IF IT’S TRULY MISSIONAL THEN . . . .
As I think of our upcoming Global Faith Forum and the release of my most recent book Bold As Love – there are some things that occurred when I began my “missional” journey which I didn’t understand then, that I do now.
At a point of serious reflection in my life in 1992, a question permeated my mind, “What if the church were the missionary?” That question didn’t just change me, it changed our church, and forever changed my perspective of what ministry, the kingdom, the body of Christ, and discipleship were all about. It wasn’t long after that I discovered David Bosch’s “Transforming Mission” and Dallas’ Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy” – two books which rocked me to my core. I didn’t just read them, I began to read their footnotes and discovered Tolstoy, Bonheoffer, E. Stanley Jones, Gandhi, and the list goes on. Stanley Jones’s biography on Gandhi has always stood out with me. Jones wrote, “If Gandhi only saw Jesus as a model and only got half the gospel, he did more with his half-understanding of the Gospel of the Kingdom than most Christians do with their complete understanding.” Those books, coupled with our churches “front door” work in Vietnam that has required us to mobilize hundreds of our members using their jobs and building relationships – then coming back home and doing the same thing in the inner city through our cell groups has forever changed our church and ministry – and even my understanding of the Kingdom and Jesus.
NorthWood has been written about in many of these “missional” books and articles on how to engage the world, our city, and help multiply churches out of our local congregation. We’ve never called ourselves missional – we’ve never called ourselves anything – just a church, Northwood Church. I don’t know how well we would stack up or what the latest nuance of the word is – but to me if a church, a ministry, a person is truly missional then . . . . .
1. IT’S GLOBAL. YES, I believe in “glocal” (wrote a book on it Glocalization) – but most people see the kingdom only in local terms – that is short-sighted, me-centric, and kingdom limiting. The world is connected like never before and you are now global whether you want to be or not. So, how are you responding on your global stage? How are you engaging globally? Missions as we have known it is dead and dying – it is being “reimagined” by 20-somethings who are intuitively global and 50-somethings who, for work or whatever reason, began to travel and experience global culture and were bitten. Refugees, new immigrants, your neighborhood is becoming your first taste of the world right next door to where you live. To not be global is to deny the last command of Jesus, the commands of God. From Genesis 1 all the way throughout the entire Bible we are commanded to spread the name, fame, and glory of God to the ends of the earth.
2. IT’S RELATIONAL. People are not projects to be processed and managed. In the West we are driven by vision – the rest of the world is driven by relationships. You can’t rush them. You can’t force them. We want to share our faith without relationship – we want to serve for conversions – that won’t work in the 21st century – you are legitimately going to have to care about people – and by caring not that you say it, but that those you want to serve say it about you. When that happens, massive doors will open to you that you never could have imagined. You can’t use them. You have to “love” them. You have to “serve” them. You have to “listen” to them. We like projects – so we show up as a force in our city and/or the world and announce our intentions as Jesus followers over what we are “going to do for you” and the world is too polite to say anything – but when we are gone, they roll their eyes. Their desire is first and foremost to have a relationship with us. Only where we as Westerners have polluted the relationship with money, do relationships not matter that much. The world is hungry for relationships. If you open your hand and your heart to others, they will do more for you, and challenge and change you – more than you will them. Whereas we are very measured and careful in how and who we connect with – when you are in their heart they have no limits or preconditions. We just can’t get around that “loving others” thing that Jesus called us to.
3. IT’S SOCIETAL. The gospel of the Kingdom is corporate and personal, it’s national and communal – it’s all inclusive and holistic. It’s the big picture. We try to segment and isolate thereby becoming tribal and specialized – but the kingdom is much broader than that. In studying eschatology – we look at Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, etc., as road maps pinpointing events for Jesus to come back. That’s the wrong hermeneutic focus to interpret those books – instead it’s the paradigm of the kingdom. This is why nations matter, this is why suffering and injustice are done away with – Jesus is on his throne and we are his servants serving the broader world. We shouldn’t show up as saviors, but as partners, fellow human citizens, and fellow followers of Jesus. We should be salt and light – not concentrated only with us – but dispersed throughout all of society. This is why I believe in domains to operate, the society is the grid – not the church: health, government, education, economics, civil society, art, agriculture, communication, etc. We recently switched the name of our youth camp from “for” the city to “with” the city. Why? Nuance and communication matters. We should do what we do not to make us feel good about ourselves but to magnify the glory of God and to serve others in humility.
4. IT’S DISCIPLE RELEASING. God established dominions and authority throughout the world. His kingdom authority has been placed within all of us. It does no good if the body of Christ focuses merely on religious work or Sunday events. We learned many years ago – we must “loose them and let them go.” And they have. . . . Sometimes it’s messy, but always it’s rewarding. Most Christians don’t realize how open global and American society is to serving the city – so when they do, there is massive access and opportunity. I learned years ago, sadly you don’t have to do a lot to gain credibility – most people talk. Release your people – don’t focus too much on projects. Use projects to introduce the masses to the city and the world. My job as a pastor is to connect, equip, and release the body of Christ to multiply. That changes how I “do” church and even “Sundays” dramatically. The next time something cool is going on and the media wants to do a story – instead of interviewing you – let it be those disciples who are doing that work. Make heroes of disciples. Yes, some will become arrogant, prideful, and everything we pastors are guilty of, but God will deal with that.
5. IT’S THE PUBLIC SQUARE. When you study the ministry of Paul and Jesus – they did the majority of what they did in the public square. We focus on the “church” square and, as a result for the most part, have a tribal impact. We should not be shocked the church in the West has so little impact. We either focus the masses to a big event (which isn’t all bad we live in a celebratory culture of sports, etc., so we should capitalize on that) or we narrow and limit our relationships to those that don’t take us too far from our tribal culture or relationships for the sake of “community”. Both limit the Gospel. I never dreamed in a million years I’d be working more with people of other religions/faiths than I would my own faith tribe. I never dreamed that my equipping would be spent as much on connecting everyday disciples locally and globally as it is with young pastors getting ready to plant churches. Forget scratching the surface, we are clueless to this massive world God has placed us in and how we move and operate. Paul should be our model. He was in Ephesus and in Acts 19:37 – a tentmaker, not a poor profession but one that would connect him to every domain – he is INVITED INTO the public square because that’s where he lived – and when the riots break out, it was said, “He hasn’t stolen from us or blasphemed our god.” Or think of Jesus who hung out with women, prostitutes, tax collectors, drunks, gluttons – etc., and loved them and they loved him. The only people he ever got upset with were those in his own tribe. We should work with MUSLIMS, JEWS, GAYS, ADDICTS, EVERYONE! Our primary ministry should not be to “bring them to the church” but for everyday disciples to “be the church” in the broader society. The whole world is watching and listening to everyone – us included. They see us publicly on the web, the news, twitter – what are they hearing? What impression are we making? How would we blog, tweet, speak, act differently if we saw that camera in front of us 24/7? Come join the conversation and even sign up for the some of the projects together at the Global Faith Forum Nov 14-16, 2013
Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for Glocal.net . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.