Learning to Think and Act Missionally
In early April I was blessed to attend the New Wineskins for Global Mission conference in Ridgecrest, NC. It was such an amazing experience to be with more than 1,000 Anglicans who were fired up about missions. As I listened to our plenary and workshop speakers, I realized we are in the midst of an amazing shift that has been taking place within our Anglican movement over the past 10-20 years. Some refer to this shift as going from a maintenance mentality to a missional mode of doing ministry. I like to think of it as a heart change where we are learning to love the world the way Jesus does. Although Jesus modeled for us how to care deeply for those who are not part of our church families, we are often slow to follow his lead. Hence, the need for a laser focus on missions – to ensure we are intentionally seeking the One, not just caring for the 99 who are already in the fold.
So many people think of missions as an add-on for those who happen to be interested in “that sort of thing” or as a luxury item for big churches who can afford it. The truth is that EVERY church needs a missional DNA, especially new church plants. But how do we create this critical element, whether in an established congregation or in a new church? I believe there are three practices that will greatly aid us in becoming missionally focused:
- Instilling a missional imagination;
- Learning to listen to and understand our culture; and,
- Creating effective structures that will empower mission.
Together, these three elements will create a powerful ecosystem capable of moving any of our congregations out of the box and out the door. This article will focus on the first of these practices, instilling a missional imagination, and will be followed by two others in coming weeks to complete the series as we explore how to create a missional church culture.
The great saints in the Bible all shared a common trait: they were able to imagine how life could be different when one is in a relationship with the living God. They didn’t accept life as they were experiencing it as being the last word. They saw beyond the present circumstances to a world that was being cradled and transformed by the love of God. This became their standard and shaped what they thought and how they acted. In short, it became the driving force of their lives and defined reality for them. In Mary’s beautiful prayer, which we call the Magnificat, she expresses this beautifully,
“He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
We, too, learn to see life differently when we look through their eyes of faith. We realize that we are part of a much larger mission that originates in the heart of God. We come to understand that this is his very nature. The God we are serving is missional to the core of his being. That is to say, God is a sending God. The Father sent the Son to redeem his lost creation; the Son sent the Spirit to empower the Church to spread the word; and now the same God sends us to complete this mission and bring the nations into the fold. Theologian Jürgen Moltmann notes that the Church does not have a mission of her own; God has a mission, so God created the Church to carry it out. This is known as the “missio dei” and we are invited not just to participate in it during our free times, but to see the whole of our lives in the context of it and to realize that our individual portions are significant pieces of a much larger puzzle. God is actually depending on us. He has no Plan B.
Once this takes root within our souls, it becomes life changing and begins to alter our priorities, our decisions, and our actions. Authors Branson and Warnes (Starting Missional Churches: Life with God in the Neighborhood) tell us that this takes shape in a number of ways. We begin to discern God’s initiatives, realizing that he is actively working every moment to bring the world to himself. As we press into this, we begin to see where we fit into God’s plans and how we can join him in what he is doing. Missional thinking also helps us to see our neighbor differently. Rather than an object of our ministry efforts, s/he becomes a subject – one who is drawn to join and participate with us. We share our lives with others and invite them to claim their own calling from the God who loves them. This type of life and mission necessitates “boundary crossing.” Like the God who is sending us, we are not content to sit idly by while others perish for lack of God’s love. We move beyond our own self-constructed walls and into the unknown without fear. And, we learn to go together.
Contrary to the hyper-individualistic culture in which we live, the missional mindset is shaped as a community gathered in Jesus’ name. We are never alone; nor are we sent out alone. We’re in this together, with each other and with the Holy Spirit, who empowers us. When we begin to think and act missionally, we are no longer content to go to church and live in the world. We realize that we must be the Church and go to the world. For, as St. Paul says, it is God who calls us to think and to act for his good purposes.