Everyday Mission, Everyday People

If one more person writes another book that says we need to be missional I think my head will pop. Enough already I keep saying: yes, missional. But define and show us what it means. That is why I like Helen Lee’s book, The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home & in the World. It’s missional, but it’s concrete and it’s local.

And it also why I like Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford’s new Right Here, Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People. Here is a book that is both theoretical and yet carves out how this stuff works and what it looks like in the everyday.

I will say it again: missional takes place at the local and in the concrete; it’s not an idea; missional is an act of love to the neighbor we confront. One can’t set up a “missional program” because being missional means responding to the question: How can I help you … right now? Missional isn’t an alternative to evangelism but a kingdom environment for evangelism. Missional seeks to participate in what God is doing in this world. We don’t become missional; we are missional because God is missional and the church is missional. OK, enough preaching.

What’s missional to you? Where do you see it? How can we awaken the church to a missional approach?

Alan writes a couple chapters, Lance writes most of it, but Alan worked on all of it. Lance’s sections are filled with good stories and practical illustrations of missional living.

Alan maps four moves in “missionality”:

Move out (into missional engagement).
Move in (burrowing down into the culture).
Move alongside (friendships and relational networks).
Move from (challenging the dehumanizing and sinful aspects of our culture).

Lance addresses some of the most concrete elements of missional:

1. Daily life with a missionary’s eye
2. The habit of beholding others (I like this one a lot).
3. Believing and being the gospel
4. Western affluence and spiritual bankruptcy
5. Freeing ourselves to live missionally
6. When things go wrong in the suburbs
7. House churches and small groups as communities of mission (now we’re talking)
8. Joy of hospitality
9. Power of scattered saints

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Susan N.

    The four moves and concrete elements listed from the book look about right to me.

    On the one hand, in our day and age of technology that connects us and gives us a bird’s eye view of what’s going on with folks on the opposite side of this planet, there’s no excuse for turning a blind eye to the needs (physical and spiritual) of those living in far-away, third world / developing countries.

    The Great Commission, after all, is to go, outward in an ever-widening circle to take the gospel there.

    But there’s something wrong when a church’s idea of missional doesn’t extend, at the least, within its own walls…and then, in the local community. Is it that it’s more fun, adventurous to go on “mission trips” to some exotic far-away place? Or is it that the commitment is for a set number of days, whereas mission in the local community could demand a more long-term involvement?

    The passion for mission that should be characteristic of the Church is a heart matter, when you get right down to it. Some believers, some churches, are going to have the heart for this, and others are not, and some may be working toward it (different levels of spiritual maturity?). When you meet a person or a community of faith that’s got this going on, it is *highly* contagious! The fragrant aroma of Christ’s presence is irresistible.

    For a church to be awakened to a missional way of being, all the people, individually, will need a paradigm shift. What changed me personally was going through a difficult season, prayerfully, and having God open my eyes to needs around me in that setting. Later, I understood that God had shown me a mission for which He had been preparing me to go in and *be* the gospel. I tend now to look back at my entire “story” for clues as to what God would have me do, missionally. Especially in the hard times, God is at work to change our hearts and mold us for service, I believe.

    My family’s “year of living dangerously” (outside of belonging in a church) were also, strangely, helpful to me. I started looking around at my neighborhood, my community, and the world at large, beyond the church walls, as “my” people. I identified with the “outsiders”. To be fair, our former church did try to emphasize not getting stuck in an “us vs. them” mindset, and to get out there and know one’s “neighbors”. However, until I didn’t have the church, which kept us kind of busy, I did not realize how exclusive I had become. It sneaks up on a person… Trying hard not to fall into that trap again, after landing finally in a new church. Because it is very radically-hospitable within its walls, and outward-focused in its mission, I have hope that I will remain steadfast in getting “out, in, alongside, and from” in the world, both near and far.

    Lastly, I would put a plug in for motherhood as mission. It does require getting outside my own head and coming alongside my children to see through their eyes and *be* the gospel for them and with them. It doesn’t necessarily require us to physically go anywhere, but it’s missional, imho.

  • http://jeffkclarke.com Jeff

    Being missional is a posture; an attitude; the central embodiment and way of seeing-living in the world. It may have programmatic elements, particularly in relation to communicating the ideas to others, but it is a ‘lived out’ reality that moves us beyond the programmatic. It is an intentional lifestyle that goes with us, everywhere. It isn’t a hat we wear on certain occasions, but an intrinsic, and central, part of our identity in Christ. It’s about opening ourselves up to what God is doing in the world and making ourselves available for the mission that He is already engaged in.

  • Jason Lee

    In thinking about the question “What’s missional to you?” … I think I’d have to clarify whether we can have evangelism that is NOT missional? If there are kinds of evangelism that fall outside the bounds of “missional,” this would be important to identify. Does thinking about a Venn diagram ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venn_diagram )help in conceptualizing the bounds of missional?

  • RobS

    I agree overall… the topic is important. I like the lead in for Scot’s thought here, “…one more book…” — yes there is this big rallying cry and talk about things. But I also fear and have seen some indications that Jesus Christ is dropped from the story in certain situations. I’ve listened to “sermons” (podcasts of someone speaking at a church meeting) where the pastor mentions mission 50x but I don’t even hear the name of Jesus Christ until 30 minutes into the message, and then I only hear His name once or twice.

    Also, with evangelism, any new believer needs to understand that a missional attitude is a good one, but it’s different than the saving grace of our Lord. Christ Crucified, first and foremost is what is most important and needs to be integrated with anything of a missional nature.

    Otherwise, I fear we just because “cause heads” with poster board signs–those where only earthy causes dominate our thoughts and goals.

    Perhaps the more mature believer that already has a very good grounding in their faith is able to balance a missional attitude and outlook with the truths of Christ and His plan. The new believer might need to be grounded well first and then disciple into the attitude of missional efforts.

  • MikeK

    I’m surprised by folks who haven’t heard the adjective “missional.” Some of this depends upon the circles you’re in; some of it depends upon the kind of preaching and teaching you’re receiving.

    Most of these Christians are in mainline churches, and insofar as I can discern: their pastors were educated in mainline seminaries. While service is always an important element of the church, there’s little verbal cognition to interpret the service.

    There’s still some cultural overhang though: some people still think “program” or “missions” when they hear “missional”. The contrast for me is listening to pastors & lay people from the majority-culture world: to follow Jesus in their culture is to be in mission.

    Of course, our relationship to our culture is the same: but, with the exception of readers of this blog, most Christians still think of our faith as the primary commitment in North America. Perhaps the “missional” literature like Helen Lee’s will contribute to an awakening to Jesus and his mission.

  • http://www.theforgottenways.org Alan Hirsch

    Thanks Scot for the love. We really enjoyed doing this and it was a relief to be able to write a book for the people of God. Take it to the streets!

  • http://www.themissionalmom.com Helen Lee

    I’m with Alan, and I’m honored for my book to be mentioned alongside his! What a privilege!

    And to respond to Susan N. above, absolutely motherhood can be missional, and I would argue that mothers are called to be missional just as all Christians are called to be missional–with our children, absolutely, as well as outside the walls of our house as we demonstrate to them what it means to love our “neighbors” as ourselves, whether they are our literal or figurative. I firmly believe that children are the easiest people to whom we can teach missional living, they have a natural bent to want to help, serve, and love others, and the more that parents can tap into that inclination when kids are young, the more likely it will be that those children will grow into missional-minded adults.

    Thanks again, Scot. Your support is so very appreciated!

  • http://www.wendymccaig.wordpress.com Wendy McCaig

    I am finding the word missional is being used for anything and everything. It really has no meaning. I heard Alan Hirsch say that a missional expression of the church starts with a clear mission and everything else like evangelism, christian education, worship, spiritual formation is a natural outcome of the people of God going on mission together. I am not sure I got his words exactly right but the general idea has stuck with me.

    I see a lot of churches looking at missional expressions as a means of doing evangelism or a means of growing their church. Their motivation for engaging in mission is not growing out a desire to engage in a particular mission. For me “mission” involves giving ourselves away. It seems to me that a lot of people engaging in so called missional expressions are actually trying to gain something – usually church attendance or followers of some sort. Missional has become the newest church growth strategy and I really think it cheapens the practice of living missionally and robs it of it’s power to transform our world.

    I have not read the books you noted but like you, without concrete examples of people living missionally in the world, the word “missional” is meaningless.

  • http://www.wendymccaig.wordpress.com Wendy McCaig

    Oops. Failed to respond to the question “What is Missional to me?” It is what I do every day in the inner city of Richmond as I make new friends and seek to come alongside them in what God is doing in their community. It is not sexy, it is often messy, it is slow moving, it is not linked to a church, but it is beautiful and to me it is the purest expression of “church” I know.

  • http://www.righthererightnowbook.com Lance Ford

    Scot, Thanks for the props on our book. It’s great to to have your take on it…and an honor that you saw some good in it. Thanks again, Lance

  • http://www.themissionalmom.com Helen Lee

    I appreciate what you are saying, Wendy. To be honest, I haven’t read everything that’s out there with regards to the missional church; in the book I wrote, I wanted to examine the concept of being missional in the particular context of motherhood, so there are many stories in the book about moms doing exactly what you describe–sensing God’s calling to live out a particular mission in some way. But I see the tension that you are describing as well; in our church, I’m part of the Mercy & Justice team, and we see our mission as reaching out to the particular community our church is located in, building relationships with those who are most at-risk in that neighborhood, which is a time-consuming and slow-moving process as you’ve described. But we get pressure from others in the church who don’t quite understand what we are doing and who would like to see more “numbers” associated with our ministry–more visitors, converts, etc. Our leaders regularly talk about wanting to be a “healthy missional church” but I don’t think most people in the congregation really understand what that means. So IMHO (and I am no expert in this field, just a journalist trying to understand it!), I agree we still have a ways to go in the church before the people in the pews–and even the pastors who lead them–truly understand what this word “missional” is all about.

  • http://www.themissionalmom.com Helen Lee

    Scot provides a straightforward, helpful explanation of what it means to be missional in the interview he did with me for the book. You can find the first part of it on my blog today:

    http://themissionalmom.com/2011/02/scot-mcknight-partone/

  • http://www.wendymccaig.wordpress.com Wendy McCaig

    Helen – I think my greatest frustration is finding a tribe of people where I feel like I fit in. That is the one thing that I am starting to gain through social media that I doubt I will find locally. So often people think they understand what I am saying but when you actually try to help people walk it out, they realize they don’t really want to walk in the mystery of just being present. I applaud you for being present in your own community. So many congregations are simply “in” the community but don’t really see themselves as part of the community. I think the church really needs new measures of success. People in the pews is not the measurement I think Jesus would have established.

  • http://www.missionaloutreachnetwork.com James Nored

    Hi Scot. Love your writings–they always make me think. What is missional? Just as Bosch points out in Transforming Mission that there is no one agreed upon definition of mission, there is no one agreed upon definition of missional. Or evangelism or discipleship, by the way. Is the term used by many who don’t understand it? Yes. But it is a great term still because by placing missional in front of church, it causes us to constantly wrestle with what the church is called to be. And this is a good thing.

    In defining missional, I like to go back to Jesus’ own life and words as to why he came. Among other things, he said that he came to:

    - Seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10),
    - Serve others (Mk. 10:45), and
    - Share (proclaim) the good news of the kingdom of God (Mk. 1:38).

    If we have been sent into the world as Christ was sent (Jn. 20:21), then we will take up the mission of Christ to seek, serve, and share. Seeking gets us to go out and place ourselves into proximity of lost people with an openness of heart towards them. Serving people shows our love and care for them, opening doors of opportunity. We serve people by helping to heal the true areas of brokenness in their lives, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. Then we share with them a message about Jesus and the kingdom of God.

    While I am hugely supportive of missional lifestyles by individuals, I am afraid that the communal witness of the church is being lost due to a reaction against “programs.” This term would have to be defined further. I tend to think of programs as impersonal and devoid of relationships, where the program is more important than the people. I’m not for that. However, I am for church ministries–things that the church does collectively or with a sub-group–that helps to heal the brokenness of humanity. Ministries that feed the hungry, or bind up marriages, or help people break various addictions. These are not bad or wrong because they happen continuously or whenever people will respond to them. We need personal missional lifestyles, as well as the communal witness of the church.

    Your thoughts?


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