Why all the fuss and attack on being missional?
Forward: I am about to write about a subject that will draw fire – a lot of it. That fire, I suspect, will not be a meaningful humble dialogue, but a diatribe of insults thrown at me, my arguments dismissed, my character even assassinated. I mean that. I am about to exhort and even rebuke a part of the American church. I say American, because I have not seen this attitude widely in any other nation – and I’ve been to a few. Where I have, they are under the spell and influence of a small sect of celebrity pastors from the US.
Why do it? Today is a beautiful sunny day – and I could just not write it – and most people I know choose to not write and say what I am about to say – because it’s not worth it, they do not want the fight (I don’t want “the fight”), and because they feel they won’t be heard.
But, it’s important. Sometimes you have to say what needs to be said. When those you number as one of you become ungodly and ugly, smell more like hell than heaven, behave boorishly and bully others (like Christian Taliban even – yes, I just said that!), and when they do damage to the church and Christ’s name, at some breaking point, I just have to speak.
I’ll get assailed for speaking from some blind wounding. I’m not. I’ve thought about this, reflected and I have a prophetic calling to say what needs to be said – even when it hurts and offends. I pray that nothing more and nothing less than what the Spirit wants said will be said. I pray that nothing more or less than what the Spirit wants to prick will do so. I beforehand apologize for anything I write that honestly is not from God. I don’t want to offend or hurt. I’ll fail at this I know. I do hope that when it is from the Spirit, it will pierce, not because I’m hurling God at someone, but because I care and want the church to be unified, effective, reflecting Christ’s humble nature and making His name renown together. May He get all the glory.
Okay, here goes….
Why are so many people against other saints wanting to center their lives on the Missio Dei (Mission of God)? Is that wrong?
Some of the fuss: I have some friends who are fans of, participants of some anti-missional movements. Yea, we’re still friends, really friends. Some of them are part of the Acts 29 network. I applaud the aggressive and action oriented movement and its desire to see people come to know Christ – in the west and globally. I have a hard time with their aggressive, offensive, attacking tactics against anyone who disagrees with them on anything, and their attack on the world (people who do not know Christ) because Jesus loves them so much He died for them, and incarnated Himself for them. One issue to emphasize – we are also “them” and in need of Christ’s propitiation as much as anyone… don’t forget that. We hold that there is still an Imago Dei (image of God) in them, though muted, through a veil – as mine is still muted from it’s full effect and will be until I cross the Jordan. BUT – I do applaud and admire them. It is led (in reality if not in office, by its most influential pastor and champion, Mark Driscoll. I knew Mark when he and I took some of our early seminary classes together. He’s always been rough (enough has been written on that already) and passionate (no doubt there – He loves Christ and wants His name made renown). Yet, he’s made more than a few faux pas (he needs a minder to check what he decides to say in public rather often). When I talk to these friends who promote and proudly share about their church and their movement, it usually begins with “Well, Mark Driscoll says…”. I get frustrated because I rarely hear “Christ says…”, “God says…”, or the many verses across the Word seem to say…”. There is a decided “ex-Cathedra” to what he says… yet there is huge condemnation for Papal authority. Hmmm. Okay, another poke. I confess it!
One of his targets for the Wrath of Mark has been the missional movement. I’ll share that I am not sure what he’s so critical of… Sure, there are imperfect leaders who number themselves with this movement. I agree and often have issue with some positions. BUT, I also have huge issue with what people in the neo-reformed movement say also… Mark’s attack on anything other than bear eating, flannel wearing, farting men is a start. I could also unleash on his misogyny, brutish narrow view of the gifting and usefulness (or lack of) for women in God’s church – all stated ex-cathedra, never with a humble tone and acknowledgement that there are a lot of people with many various positions on this topic. but we’ll save that for another day. Summarily, I’d say, sincerely, humbly and with even reticence that Mark can come across quite arrogant, a bully and a celebrity leader. I wrestle with that. Yet, Mark makes a contribution to the Kingdom and for that I am thankful.
I have another friend who has given many great years to helping plant churches and help existing churches become effective. I admire that ability. He’s written a great work on movements, studying them for years before codifying his work into a book. I’ve got it on my shelf. Yet, this friend, hates, hates the missional movement, and writes condemnation against it all the time. His recently blog was “why it’s doomed to fail”. Really? From where does such contempt come? I’ve attempted to write and engage this, but he ignores my questions. When I’ve done comments on the blog, he summarily dismisses my points.
As I’ve said above, there are people to criticize, just as some are already dismissing me even as they read this. I’m worthy of critique. I have issues as well, but – why would fellow saints want to attack, dismiss, break ranks with, defame, indict and disparage fellow Jesus followers who say the truth (the church in the west is in a nose dive), and who want to do something about it and get us from being so self centered in our understanding of what it is to be the church, and get back out there loving people to Christ? Why does that threaten other saints?
1. Is it because mission becomes the organizing center of being the church? Is reaching a hurting and lost world a bad place to start?
2. Is it that worship is the response to the Participatio Christi (participation with Christ…[in His mandate of the great commission]) wrong?
3. Is discipleship in the trenches of being the church sent wrong?
4. Is helping people understand God and His Word through learning to behave as they learn to believe, even before they’ve reconciled their relationship with Him wrong? You call it evangelism, we call it the beginning and foundation of discipleship – and it continues for a life time, not just for new saints. Is that wrong?
5. Is mission which includes the concerted proclamation of the rule of God through the Word, deeds, presence as a people, benevolence, loving the poor, wrong?
6. Is Community (Fellowship) in the liminal forged relationships that create a body of people who live life together, sharing, discipling, encouraging, exhorting each other wrong?
7. Is a life that is lived as mission in every relationship in the natural life common schedule and spheres of life (school, work, neighborhood, association, recreation) instead of programmatic ministry to people we don’t know, or know well, wrong?
8. Is living simpler, sacrificing one’s rights, the American Dream, materialism and cultural addiction wrong?
9. Is having varying political views and caring for the poor, and not protecting the most wealthy wrong? Is it wrong to have varying ideas about solving today’s economic, social and moral dilemmas wrong? [I’m very suspect this colors much more than many will dare, dare, dare to admit or even consider]
10. Is possibly (but not universally) practicing the church gathered differently wrong? Is it wrong to maybe (emphasis maybe, because many do it the same as conventional institutional churches) not own a building? To not have a written constitution (You gotta show me this one in Scripture), label leadership with different labels? To lead differently than the Alpha male? To lead collectively, rather than a corporation model? To not be giant and draw saints from other churches?
11. Is it that during a gathered expression of the church where worship, the hearing under the Word, and celebrating being a people, ministering to each other that almost everyone participates and shares in leading each other, using their gifts and there is not an elite clergy class? We didn’t say there are not collective leaders overseeing what’s going on, or how it’s done, or what’s taught… we just said that rather than the 95% who sit passive on a Sunday, we share it, changing it weekly. Is that wrong? Want a verse or two to challenge that misconception of right theology?
12. Is it possibly that we think we actually do need a plethora of approaches to mission in our complex multi-sub-cultured society? Are conventional churches just scared and indicted because we’re not just like them? Are we that xenophobic?
13. Is it that we equally validate faith in behavior (how we live, not just what we don’t do) as equally paramount to believing the right theology? So, we validate theology and also expect people to actually live it out – that’s wrong?
We are in a liminal era where huge change is occurring. We are now a people on the margins, who must recognize that the methodology of yesteryear no longer works. Crusades, aggressive confronting tactics only end the conversation, not move it forward.
I’m confused, just what is it you/they are against?
I just don’t get it? To be missional is to simply care about the Great Commandment and Great Commission so much – like a missionary who goes anywhere else off shore from the United States – that we live like missionaries here. Why is this neo-reformed group so antagonistic and honestly hurtful?
Truth Moment: If you are one of these people, your questions are stated like indictments, your words are aggressive and agitating in tone, word choice and posture. You don’t talk like we’re on the same side, worshiping the same Lord, caring about the same mission. You alienate, talk about us, condemn us, and frankly really hurt. I don’t get it.
We’ve lost 45% of our support since returning to the US. Most of that was this inability to embrace anyone who did anything different. I’ve less ties to this right winged evangelical group of the church than ever before. I’ve discovered there are gracious traditions who encourage and embrace, who celebrate and appreciate what we’re doing. Confession: The Roman Catholic Archdiocese is more applauding of what we’re doing than the church I was last a staff pastor of in the US. I appreciate that they validate we want to love people to Christ. I grieve that “my own people” don’t. This isn’t about me, or my own experience – it is about the blind condemnation of a movement they (including my own friends) who attack, dismiss, invalidate, and condemn something they’ve never even considered, and who are failing to discern, reflect and look at what God is doing in a group of people through the lens of what does God say (word for word, and in His nature and heart seen through the Word) about a people living like Paul, Titus, Mary, Priscilla and Aquilla.
Allow me to quote, Reggie McNeal, a well known Pastor, Author and apostolic leader in his just released book, Missional Communities:
“For 1700 years the church has focused primarily on its “gathered” mode of being. Building have been constructed to house gathered congregations. Clergy have developed liturgy for worship service gatherings. Worship leaders have rehearsed choirs, praise teams, bands, orchestras, and drama groups to lead the gatherings. Pastors have produced sermons to deliver to the assembled church. Church theology has been written largely with the gathered, corporate church mind – from the discussion of calling and giftedness to the description of how the church conducts its various functions. Training for church leaders has focused on equipping them to guide the gathered church in its worship, evangelism and outreach, teaching the discipleship, pastoral care, fellowship, and missions programs. If all these congregation-centric activities and programs went well, we knew we were successful. Our metrics celebrated that success.
Although we acknowledged that the church also had a “scattered” dimension, that realm of church life received very little attention over the centuries and served mainly to designate the period between the gatherings. “Real” church, everyone knew, happened when the church came together as congregation. “Scattered” church, the time between gatherings, was considered the separate, private domain of church members engaged in their life pursuits and occupations. The hope was that what happened at church influenced these other life compartments but “church” was reserved for congregation-specific activities. Consequently, the dispersed church failed to have the clarity of purpose that church as congregation enjoyed.”
~McNeal, Missional Communities, p. 15-16
I read this, and see the truth in what Reggie is saying – this privatization of saints outside of the church to “pursue their pursuits” has meant a religious life, not a relationship; a very self centered life apart from church, where Jesus is added to one’s life to help make “my pursuits go well” or “bless them to go well”. This consumer understanding of faith is one that should be examined to consider if it is even a legitimate conversion. All one has to do is look at cultural understanding of faith… cultural Catholics, Bible belt Baptist regions where they claim Jesus and live like hell. Hmmm. Any guess where I stand.
You see – to be missional – also implies an all consuming discipleship that goes straight to the heart and compels one to live an integrated life, consecrated for Christ – all are called to be as Nazarites – their lives set apart for the Lord, not the American Dream, but a heavenly one. Could this be a root to the threatened consumer prosperity Gospel the American church has embraced? [Yes, I just said that.] Don’t think so? Ever see sermon series like this: Ten Steps to a successful …. life, parenting, aging, family, business, self? How many saints have left your church, or come to your church because _______ is better there/here? Ever hear statements like “I get fed here.” “The worship is more Godly.” …Consumers. To be missional is to be a people, with a people, living and discipling each other – as a people – no matter what. Rather than being a part of the solution, we run – to get “our desires and itches scratched.” I’ve got a problem with that. Not private? Does your church ever spend more than a cursory statement at the end of an exegetical sermon to wrestle integrating what God says into the lives of those of this body of faith? Does it spend the time in God’s Word on interpretation of the Greek and Hebrew and skip over the challenging Exegetical Bridge to reach into our lives here, so many centuries and cultures removed? So, it’s wrong to call for all of one’s life to follow Christ? Is it wrong to teach life integration of God’s word?
So, my challenge: Can we stop attacking, hurting, distancing ourselves, dismissing, indicting, disparaging others to others – with our vile contempt, our dissension? Friends, this is sin – being good good Evangelicals, good neo-reformists, you don’t need me to quote the passages to you about this. You know, we are not to be this way. Why do we slip into this and why do we not challenge leaders who foster this and sin, causing us to sin? Why are we anti saints who love the same Christ and want to live their lives following and serving Him and obeying His commend to go make disciples? At the end of the day, why do they even care and have time or energy or desire to spend their words and attention on others? It doesn’t look like, or smell like Jesus at all. A person we are in a spiritual journey, leading this person closer and closer to understanding and becoming a Jesus follower said this, “I like you all, you’re not like those ugly evangelicals.” Her comment had nothing to do with theology, or ecclesiology, or missiology. It has everything to do with the experience of encounters with people who define themselves by everything their against, who are always negative and ugly towards others who don’t see the world like them. She went on to say, “Why would I ever, ever, want to follow God as they do? I don’t want to become such a horrible ugly and cynical person.” At the end of the day, do we shine light, season salt, leave the fragrance of Christ, taste and look like Christ? Paul told the Philippians about the character of Christ and told them to emulate that same nature. [Phil 2.5-11. Arguments?
I expect this will cause a kerfuffle. I’m actually past not saying what needs to be said on this topic. It’s wrong, it’s sin, it dishonors Christ and it hurts other saints who are striving with their lives as living sacrifices. A different calling is not wrong. So, stop it.
Post-script: No, I’m not defensive. I do not aggrandize my contribution, nor to I apologize or diminish it. We are sent – sent by and for God. I do not cower or seek any one’s approval. I’m not defensive, I’m legitimately tired of the rubbish and spiritually immature behavior, the arrogance and prideful posture of those making these attacks. I’m not defensive – I’m rebuking, exhorting and indicting this ungodly, unChristlike, unbecoming attitude. In fact, those who have stood in this posture, should repent, and be ashamed of their behavior, be they a celebrity or not. It’s time to stop it – for God’s sake and the sake of the people we seek to love to Christ.