missional synchroblog – what is missional?

Knowing I would be participating in this missional synchroblog for a couple of weeks, I have been thinking much about this word “missional” and what I could contribute to the conversation. Like many theological words (evangelical, emergent, emerging, etc.) and terms that have risen to prominence throughout church history there has been a tendency for confusion, misuse, and misunderstanding to surface, which seems to be the case for this word “missional.”  Maybe together and with the Spirit’s help there might be greater understanding and clarity for those kingdom folk committed to the “missio Dei,” and his heart. There are three Scriptures that frame my thoughts regarding this term: John 20:21, John 1:14 and Matthew 28:19.

From a biblical perspective Missional begins in the relational heart of God as part of his essence and nature making it one of his attributes. As such God is a missioning God, or the missio Dei who sends himself in the form of his Son Jesus to provide redemption for human kind.  Jesus being the the radiance of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of his nature says to his disciples just prior to his ascension; “…… As the Father has sent me, so I also send you.” (John 20:21)  It is this “sending” dynamic that is at the heart of all that involves being a Christ follower.  Because God is a sending God, we the church are a sent people. We are a people on mission for our King Jesus 24/7.  We literally are a culture of people in the continual process of being sent by our “missio Dei.”  As such we are those whose lifestyle, posture, thinking, behavior, and practices are that of a missionary engaging people relationally in his or her spheres of influence.

Jesus also describes how we are to be sent: “as the Father sent me.: The word “as” in this verse references Jesus’ incarnational life ministry and frames for our modus operandi for being missional.  It is the “missional incarnational impulse” Alan Hirsch describes in chapter five of his book The Forgotten Ways. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message delineates well John 1:14 describing Christ’s incarnation.  It describes for us in simple terms what an missional/incarnational lifestyle looks like.

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son. Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

Christ literally embodied human form (flesh and blood) and moved into our neighborhoods (world).  The way missional lifestyle occurs is in an incarnational context.  Too often we are guilty of attempting to be missional without the embodiment of Christ present in our approach. Dwight Friesen says that its possible to be missional and not incarnational, but it is impossible to be incarnational and not missional. For Christ-followers it is allowing the Holy Spirit to form Christ in us so that those around us are able to see the reality of the gospel lived out.

John states that “we saw the glory with our own eyes.”  This statement begs the question; what is necessary for our culture to see the one-of-a-kind glory with their own eyes?  At least some of the answer lies in four dimensions that Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch refer to in one’s understanding of Christ’s incarnation; presence, proximity, powerlessness, and proclamation.  For those in our world to see, requires that we be present with them, which implies proximity. In other words, up close and personal.  It also means that the conventional attractional model of church will not do. The “come to us approach” is no longer sufficient — if it ever was.  It demands that there be a “go to them” along with a “be with them” mentality that is intentionally incorporated into one’s lifestyle.  The stance we implement is one of powerlessness; a posture of humility.  No longer is can we engage people from a place of power, as those who possess the answers, but a place of humility.  Being people willing to come alongside those in our spheres of influence with the single purpose of loving them for Jesus’ sake. If we desire to embody the Savior, we have no other choice other than to empty and divest ourselves of the contemporary power structures and live from a place of humility with those we live and relate.

These dimensions of presence, proximity, and powerlessness are counter to present culture and hold potential for displaying the one-of-a-kind glory (like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish) seen by the first followers of Jesus. These dimensions are the infra-structure that give us a missional voice.  When we find ourselves engaged with people as a result of our presence, proximity and powerlessness they will listen to our message.  And most of the time, we won’t need to utter a word, our incarnatonal/missional lifestyle will speak for us. Yes, there is a place for the proclamation of propositional truths, but in a culture that would rather be shown, than talked at, isn’t it more creditable to live it and when necessary verbalize it. This seems to be Jesus’ methodology; moving into the neighborhood being real and present.

A final Scripture phrase that has helped shape my missional paradigm is a more literal rendering of Matthew 18:19 “While you are going make disciples.” The making of disciples occurs as we are being sent.  As we live an incarnational/missional lifestyle we are simultaneously in a constant state of being sent or put another way, continually on mission.  It is here that we find direction, meaning, and purpose for living. As such, the making of disciples occurs in the ordinary everyday contexts of life.  It is not to be something that is difficult or requiring educational credentialing.  It just happens as we go about living life.  On the job, at home, on vacation, buying groceries, filling the gas tank of our car, or mowing our lawn, talking with our next door neighbor, the making of disciples is in process, the message is being proclaimed.

This incarnational/missional lifestyle possesses the organic quality of fruitfulness.  Fruit trees and other vegetation do not bear fruit by their own effort. They bear fruit just by being what the  Creator designed them to be.    Our missional response is to be all that the Holy Spirit desires as he shapes and forms Christ in us.  As we allow this to occur we realize we are being sent to our particular neighborhoods to express the reality of a life formed and shaped in Christ as we are present, in proximity with, and living in humility that results in the proclamation of the Truth.

Other synchroblog contributors

8 Responses

  1. Well done, Rob. There were lots of good posts out there today! Thanks for your encouraging comment to Abi….

  2. […] Mark Petersen Michael Crane Nick Loyd Patrick Oden Peggy Brown Phil Wyman Richard Pool Rick Meigs Rob Robinson Ron Cole Scott Marshall Sonja Andrews Steve Hayes Tim Thompson Thom Turner  Possibly related […]

  3. good post and some great passages from the gospels. thanks rob.

  4. […] 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 […]

  5. Hey bro, great post and thanks for participating in the synchroblog. Man there sure is some good stuff.

  6. Peggy and Andrew,

    Thanks for you encouraging comments – deeply appreciated. This conversation is certainly necessary and extremely valuable.

  7. Rick, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but have certainly thought about it a lot. Thanks for initiating this sychroblog. We have a tendency to let good theological words go by the wayside, this one is worth conversing over.

  8. […] 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 […]

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