TOWARDS AN UNDERSTANDING OF MISSIONAL LIVING

missional-lifeTraditionally the Christian sub-culture has focused on removing the Christian (albeit  kicking and screaming) from the wicked influence of the world. This is done  in order to harness and use his/her talent to enable said church to be more attractive to the world outside from which it seeks to draw others. All this is done however while such Christians remain firmly grounded in Church events and services which bring them largely into contact with their own kind. Hence the emergence of a deeply entrenched inwardly focused maintenance culture, now called the evangelical church.

There is a now a fresh breath sweeping God’s church in several parts of the world where  many Christians are revisiting their role and place in the world. As several revivalist and reformation movements emerge with emphases on God’s restoration of prophets and apostles to the church; and as several arguments are used to shoot down such ideas and even as there are attempts by some to place a heavy emphasis on the emergence of five-fold ministries (the church’s governance by Apostle, Prophet, Pastor, Teacher, Evangelist) there has been another subtle but not so quiet shift taking place in several circles of the church. I’m not ashamed to admit that  my heart has been awakened by this new but quite old idea for Church. Simply put it’s the realisation that the Church is not called to itself but to the world.

As the Church we have become significantly distracted by movements which  have focused significantly on us; our gifts, our roles, our titles, our needs. While there is  no argument with scripture about the graces given to the church of apostle, prophet, pastor-teacher and evangelist it is necessary that we understand that the apostolic revelation of the Church has always been with us; if not the Church would have ceased to exist. What we should perhaps seek to understand more keenly, is the reality that the Church has moved too far away from a new testament communal governance which focused on a team approach or eldership of workers, to a paradigm with an overt-emphasis on Pastoral responsibility in a heavily hierarchical structure. An attempt to shift the dominant-pastor-paradigm to an equally  dominant Apostolic hierarchy is still basically out of whack with scripture.

What has emerged therefore are intra  and and inter-church arguments about who is right while we miss the boat of a lost and dying world. While Ministers struggle with whether they should be addressed as “Pastor” or “Apostle” or about whether on not a church “flows under an apostolic anointing”, the world is basically clueless about the God we serve. We’ve basically become so obsessed with organizing church to meet our own needs for positions and titledom that we’ve forgotten why we are the church. Hence our re-focus on our place and role in the world.

So, in the midst of this theological and interpretational quandary happily walks a missional movement. The missional church has been described as ” a reproducing community of authentic disciples being equipped as missionaries and sent by God to live and proclaim His kingdom in their world” What is worthy of note about the rising emphasis on missional living and the missional church, is God’s stirring of the hearts of men and women away from modernist ideas of a tightly structured Church; away from a self-focussed, consumerist vision of church as a place to meet with God to have needs met, to the idea of church as a lived 24/7/365 experience which must be focused outward; away from the Christian. He has been moving His people towards an understanding that Church is neither an event nor a monumented or edificed place. Rather it is a community which must represent Christ in the earth in all spheres of life and culture as opposed to a Sunday-morning-Sunday-night-Wednesday-prayer-meeting-conference-convention-event-focused entity.

Now back to beginnings; the church emerged because a loyal, obedient group who followed Christ was sent by Him into the same world for which He died. What we learn about God in the scriptures of both the old and new testaments is the narrative of God’s focus on the world; God’s love for the world and God’s pulling of the world to himself, not from a superior distance but from a very active lived presence. Throughout time and history man’s struggles and falls have always been on account of his running away from the benevolent God of love; his desire to strike out on his own and make it on his own terms. This has propelled him on a path of “fallen-ness”, sin and degradation. The story of the Jews is certainly as much a story of man’s rebelliousness and wandering as it is the story of God’s loving patience and eternal providence towards His chosen people.

So God grew tired of it all and decided that the time had come to put into operation His plan from the beginning of time; (“Jesus Christ, Lamb of God slain befor the foundations of the world”). The God of eternity had already brought order from chaos by moving upon the formless void which was the earth. The darkness which lay upon the “face of the deep” as recorded in Genesis was dispelled when God; the spoken Word declared “Let there be light” and automatically; there was light. God immediately revealed Himself as the God of formation; the God of movement; the God who makes something of nothing; the God who has the power to refine and redefine what is; the God who is not a passive participant; but the God of action; of work, of movement; of definition; of sacrificial love.

While Satan through the serpent was successful in temporarily disrupting the order of God; God planned again to move into the human sphere in a way that could not be discredited or destroyed. Why? Because he himself would come; He would lay aside His own splendour and glory and take upon Himself the form of a man, of a servant and become obedient to death; even the death of the cross. This act was the ultimate ligitimisation and revelation of His love; His love was no longer just a spoken reality or a reality felt and experienced only through a rigid adherence to the law but now His love was operational, a selfless act, a becoming-of-man in order to reach man but yet without sin.

God’s mission; the “Missio Dei” is a latin term which represents not just an act which God did (God on a mission) but it describes God’s very character. According to Michael Frost, He is a missioning God; a God of movement, a God who is constantly propelled outward to reach fallen humanity; who came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; the Word which became flesh or incarnated himself and lived among men.

The awakening now sweeping over God’s church is therefore born out of an understanding that God has in fact imbued His church with His missioning nature and that we are indeed not primarily called to ourselves, to serve ourselves but to the world for which He died. In this general scheme of things what becomes important is not so much my title, or the technological savvy of my church but my understanding of the fact that I am a part of God’s mission; in fact an extension of it; and I am sent to the world. What is important about being “Apostolic’ therefore is not the title or restoration of an office; but the understanding that apostolic and missional is our nature as the church;  it is our DNA. We are the “ecclesia” or called out ones who are sent to operationalise God’s mission. The important question is how do we now make this a reality in an age of belligerent post-modernism which is not interested in Church or anything remotely similar to it? It must make us think of fresh new contexts for living church as a viable Christ-centred experience which enables us to see the world through entirely different lenses. The world in this paradigm does not become a place from which we must hide, living life from behind the curtains/shutters of “churchy” experiences and the language called “Christianese”. Instead the world must become a place which we take on with all the fervent zeal we can muster because we know that residing within us is the power to transform it.

Denise J Charles

The Church: Givers or Takers?

People-in-hands-853x429“Your missional effectiveness is directly proportional to your relational capacity.” This statement by Michael Frost resonates with me so deeply and completely. It simply promotes the idea that our effectiveness as “missionaries” in this culture; is largely contingent upon our ability to build relationships outside of ourselves; ourselves being “the church”. It is ironic however that the modus operandi of most traditional church structures operates outside the reality of an on-going need for relationship with the world. Church culture today in fact teaches us more and more to become exclusive clubs or groups which focus on loyalty to a local assembly over the bigger picture of living the mission for the sake of the KINGDOM.

“Within the Christian church, we have tended to define spiritual growth as disengagement from the world rather than engagement with the world. We often measure spiritual growth and formation as an increase in cognitive knowledge about God or religious activities. Many pastors and Christian leaders who disciple new believers don’t include evangelism or service as part of the growth and maturation process.” This statement taken from the book “The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation” (edited by Alan Andrews) also reflects this idea worthy of closer examination. The idea is that “Christian exclusivism” which becomes more closely defined as “denominational” or “church-exclusivism” is capable of becoming the subtle tool which the enemy uses to keep us out of contact with the world for which Christ died.

While not negating the need for individuals to be discipled through the teaching of the word etc, there is an even more pressing need for new disciples to become re-engaged with the world through acts of service and the building of authentic relationships. When intense church activities become a way to “keep” members, especially our youth, active in the church so that they will not be swayed or roped in by “the big bad world” then I think we are clearly missing the point of “go you therefore!” Nothing wrong with activities per se, but in the church our motivations need to be right.

As Frost confirms, the astronomical sums of money spent on church building-funds and other “church-extras” like gyms and coffee houses etc. strengthen the reality of a disconnect between what we say it means to be a Christian and how we practice our Christianity. The Christianity that we indeed practice tends to look rather self-serving, self-aggrandizing and church-focussed to me. The sad thing is that we have become so acculturated into accepting this model as “good-church” that we do not realise what we have become. We have actually become reduced to mere “shoppers” on the market for the best and hippest “religious goods and services” designed to meet our ever-evolving middle-class needs. So we “shop” for churches with the most charismatic pastors, or the biggest parking lots, best nursery facilities, best Christian school attached, best choir/band/worship-team, best use of technology or best income-earning membership, because at the end of the day, this church is all about us (and our families). We are in essence searching for a church that matches our social/financial image/status or for that matter one that will boost it!

I honestly welcome the day when our “shopping” is influenced by an entirely different set of values; when our “selections” are perhaps influenced by the poorest or most needy communities or by a need to reach out to street kids or the homeless and battered. Am I saying that large congregations or established churches do not cater to such needs? Of course we know that some do and do so quite successfully but at the same time, we must ask to what extent does community outreach/involvement/relationship constitute the life-blood of a ministry as opposed to just a program appendage for a few to become involved in?

Unfortunately, for most churches, in the thrust to swell numbers, people are taught more to take than to give. Pastors become quite involved in becoming the ‘be all and end all” to their members in an attempt to secure their loyalty and continued presence (and of course tithes). The back-lash of this however becomes an overtly dependent member who is more interested in what he/she can get from the church as opposed to what he/she can give to the world. Ironically, the said Pastors are known to bemoan the lack of involvement of members in “ministry” not realising that they are primarily responsible for the creation of the “religious monster” now on their hands.

If we are to bring lasting reform to how we view/do and are the church, then we must get back to a basic missiological understanding of why the church was formed. That may mean simply reading the word, particularly the gospel, with fresh lenses. God is depending upon us to continue his work in the world and if we are to take our example from the Master-Teacher Himself (JESUS) then we know that he was not afraid to get involved with the outcasts of society; as a matter of fact; this practice got Him called a lot of names (for example, wine-bibber) but He counted this a small price to pay for the opportunity to change lives. What about us?

As stated in the book “The Kingdom Life . . .”, today’s “modern-day disciples of Jesus” may “confess belief in the right things”, but to be really authentic followers of Christ, means more. It means ensuring that our lives are congruent “with the values and actions” which Jesus both taught and exemplified.

The Church: Givers or Takers?

Are we self-focussed as the church; are we givers or takers?

Insideout: A Call to Missional Living

“Your missional effectiveness is directly proportional to your relational capacity.” This statement by Michael Frost resonates with me so deeply and completely. It simply promotes the idea that our effectiveness as “missionaries” in this culture; is largely contingent upon our ability to build relationships outside of ourselves; ourselves being “the church”. It is ironic however that the modus operandi of most traditional church structures operates outside the reality of an on-going need for relationship with the world. Church culture today in fact teaches us more and more to become exclusive clubs or groups which focus on loyalty to a local assembly over the bigger picture of living the mission for the sake of the KINGDOM.

“Within the Christian church, we have tended to define spiritual growth as disengagement from the world rather than engagement with the world. We often measure spiritual growth and formation as an increase in cognitive knowledge…

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A Preliminary Response to Frank Viola’s “Pagan Christianity?”

I am currently reading the book ‘Pagan Christianity?’ and though I agree with some aspects of it I think that there are a few anomalies. I also have a problem with its purist and somewhat scathing tone. While the author makes several relevant points re Pastoral dominance, the unscriptural clergy/laity divide, congregational passivity, erroneous teaching on tithing and the Greeco/Roman influences on traditional Church worship among others, there are several areas where to my mind he falls down (too numerous to mention in this forum). The author does not do a good job of describing what the church really is in its essence. His impression of church (even while he cries down the institutional church) seems to suggest that church is somewhat limited and held captive by the tone and structure of its Sunday gathering. The church in his writing seems more defined by “doing” than “being” even while he tries to promote a concept of organic church. He  is still limiting his discussion to organisational church. What churches do on Sunday is merely but one expression of the Church and has nothing to do with the true organism of the church, the body of believers, who on the basis of an INDIVIDUAL experience with Christ, become a part of this organic body.

I think Viola misses the point by thinking that the organic church is merely a way of “doing church” that is “non-institutional” etc through open, participatory meetings. This is but one expression of organic church life which focusses on the gathering of believers; it is clearly not the only expression.The Church in its organic expression to my mind, crosses time lines, ethnicities, races, nationalities, and denominations. This is the Church of which Jesus spoke when He said that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. If this Church was truly held captive by the Church’s institutionalism over the centuries, then the gates of hell would have prevailed and we wouldn’t be having this conversation; the Church would have died. Viola’s tone also seems to imply that God’s hands have been virtually tied because churches which exist today may not be exact replicas of the New Testament paradigm of church. We are actually still the New Testament church which will continue to evolve till Jesus returns; this is one of the vagaries of being human and living in a fallen world among fallen, imperfect people and systems.

If the New Testament church was all that Frank suggests it was cracked up to be, there would have been no need to write epistles. Paul in fact wrote epistles/letters because he was attempting to deal with the many challenges and imperfections which the church faced then; just like today. The NT church was far from perfect; and I mean extremely far; just read any of the Pauline epistles and this becomes obvious. And by the way I am a part of an informal, simple gathering (similar to House church)but am a bit disappointed that the book is coming across as a case for the existence of house churches; nothing wrong with House churches but because I start my home business in my basement does not mean that it has to remain there to preserve the spirit or ethos of my values as a businessman. We must be careful not to adopt an attitude of following practices as a rigid “letter of the law” as opposed to understanding the principle/spirit of the thing. The global church today is much larger than what would have existed in the NT so chances are that we will continue to evolve different modes of functioning. Because our seemingly human ideas for church life are not found replicated in exactness in the NT does not make these ideas “un-biblical” as Frank repeatedly suggests in his book. The proof-test comes in determining whether what we do lines up with the principles  of scripture. And if we are obedient, submitted followers of Christ then He will emerge new ideas and innovations in us.

It seems trite therefore to be suggesting that because there are no worship leaders/worship teams in the NT that it is therefore un-biblical to have them now. There were also no new testaments to read in the NT church; yet we read and study them now don’t we? A good book to stimulate discussion but academically flawed in its failure to understand the role of history in shaping and emerging God’s eternal plan. God is not a static God of the past; He is the first and last, the beginning and the end ( and there is a lot of time-span and change in that loaded statement). Remember “Jesus Christ Lamb of God slain before the foundations of the world”? God is always several steps ahead of us flawed human beings, even when we do have a knowledge of and experience with Him. I think that several of Viola’s arguments, while well intentioned, degenerate and lose some credibility because of his dogmatic interpretation of a few verses of scripture. For example church was both open and participatory as well as governed by continuous teaching and preaching of the word; it need not be one or the other. Be assured this conversation will continue.

Christians and Culture

Over the years there has been a steady debate about the level at which Christians can be legitimately involved in the culture without corrupting themselves. While the description of ‘culture” often becomes limited to a focus on the arts, it is imperative that we understand that culture in essence reflects our lifestyle; our day to day interactions and our responses to such. I do believe that it is time we in the church stop running from the world in fear with our tails between our legs because we think the big bad world might infect us with its sin. We don’t seem to have much confidence in the light that we are. Try lighting a match in a dark room, no matter how small the flame, it will penetrate and alter the darkness; not the other way around.

Traditionally, especially in conservative evangelical circles, we have interpreted “Love not the world …’as abandonment of the world and its culture which was viewed as inherently evil. While the point has been made that culture isn’t inherently evil, some aspects of it will be because mankind is fallen and since culture is a reflection of who we are, it will mirror in some respects our “fallen-ness”. Clothing, music, art etc become volatile because man infects them with his sin. At the same time, man as made in the image and likeness of God, is also capable of reflecting so much that is positive. That is why as Christians we are called to invade and not abandon culture; if we dwell as transformed people, in the midst of the culture, yet without sin, then we are capable of presenting an alternative of which Christ is the essence. When people are transformed by the power of Christ, then the negative aspects of culture become transformed as well.

If we take our cue from Jesus, the very stories and parables he used, and his day-to-day interaction with the Jewish people, demonstrate that he was quite comfortable inhabiting the culture; even as he showed the scribes/pharisees and sinners at large, a more excellent way.This would have lent authenticity to His message and He is God Himself! Christ refused to imbibe the hypocrisy of the religious elite (which was an aspect of the religious culture of His day)instead He redefined the sabbath and the entire law by showing that He came to fulfill it. Nothing explains this better, than the concept of incarnation; the word becoming flesh and dwelling among men; God entering the culture of man, to redeem man. Need we say more?

Response to “A Magna Carta for Restoring the Supremacy of Christ”

I’ve just read “A Magna Carta for Restoring the Supremacy of Jesus Christ” by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola and I just love what I’ve read.  It resonates so deeply with what God too has been awakening in my heart and in my husband’s heart. It’s amazing what God is doing all over the globe. The return to a focus on Jesus is the heart of the ministry God has led us to develop in Barbados where we live. As God’s people become more dissatified and fed up with the political bureaucracy which Church has become and even as they are leaving the traditional church in large numbers, many of them are in fact longing for a more intimate reconnection with Jesus; the one and only true bedrock of Christianity.  Many misinterpret this leaving and “fed up-ness” as rebellion or as an attempt at one-upmanship; they couldn’t be further from the truth. Personally for me it represents a de-cluttering of all the unnecessary gunk we have allowed to crowd our vision of Christ. The sad thing is that as many churches focus on conferences and conventions the departure from a focus on Christ is not easilly recognised or acknowledged. We may sing about Jesus in our worship but worship has become a big industry in the gospel arena governed by its own rules and guidelines of correctness. It has for many churches become an end in itself. In each epoch of the history of the Church God has had a way of “reining” things back in when they’ve gone too far; remember Martin Luther of the 1500’s? I think that the reality of Christ and His sacrifice is such an uncomplicated matter that we human beings just can’t grasp it.  Grace seems so simple that we seem to think we have to add more to make the search for God more believable. I think what has happened to the Church with respect to the loss of its focus on Christ is simply a symptom of man’s eternal efforts to “save himself”. We’ve created a monster called institutionalized religion which seeks to reduce Christianity to a set of principles and ideals which are really cleverly crafted in today’s contemporary language but which fail to magnify the person of Christ himself. I think that this is really a symptom of the Church in the west and is a direct result of the nature of our societies. In the Church’s efforts to make Christ more palatable to a corporate capitalist world we have re-languaged Jesus into a “Seven Principles of Highly Effective Christians” (if you get my drift) and have lost the essence of who Jesus Christ really is.  This is not a problem for the church in the East. In the west, we’ve focussed in the church on prosperity, worship, the restoration of “offices”, and the “diefying” of the prophet, pastor and apostle. This diversion is a sad injunction on how the church has been led by society instead of leading society; we have been influenced by a materialistic, capitalist bent. What I’ve read is an excellent reminder of WHO we are really about and is particularly needed even as new-agers jump on the bandwagon of presenting an abstract, mystical, politically correct christ who is NOT the Jesus of whom we speak.

No Compromise Allowed

While I do agree wholeheartedly with the premise of a missional paradigm, as with any movement we must be aware that too far east is most definitely west. While God is calling us into relationship with our communities and while we as the church have always been called to live the Gospel there must be no compromise with sin. If we take note of Jesus’ encounters with people and if the missional paradigm proports to follow the path of Jesus then even as we embrace others we must do it as Jesus did. In all of Jesus’ interactions with sinners His message was usually “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more”; this was always clear. God does not expect us to grow comfortable with sin so that we can reach others; Jesus is clear on showing others what a life of righteousness is; He never tows the middle. At the end of the day, the goal of a missional way of life must not be to make people so comfortable with sin that coming to church is a breeze. The holiness of Christ challenged those with whom He came into contact to turn from sin, so even as He hung out with publicans and sinners it was never from a stance of participating in their falleness. This is not something to make light of; the walk of the cross is a walk of holiness and righteousness. Yes we did go extreme with the stance of legalism in expecting us all to look the same and sound the same once we were Christians; but the definition of Christian/church must not change. We are the ecclesia or called out ones, called to be salt and light. We can only be this if our lifestyle is different as a result of our own personal transformation by the power of Jesus Christ. At the same time we must rid ourselves of the “Christian club mentality” if we hope to reach the lost. I would hate to see the concept of missional become degenerated to a point where there seems to be a complete absence of standards and where people think that anything goes. Mind you, from my readings of Michael Frost and my watching of a number of videos I do not believe that this is the true definition of missional but ultimately as people get hooked on a new word and on a movement there is always the possibility of it being watered down and evolving into something that it was never meant to be. This is why it is necessary to keep the dialogue gong but to also lace it with prayer and a careful study of the scriptures. I do agree with the stance of a need for balance.