting, but you may miss what God wants to do.
Jean Vanier writes, "A community is only truly a body when the majority of its members is making the transition from 'the community for myself' to 'myself for the community,' when each person's heart is opening to all the others, without any exception. This is the movement from egoism to love, from death to resurrection; it is the Easter, a passage, the passover of the Lord. It is also the passing from a land of slavery to a promised land, and the land of inner freedom" (Community and Growth, 55-56).

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Missional Church & Personal Evangelism

I've read a ton on the topic of "missional." I read just about everything that mentions the word. A few years ago I picked up a book entitled The Attractional Church. Since I interviewed the author for my first magazine article back in 1996, I was interested in what he had to say. Surprisingly, I found comments about missional in a book on attractional. The author wrote:

"Being 'missional' is an individual responsibility—each of us must accept the responsibility to share Christ with others in any given situation.
      "Being 'incarnational' is an individual responsibility—our transformation into the image of Christ by the renewing of our minds cannot be dictated from the pulpit but must come as a desire from within. Biblical instruction is necessary here.
      "Being 'attractional' is a corporate responsibility—the leadership of the local church has the responsibility to present Christ and His Kingdom as perfectly as possible the way it is revealed in scripture. It also must encourage and train its members to live as "sent ones," (living missionally) and to be like Christ (incarnational) to the lost world around them."

Now I have a great deal of respect for Billy Hornsby, the author of these words and the life of integrity and Godly service that he lived. At the same time, these words illustrate how the word "missional" can be used to mean something like "personal evangelism."

The Church Photo Photo Named Beautiful DoorsWith this understanding of missional, it's the job of the church to get individuals in the doors and then send them out the doors to be missionaries in their daily lives so that they can bring more people back through the doors. I've even heard some say that if a church has 200 people, then they have 200 missionaries who can go out and incarnate the Gospel in their daily lives. And while on one level this is true, we don't really need a word like "missional" to talk about this because we have been teaching personal evangelism practices in the church for decades.

If you have read much about the missional church, you might wonder why even mention the above quote. After all it does not demonstrate much interaction with the rich literature on the topic. At the same time, I don't find that many pastors have much time to interact with the literature either. Therefore, it is too common to find church leaders whose views on "missional" come close to reflecting the sentiments above. When we say the word "missional" in an average church, it would be quite common for people to imagine something that resembles traditional "personal evangelism." They see it as a new word for an old thing.

And of course, with any topic there can be a variety of perspectives. Much like the doctrines of the atonement or justification for example, there are different ways that people talk about missional. However, there is a difference. When theologians talk about the atonement or justification—most people have some idea that there are different ways that other theologians and pastors teach them.  In contrast, when it comes to the topic of "missional" the differences is less than obvious.

So while no one can say that missional can't be used to talk about personal evangelism, at the same time, words are important. They help us think. They help us communicate. And they help us live. If all that is mean by "missional" is personal evangelism, then we must ask ourselves:
  • Are we thinking well?
  • Does this point of view keep us from communicating well?
  • Does it help us live into what God has for the us?
Here are a few things to consider:

First of all, the underlying paradigm of personal evangelism is thoroughly shaped by an individualistic. The focus is on empowering individuals in the church, which becomes the provider of equipping for individuals to go and do something out in the world. On the surface this might sound correct and many over the years have taken this approach, calling the church an equipping center for sending out individuals for ministry. But this just keeps the church mired in the quagmire of being a provider of spiritual goods and services. It just so happens that the good and service provided here are called "training."And it requires individual Christians to go out and be "missionaries" in isolation.

Secondly, a view of "missional as personal evangelism" fails to understand the biblical theme of "election," the calling of a people, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9) to live in contrasting ways from the dominant culture in which it finds itself. Instead of allowing individualism to shape mission, we need to see how the church is called to demonstrate an alternative way of living in community, which in itself becomes a "sign, witness and foretaste" of God's beautiful kingdom. This way of being the church becomes a demonstration of God's mission in the world.

Finally, "missional as personal evangelism" assumes that the way the church impacts society is to grow the church. Individual missionaries go out in order to bring people with them back to church so that the church or small groups can grow. The more the church grows, the more the kingdom expands. This view of the church feels a bit like a fort and we are the missionary soldiers to go out to recruit for our cause, the success of "my" church.

While personal evangelism—done well—is a good thing, we must refrain from equating it with a missional imagination. Yes we are all missionaries in our workplace, in our homes, on our streets. That's a good thing. We need to be equipped and trained to be such. But the church is missional in its very nature. This is not so much about what the church does, as much as who the church is. The church, in very nature, is the body of Christ, an organic living being, enlivened by the Spirit who is sent into the world to redeem everything. The church gets to participate in what the Spirit is doing.
  • We are "in" Chirst.
  • We are "chosen" by the Father to be a light, a city on a hill.
  • We are "empowered" by the Holy Spirit.
To be a missional church is to participate in this life of God's Triune redemption of all of creation.

Personal evangelism is part of this, but far from all of it. "Missional" is about learning to dance the dance of the Trinity who is at work in the world to bring forth the beauty of Jesus in a land of death and destruction. The missional church is no mere fortress that sends out soldiers to bring back willing recruits. The missional church is a way of being that penetrates the ugliness of our world with beauty.