Is This the #1 Issue in Missional Shift?

Len Hjalmarson thinks he’s got a bead on the #1 issue in making the missional shift: spiritual formation. And, he says, the #1 issue in spiritual formation is this: “Where do you find your identity?”

Len Hjalmarson“Unless our identity is rooted in Christ, we will always be subject to the pressures of the crowd. We will measure success by performance, or by the things we achieve, or the stuff we own. And we will subtly use people to achieve these ends: people become stepping stones or objects on the road to our achievement. When they don’t fit into our plans, we will attack them, abuse them, or push them aside. This isn’t a good way for leaders to live!” —Len Hjalmarson

Len is the co-author of Missional Spirituality, so I’d say he’s established some credibility in talking about spiritual formation. And I agree with him that this issue of identity is vitally important in post-Christendom North America (I have to be inclusive, because Len is Canadian!)

I’m reading Brian McLaren’s new book on Christian identity in a pluralistic, multi-faith world. As we seek to be missional in our world today, a key component of it will be how we relate to people of other faiths (and no faith at all).

What do you think about these questions of spiritual formation and identity?

  • John Longard

    Since being missional depends upon a recognized movement of God. I would concur. In the past (ok, currently, as well) too much of our efforts had to do with how do we get more butts in the pews. We think/thought that it was all about what was good for us, the church. Unchurch and dechurched folks smelled this stench from a mile away. What we’ve unwittingly done is treat them as objects to serve our need for success. We looked at visitors as fresh meat, as how they could help us. But it’s about serving others without any thought of our gain. To me that only comes through spiritual formation, aka, discovering what God is up to and joining God in the work. It’s God’s mission, not ours.

  • Patrick Watters

    Simple and “spot on”!

  • Hilary

    Good point – what do you do when the branding of Christianity and the Republican party is so tightly bound together that people can honestly say they would rather go to hell then believe in a Christ who hates science, hates women making their own choices with their bodies, hates Hates HATES homosexuals who don’t already hate themselves, and hates brown-skinned Spanish speaking people who doen’t have their paperwork in order.

    How do you relate to the Jew, the Muslim, the Wiccan who by their actions show all the fruits of the Spirit, yet totally reject Christ – not out of hating Christianity, but because they love their own traditions?

    I think it is the greatest weakness of Christianity that there is no room for non-Christians to be anything other then projets to convert, or minions of Satan to be destroyed, kept in place. Why can’t you guys just be our friends and neighbors without any goal other then . . . being friends and neighbors? Why do we always have to be targets? Do you have any idea how hard it makes it to trust any Christian, because no matter how friendly or non-judgemental you may seem, it’s like you missional types are nothing but long-term sleeper cells waiting to pounce and trick us into betraying our people, family, heritage because you think God is too small and petty to love anybody but yourselves. Are you really so arrogent/ignorant to think that only Christians do God’s will?

  • len

    You mean, we should take Jesus words seriously and just “love our neighbours?”

    • Steve Knight


  • John L

    Hi Len & Steve. I’m wrestling with the tribal aspects of Christian identity vs. the universal idea of loving unconditionally – wondering if Jesus came to instill a distinct religious identity, or free people from religious identity – to create a new kind of religious posture, or set us free from religious posturing. Hilary makes a central point – if unconditional love is the ideal spiritual formation, how does religious tribalism enhance this?
    To rephrase Hilary’s question, can someone who has never heard the gospel (the vast majority of people over the last 2000 years) love as effectively as someone professing Christian religious faith? In other words, is “an identity rooted in Christ” a universal reality that follows love, or a professing-tribal-systematic prerequisite –to– love? Is spiritual formation more about developing the right theology and missiology, or developing an increasingly loving and charitable life? Can a life saturated in Christ’s love and charity be lived outside of religious identity or affiliation?

  • Josh

    My question would be: what makes a Christian identity Christian? Can we possibly reduce the gospel of grace – which is biblically at the heart of any transformation – to some principles of behavior and necessary attitudes, including those we need to show towards people of other faiths? Where is the historical continuity to the original proclamation of the gospel which was both respectful and culturally sensitive, yet at the same time unashamedly bold in its call to repentance and obedience towards the one whom God appointed Lord of all?

    I’m not trying to push people out here whom God already has reconciled but are we truly loving for example when we don’t point out what constitutes “lostness” in any kind of religiosity (including the Christendom version) and the urgency of the need to give up man-made idols to experience true freedom? Would it be loving to omit the fact that the reality of grace is embodied in Christ, his incarnation, the true image of God portayed in all he said and did, his atoning death, the indwelling power of his resurrection? If we’re afraid to joyfully confess the historical and narrative anchors of what we coin “salvation”, aren’t we really turning “love” into a mere formula with no more power to save and transform than the Jewish law?