Monday, June 23, 2008

What Is Missional? – Synchoblog

When I decided to participate in this “What Is Missional?” Syncroblog, I was initially nervous.  After all, I am not a theologian or a particularly accomplished “practitioner”.  However, I am passionately committed to follow Christ, along with my community, to become the peculiar people He has called us to be.  After all, the stakes are high.  I am not exploring this out of curiosity or intellectual interest, but because I see in my inner city neighbourhood (and moreso in my own life) the desperate need for saving transformation.  And so I will try to wrestle it our here.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that the term “missional” get so over-used, misused and abused is that it cannot be understood apart from the “mission” that is at its root (both etymologically and conceptually).  At the heart of God’s mission is the Gospel.  While “What is the Gospel?” could be a Syncroblog in and of itself, I have always started with this very basic premise:

“The Gospel is the glory of the Triune God made manifest in His work to reconcile every person to union with Himself, communion with others, to fullness of life, and to harmony with Creation, in the context of community for the good of all.”

(Before I move on, some have expressed concern that I make no mention of Jesus and His work on the cross, so let me make it clear.  I firmly hold to the belief that our salvation comes through the redemptive and atoning work of Christ’s death and bodily resurrection.  The above definition is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather offer a framework for the wider understanding of the Gospel, which has been God’s intention from the beginning.  Jesus, as I will show later, is central to what it means to be missional.)

God, in His infinite and uncomprehensible wisdom, choose to make manifest His work through us, His imperfect people (even if only in part).  Therefore, our whole lives must be shaped, guided and redefined by the purposes of God.  Here, for me, is the first lesson about being missional: Missional is about implication, not application.  By this I mean that the mission of God cannot be something we add or fit into our lives.  Nor is it even something for which we simply sacrifice to make room for.  Rather, it is about examining the very real implications of what it would mean on every level of life if we were defined my this divine agenda.

It is not surprising, then, that as interest and engagement with the concept of missional develops, so to does the conversation and exploration of what the church looks like.  This was lesson number two for me: Missional cannot be understand apart from ecclesiology (or vice versa).  The mission of God speaks to the very nature, identity and vocation of the Church.  While it should go without saying that, when I say “Church” I am not merely referring to the building or the Sunday gathering, it sadly does not.  The challenge is that, even when we acknowledge this fact with our lips, our lives and language often fall back to this false assumption.

The most important lesson for me on being missional, on which I will spend more time developing, is this: Missional is incarnational.  This is to say that, as a people of God, we relate and engage the world after the way that God relates and engages the world.  This is expressed primarily, though not exclusively, in the person of Jesus.  Let me offer three core points in this:

Community: I say “not exclusively” in Jesus, because I believe that when Scripture teaches that we are created in God’s image, that is primarily in reference to God’s Trinitarian nature.  Just as God is Three-Persons in perfect Oneness, so to are we called to be in genuine community, seeking to be many united as one.  We are not able to become gods in our unity, but rather, through the work of Jesus on the cross, we die to self and are resurrected into His Body, bound together in the Spirit.  I believe our being His Body to be more than an analogy, but a defining description of our nature as the Church.

Like the Trinity, our commitment to unity and community does not require the irradication of the individual.  While we must resist the disintegrative force of individualism, true community always celebrates and nurtures healthy individuality.  In fact, it is only within the Chirst-community that individual identity can truly be realized.  This is perhaps the single greatest tension we face- the battle between rampant individualism and soulless uniformity.  However, I genuinely believe that in the Western world, we are in more danger from the former.  I would go so far as to say that a person cannot be truly missional apart from community, because that very community is essential to mission and the Godhead that gives it form.

Contextualization: Jesus, fully God, entered into our world as fully man, the ultimate contextualization.  He divested Himself of many things that were His right in order to make a way for God’s mission of love and redemption to happen.  In the same way, we must enter into the world around us in such a way that allows people to encounter Christ in ways that they understand.  It means that we must give up many things that we (may) have every right to, but that get in the way of representing Christ’s incarnational presence in our neighbourhoods, cultures and world.

In 1 Corinthians 9, we are to “become all things to all men so that by all possible means” other will be saved.  So we do not simply contextualize, we contextualize as Christ in the culture (which we will discuss more in the next point).  It is important to note that, while we seek to “become all things to all men”, we cannot be all things at the same time.  This is why singular expressions and models copied elsewhere can undermine the effectiveness of being truly missional.

  As I suggested in the previous point, we are be an incarnational expression of Christ in culture, but simply an adaptation (or compromise) with the culture in general.  Going back to my reference to “implication not application”, we must recognize that the incarnational presence we are called to represent is not compatible with all aspects of our the world around us.  Be it individualism or consumerism (two of the most serious threats to the Church today), we cannot and must not attempt to accomodate aspects of culture that would undermine the mission of God, but rather live boldly apart and even against them.  We are called to be a peculiar people in that our radical obedience to Christ will set us apart, not simply through rejection and isolation, but by engaging the world as living alternatives.

We must be careful here too, for we can call all sorts of isolationism “countercultural”.  Further, we can even begin to gain an identity around those things which we reject (as many Christians seem to be defined by their anti-gay or anti-abortion stances, or more subtley and closer to home, by being anti-program or anti-institution).  As a Canadian, I can tell you that there is little stability in an identity defined by what we are not.  Again, we are to be countercultural, not in what we oppose, but through the living alternative we represent before a watching world.

This, of course, only brushes the surface of what I believe missional to be (and much of it could do with some serious qualification, but that’s what the comment section is for, right?).  However, the beauty of missional is that it is a communal reality.  Check out the others who are blogging the topic:

Alan Hirsch  Alan Knox  Andrew Jones  Barb Peters  Bill Kinnon  Brad Brisco  Brad Grinnen  Brad Sargent  Brother Maynard  Bryan Riley  Chad Brooks  Chris Wignall  Cobus Van Wyngaard  Dave DeVries  David Best  David Fitch  David Wierzbicki  DoSi  Doug Jones  Duncan McFadzean  Erika Haub  Grace   Jeff McQuilkin  John Smulo  Jonathan Brink  JR Rozko  Kathy Escobar  Len Hjalmarson  Makeesha Fisher  Malcolm Lanham  Mark Berry  Mark Petersen  Mark Priddy  Michael Crane  Michael Stewart  Nick Loyd  Patrick Oden  Peggy Brown  Phil Wyman  Richard Pool  Rick Meigs  Rob Robinson  Ron Cole  Scott Marshall  Sonja Andrews  Stephen Shields  Steve Hayes  Tim Thompson  Thom Turner

Posted by Jamie Arpin-Ricci in 07:07:04

9 Responses to “What Is Missional? – Synchoblog”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Jamie, great thoughts :) A question pops to mind as I read today “missional is incarnational.” We know that God’s mission began with Abraham.. Or no, with Adam and Eve in the garden… Or maybe.. when he had a dream about creation. But if we rightly locate God’s mission before creation, or with Adam and Eve, or with Abraham.. then a strict equation with incarnation seems lost. We could say “God’s mission is incarnational and pre-incarnational” but that is awkward. But there is something about God that roots His mission in His being even before action. And that is the direction of my.. yet unformed.. question.

  2. Hey Len,

    Great question, one that I have asked myself many times. Here is how I have answered it. Looking at my summation of the Gospel, I think that Creation prior to sin had humanity (and Creation) living in a perichoretic unity that reflected God’s image in us. In that sense, Creation was an incarnational participant in relationship with God. Sin dis-integrated that, so Christ came to make a way for us rejoin His intended unity.

    The beauty of this, in my mind, is that through redemption, that unity is found in becoming Christ’s Body, bound together by His Spirit. In some ways it seems an even great expression than before! I find great beauty in the Orthodox understanding of this.

    Does that, at all, answer you question?


  3. Jamie, great thoughts, thanks for the challenge around incarnational, and also it being implication not just application.

  4. Thanks Duncan. Pretty quiet here today. Alas!


  5. Jon says:

    Hey Jamie, good thoughts. I think 50 posters may in some ways be too many for debate.

    I agree with God having a mission pre-creation, though I haven’t really thought that way. Maybe creation is like the seed that God’s mission was to nurture to completion, fulfilment of His dream. (this may sound odd, but this image has a maternal feel to me.) Redemption then is not the mission, but the action resulting from the interference in the dream.

    The 3 C’s are a good summary.

    Peace to you too. I hope that when we move out to Canada (hope) that we’ll manage a trip across to see you guys. Jon

  6. Hey Jon,

    Yeah 50 makes it hard to follow, though debate is probably not the way we were heading anyway. I am stilling reading through them too!

    As you say, I see mission as God’s work to restore Creation to His original intention, which was interfered with by sin.

    Stay in touch!


  7. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful thoughts.
    It is so important that we strive to missional especially being the Church of the 21st Century.


  8. Thanks Preacherman. It is indeed!


  9. Small guy,nice blog,great job,hope i will see your work soon.