Traditionally 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