Archive for April, 2009

How Being Missional is Different From What We’re Used To

April 7, 2009

A number of people have been asking how the missional church is different from the kind of church we’ve been used to. Much of the difference comes from the fact that the culture we live in has changed, and thus, the relationship between the church and the culture has changed. We have shifted from a Christendom culture (where the church and culture worked together, supported each other, and shared similar values) to a secular culture (the separation of church and state, where the culture is either apathetic or antagonistic towards the church). In a Christendom culture, the church ministered from the mainline or the center of society. In a secular culture, the church has been pushed to the sideline, the edges, the margins of society. The church must undergo a paradigm shift as we learn to minister from a different place. As the church tries to reach and impact a different kind of culture, this has necessitated that we become a different kind of church. Here are some of the differences:
The Christendom church followed an attractional model of ministry. This is the philosophy that “if we build it, they will come”. In a culture where lots of people were looking for a church, this worked. The focus is on “come and see”. If the church has high quality worship, preaching, education, fellowship, and programs, people will come. In a secular culture, the attractional model of church no longer works. Since most people are no longer looking for a church, it doesn’t matter how good our worship, preaching, education, fellowship, and programs are. The people will not come. Instead of “come and see”, the missional church must “go and do”.
In a Christendom church, pastors/leaders were trained on how to lead people after they come to church. In a missional church, most people don’t come to church, so pastors/leaders must be trained how to engage people in the community where they live, work, and play.
In a Christendom church, evangelism happened mostly through biological growth (members having babies) and transfer growth (Christians changing churches). In a missional church, very little growth will happen this way. We must learn how to do evangelism differently. In a Christendom church, a lot of evangelism was really the revival of people who had stopped following Christ. In a missional world, there are fewer people who have stopped following Christ, because they never followed Christ to begin with. They have never heard the Bible stories, they don’t understand the concepts, values, or images, and thus it takes an entirely different approach to evangelism.
In a Christendom church, evangelism had a lot to do with apologetics – learning how to argue intellectually about the faith. In a missional church, evangelism is more about hospitality. In a Christendom church, we often separated evangelism and social justice. If you believed in one, you didn’t believe in the other, and vice versa. In a missional church, evangelism and social justice are brought back together, as two sides to the same coin.
In a Christendom church, a lot of churches were mission-minded. They believed that America was a Christian nation. So, missions happened “from the west to the rest”. We were called to go to foreign countries or to financially support those who did. Missions happened very far from our own neighborhoods. In a missional church, we realize that we do not live in a Christian nation. Missions now happens “from everywhere to everywhere”. People from foreign countries are now living on our block, on our street, and in our neighborhood. Being missional means that we must learn to think and act like missionaries where we live, work, and play.
In a Christendom church, we not only took the Christian faith to other nations, we also took western culture and tried to get people to adopt western values, dress, and worldviews. We focused on talking, and what people needed to learn from us. In a missional church, we don’t assume that western culture is necessarily better than other cultures. We look for ways to contextualize the faith of Jesus Christ in a culture. We do not try to force the culture to become western. We seek to listen before we talk, knowing that we have a lot to learn from people, regardless of whether they are Christians or not.
In a Christendom church, we presented Christian faith and truth in theories, concepts, and propositional forms. This worked well in a modern, enlightenment world that was founded on reason and the written word. The missional church presents Christian faith and truth in narrative/ story forms, images, symbols, icons, and pictures. This is what works best in a post-modern, post-enlightenment world that is founded on imagination, visuals, and the internet/web world.
In a Christendom church, we focused on strategic planning and setting five year goals, because we were dealing with slow, continuous change. This worked because we were able to guess fairly accurately what the world would be like in five years. In a missional church, we realize that strategic planning and five year goals no longer work, because we are now dealing with rapid, discontinuous change. We can’t even guess accurately what our world will be like in five months, let alone five years. So, the missional church emphasizes just-in-time planning.
What hasn’t changed, and what will never change, are the central truths of the gospel. The Church of Jesus Christ will always be founded on the inspiration of the scriptures. The Bible will always be a revelation of God to us. We will always follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, who will lead us into all truth. We will always be focused on others, particularly the poor, the homeless, and the outcast. Our God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That we can count on. But, every time we enter a new culture, we must learn new ways to communicate these eternal truths to that culture. Even though we have not physically moved to a new culture, the society around us has changed so much, that we might as well have. So, our ways of being the church will change. The gospel of Christ will always remain the same.