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.


Mike Jones said...

Good thoughts. To me its about a way of life, not just a set of things to DO in life. Its BEING the body of Christ.

Scott Boren said...

Mike, Totally agree. I wish more had this POV>