Last week I posted a review of Brad Brisco and Lance Ford’s Missional Essentials here. Brad has graciously agreed to answer some questions I sent him about missional living. I hope you’ll find this encouraging and helpful. My thanks to Brad for his willingness to do this.
I wonder if you could offer a good definition of “missional” for those who may be unfamiliar with the word?
I usually say I have a short answer and a long answer when defining missional. The short answer is that missional is simply the adjective form of the noun missionary. Therefore missional, like any other adjective, is used to modify or describe a noun. So when we use the phrase “missional church” we are simply saying that the church is a missionary entity. The church doesn’t just send missionaries, but the church is the missionary.
However in most cases that very brief definition isn’t enough. To provide a more comprehensive way of understanding the word I will talk about core characteristics that should inform the way we understand the missional concept? I believe there are at least three major theological distinctions that help to undergird the missional conversation. Without such a foundation we run the risk of simply attaching the word “missional” onto everything the church is already doing, and therefore ignoring the necessary paradigmatic shift. Those three key theological foundations include: 1.) The missionary nature of God and the church; 2.) Incarnational mission; and 3.) Participation in the missio Dei.
How would a “missional church” look different from an “evangelistic church”?
I think the best way to answer that is to say a missional church is one that is organized around, informed by, and/or catalyzed by mission. In other words, the programs and activities of the church are shaped by God’s mission. Therefore, it is not just about having a “missions” department, or an evangelistic committee, but everything the church does has a missionary component. The reality is that the nature or essence of the church is rooted in the nature of a missionary God. If God is a missionary God (which He is) then we as His people are missionary people. Every member is to think think and act like a missionary in their local context.
I’ll be honest: I’ve resisted studying the missional movement mainly because of a sense of “movement fatigue.” But Missional Essentials as well as a number of conversations with people I truly respect has led me to think that what’s happening here is really quite important. Still, for the skeptical part of me, is this all just a fad? Twenty years from now, will we look at the word “missional” the way most of now look at the phrase “seeker sensitive,” as kind of a quaint moniker that came and went as so many trends do?
I think what is different here is two fold. First this is not a recent phenomenon. Serious theological reflection around missional thinking has been talking place since the 30’s with Karl Barth. Later in the International Missionary Councils in the 50s and 60s. Later through the influence of Lesslie Newbigin, David Bosch and others. It has deep theological and missiological roots. Second, because it has such roots it is not a renewal movement, but instead is a missiological movement. It is not about strategies, human ingenuity or church growth techniques, but instead it is about recapturing the missionary nature of the church.
Are there examples in church history of movements that we might call “missional”?
I think there have been many times in church history when the people of God understood themselves as a sent people. In large part it has been in the last four decades, as the result of church growth mentality, that the church moved from being a “go and be” people to a “come and see” people. The church growth movement put too much emphasis on how to get people to come participate in what the church was doing. With our actions we told the world that if they wanted to know Jesus they needed to come be with us, and be like us. Rather than seeing ourselves as the missionary people of God who are sent to where people are.
I’m curious to know whether or not you think the presence of church sanctuaries and architecture undermines missional living conceptually?
Buildings certainly do not have to be a hinderance. They can become that if the emphasis is on getting people to come to the building, but the reality is that we are a called and sent people of God. We do still need to gather together for worship, study, prayer, etc. We can and should gather together to be equipped to be sent out to participate in what God is already doing. I love the Lesslie Newbigin quote about the church when he states: “[The church] is not meant to call men and women out of the world into a safe religious enclave but to call them out in order to send them back as agents of God’s kingship.”
You write a lot about the missional use of our homes. It has resonated deeply with my wife and me and we are now involved in discussions about home stewardship and reaching our neighborhood. Should we abandon the idea of the home as an escape? Should we feel guilty about closing the blinds and doors and unwinding? Where do we draw the lines on this?
We have to use wisdom in knowing where healthy boundaries need to be set. But in most cases, Christians look at their homes as places of security rather than a vehicle for biblical hospitality. Our focus on the family as a place of safety has been disastrous for missional living. We must learn to overcome our fears and open our lives and our homes up to others. We must welcome the stranger!
What do you see as the great challenges to missional living within the institutional North American church?
There are several challenges, including fear of the world, living lives without time margins, consumerism, and the idol we have created called the American dream.
Finally, how have you and your family lived missionally in your community? What lessons have you learned?
I like to frame living out missionality in three arenas; where we live, work and play. Where we live includes being a good neighbor to those we live around and opening up our home. Where we work is about vocation. We must rethink what it means to contribute to and participate in God’s mission through our work. And where we play has to do with engaging social space in our community. We must engage Third Places and public space. We must have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing in our community and neighborhoods. We must then ask how He wants us to participate in what He is already doing.