Archive for Missio Dei
Over the past several years, I have often been reminded of a simple truth that impacts my perception and responses to others. It has impacted my lifestyle and my missiology. Ultimately, it even impacts my views on ecclessiology. The statement is this:
Lost people have a propensity to act lost.
When I forget this, I can easily be lured into a mission of moralism where I want to help make people be better. With this reality firmly embraced, however, I have a passion to be sent as Jesus was sent.
For generations and centuries, the Jewish people had longed and waited for the Messiah. Then in a non-descript town in far less than middle class accommodations, Mary and Joseph experienced the birth of baby Jesus. Shepherds, informed by the angels while out watching their sheep, came to the stable to worship the baby that was wrapped up in baby blankets and placed in a feed trough. It was a tender moment that would impact all of history, but so little was understood on that night.
With the key elements of the plot and characters present in the story, we have a sufficient amount of details to understand the events. But often our romantic nature wants to add in the details. Some begin the story as “the coldest, darkest night in all of Israel….” Perhaps the night described should be a Stephen King-esque setting if only the gospel writers had known how to pen the tale. But it is not essential in order for the hearer to realize the truth of Christmas for the night to have been unique in light and weather. Isn’t a manger and a stable bad enough? Isn’t the birth of the Son of God glorious enough?
There was a clear point to the story and truth of Christmas. On that night, God came to live among us. Emmanuel. The sending of God. The birth of the Savior. This story spoke to the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people that had longed to be freed from Roman rule. The story resonated with the Hebrew cry for help throughout a difficult history. Like salve to their wounds was the hope that peace could come to the earth and dwell among their people. That was the story. It happened.
But something else did not happen that night. A Pauline theology of salvation was not delivered to the people. No explanation was given to the hopeful as to what they needed to do in order to be born again. It was enough for them to believe–believe that their hopes were fulfilled in this infant. To believe that God had been faithful to his promises. Yes the future would be essential to the working out of salvation, but that was to be done over the next 33 years. On the night of Christmas, hope and peace reigned supreme with those who heard and believed that God, continuing to prove Himself faithful, would work out the details and explanations for the salvation of His people as He required.
While the darkest, coldest night is not found in the gospel narratives that I have read, there are other words that are insightful. Some words describing the responses of the characters include: terrified, good news, great joy, favor, amazed, treasured, pondered, glorifying, praising, waiting, marveled, blessed, gave thanks…. Much was made clear at the time of Jesus’ birth. However, much was still unknown.
Recently I posted a video about “Christians trying to convert non-Christians.” This Christmas story, I believe, speaks to that. What the characters knew and understood, they believed. Sometimes simultaneous with and sometimes prior to their belief they also had fear or questions they were pondering. The story of Christmas answered so many questions, yet it raised so many others. Here, in the manger, lies hope and peace. How is that going to work out? If this is the Savior, then what will the story line be?
Like the shepherds, ours is to tell the incredible story of hope and peace. I pray that this may be the beginning of a conversation–the beginning of a relationship. May others see the hope and peace of Christ in us. May they experience what it looks like for us because of Emmanuel. It is my prayer that they will hope and believe in something so much more for their life, their loved ones, their world. It is also my prayer that we will be faithful disciples to walk with them sharing our very lives so that we may enjoy their friendship, so they may know the one, true God.
Conveying what is arguably the best metaphor for missional, incarnational living, “Live Sent: you are a letter” is a healthy, needed read for followers of Christ. Jason Dukes, who I am proud to call a friend, uses an extended metaphor or conceit throughout the book to share the ever-present reality that as disciples and disciple-makers we are the image of Christ to the lost. Like the snail mail or an email that is sent to be read, our lives are the content that communicates who Christ is. The reading of a letter or email can happen anywhere, but it must be close and personal. It is real. The book is a call to examine the way we live our lives. It is a call to live sent. Constantly. Consistently. Christ-like. Living sent.
Jason poses the question, “What’s my part in this epic called humanity?’ His answer is that each of us is to live our lives just as we are sent by God–because we are. In the book he communicates four main points.
First, he suggests that “there may be some things we need to rethink.” These things include life, church, relationships, and our intentions. He encourages the reader to ask if the way we are doing each of these is consistent with our call to live sent?
Second, he states that “living sent is all about trusting your value.” Made in the image of God, we can move forward in confidence that our life or our “live” (short “i” there) is worthwhile because of him.
Third, he shares that to live sent, we must do life together. He writes that the “epic of humanity…should be seen most beautifully within the movement Jesus started that he called His ‘church.'”
Fourth, we are to be consistently “giving ourselves away intentionally.” There is a really good example for that. Enough said.
Pick the book up and read it–to the end. Don’t miss out on the stories and the post scripts. They are important to make this both a “construct shift” and provide some practical, non-sequential handles to put this in motion. Because after all, living sent is about making disciples as we go.
One final note here that is important. It is the unwritten but very read post script. Jason is one humble guy. Borrow or steal his stuff and he’ll be fine. Just live and share it is his hope. Jason is unique in that he is not reacting to something that he grew up with that he needs to fix or improve. He has seen this sentness lived out in his family as he grew up in inner-city New Orleans doing life there. Watching his parents live sent there. He is blessed as he is part of a network of other humble leaders and followers and learners. He walks through life with some great guys that are also humble leaders: Jim Collins (no, not that Jim Collins the other one), Hal Haller, Robert Beckman, Adam Mayfield, Billy Mitchell, and others. These men along with their wives and children make up a great cloud of witnesses that are making disciples as they live sent. This is a tribe that has encouraged their brother Jason to write down the way that he has lived and shared and modeled and lived…so that others may see the realness of it. So that others may be challenged and encouraged to live sent. These are guys that are a blessing to me though we have been together only for a spot of time so far. Thank you Jason and crew.
This missional conversation between Ed Stetzer and David Fitch treats the meaning (and growing lack of meaning) of the term missional and what that means for church. Many thanks to Bill Kinnon for making this and other quality videos available.
Produced by Toronto’s mkpl.tv for the blog kinnon.tv and the new social network, Missional Tribe, this video features Ed and Dave in conversation about what missional is, missional vs attractional and missional church & converts. Engaging, funny and yet serious, these two well known writers and missional commentators help expand our understanding of missional.
In Shakespeare’s famous balcony scene, Juliet shares that the name of an object is not what’s important, but the object itself.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliet Act II, Scene II
This is evident in Antioch where the people of the church were first called Christians. Today, these people refer to themselves by another name. This name, not stated here for security reasons, also identifies them with Christ. Why the change? The connotation for the word Christian has morphed into representing religion or an assortment of religions that have Christ as part of the story. In the view of the believers there, this is not representative of identifying with Christ as Savior and Lord in their culture. Being called by a name that represents religion as an activity is not, based on their actions, worthy of living for. While identifying with Christ as their Lord is worth dying for.
Similar in some ways, re-naming is occurring across the U.S. Some existing churches that have a long history continue to hold onto the existing name. Others have re-branded themselves. New church plants are discontinuing the use of “First (denominational name) Church of (city)” or “(community description) (denominational name) Church.” Whether or not this shift in names is made depends on a few key aspects including the church members’ cultural understanding of their community. Does the current name identify the church in a way that allows the community to relate well with them? Or by changing the name would more goodwill result among the unchurched in the area?
In a previous post, Non Sequitur, I posed the question: “Is the church name to be: 1) descriptive of the sending of God; 2) a tool to bring people to God; or 3) nomenclature of the people that are being sent out that bear the image of God?” I believe that selecting a name that is well-received by the community is important and worthwhile. However, I firmly believe that the name by which a group of believers identify their local meeting of church cannot replace the Missio Dei and what he calls his disciples to be about. To choose a name that is not offensive is a good thing. If it appeals, even better. The stumbling block to which we point, however, must be the cross of Christ, not a name that we select and promote.
Name changes can be good. Selecting a good name for future church plants is a good thing as well. But embracing the idea that we can be attractive enough for people to want to come to us so they can pick up their cross daily to follow Christ is a bit optimistic at best. The majority of our time and energies will be well-spent in prayer as well as encouraging and challenging each other to be about making disciples as we go. Having relationship with the lost so that they can see the glory of Christ in how he has transformed our lives, our families, our relationships is of far greater worth than working with consultants to re-brand a building or location.
One final note is that this post is an elaboration of some ideas from two previous posts: Sequitur and Non Sequitur. Based on these and a post on Erik Reed’s Savage Generation, I hope that this is helpful to clarify some thoughts. It is my intent that this post not reflect negatively on either the Relevants or Reconstructionists, but would instead place emphasis on the focus that is to be the passion and call of every disciple and every church.
It follows. If the God we serve is the missionary God, then what follows? While my last post, Non Sequitor, had 5 things that did not follow the Missio Dei, here are 7 that do. While the non-sequitur list does not include examples for obvious reasons, there are a number of good examples here. Here are some positive expressions of church that reflect the “sending of God.”
- Just do it – Some slogans transcend time because they ring true for now and other times. In athletics, Nike’s advertisers hit a home run. Some church slogans that ring true in light of the Missio Dei include Northstar’s “Don’t go to church, be the church.” This is key for a church that is awakening to the lostness around them. Another great slogan (and book) is by author Jason Dukes. His church seeks to “Live Sent” 24/7/365.
- Healthy networks – Teaching the things one has learned to others is evident in a number of networks, not the least of which is some great guys that are the Reproducing Churches Network. Multiple expressions and strategies here. Humility abounds. The message of Christ is being spread through churches that are planting churches. Through disciples that are making disciples.
- Taking it downtown – There is a movement of churches going into the heart of inner-city areas, bars, and other places where people live. Where lostness dwells. Where an incarnational witness has previously been scarce. Some expressions of this include: Redemption Hill in Richmond, Branch Life Church in Birmingham, and Evergreen in Portland. Another encouraging expression of this includes Christ Presbyterian Church where several families sold their suburban homes to move their families into inner-city Nashville to live among those they are loving and serving through a school of the arts.
- Taking it to the streets – Some have moved the church or made other radical changes. Rodney Calfee converted the children’s area of the The Downtown Church into a halfway house. Seeing people from the suburbs coming into the city for church, he realized that the population segments of downtown were not being reached with the gospel. With radical changes attendance plummeted, but God began to do amazing things in transforming lives. Matthew’s Table is an experience in community in Lebanon, TN. They meet in a coffee shop, and in homes, and wherever else along the way as they live as the church among their community.
- Sending Churches – Churches are sending people out in teams to the nations to be a blessing to communities and to seek to plant churches there. One church, LifePoint, is preparing to send multiple units comprising two teams to two different continents.
- Acoustic church – Caleb Crider with The Upstream Collective presents the “sound system rule” where a church moves toward either an attractional or missional model. Acoustic church could refer to what some call simple, organic, or house churches as well as some larger gatherings which are currently happening in other countries where Church Planting Movments (CPM) are underway. This is church with both a little more and a lot less. Some additions may include food, increased emphasis on prayer, relational discipling while also taking out lots of bells and whistles. Acoustic church is not for the glory or material enrichment of man. For some it serves as a place for the burned as well as the burned-out to have fellowship with believers. For others, however, it is a missional force. Exciting things are in the works here as a number of mega, multi-site, well-known churches are saying enough of our satellite or campus additions. Enough of us reaching a small segment of our city. Let’s go out to where the lost are and be the church among them. This is the church participating in the “sending of God.” Thanks to Neil Cole and Church Multiplication Associates for being one of the leaders in this for some time already.
- Ethnic awareness – Across the U.S. there are churches being planted for people groups from languages and countries including hispanics, Asians, Muslims, Europeans, etc. Additionally, church for skaters, surfers, cowboys, and others are encouraging. When this can coexist in one group of believers it is encouraging as well. Kudos to Mosaic and others that follow their lead.
It does not follow. I have only been back in the U.S. for a few months after living overseas for some time. Coming back there are a number of things that I continue to scratch my head about and try to reconcile how emphasis in these areas is consistent with the sending of God–Missio Dei. Aware of how prone church in some parts of the world is to take its cues from U.S. church, I feel it is important that the U.S. church at least be aware of these…. By way of disclaimer, I am not writing that each of the below items are bad things. However, I am writing….
Here are five things that may not serve as expressions of the “sending of God.” While the list these come from is longer, I thought it wise to pause here for the time being. And yes, the sequitur will follow. (smile)
- Naming of a church and the marketing mix – I am amazed to see several individuals, organizations, and churches spending so much energy and money seeking to determine what is the best name for a church. Is it marketable? Is it clever? How will the community receive the name? Does it appeal to our target audience? What logo can we design around it? What should our (corporate) colors be? While “a good name is more desirable than great riches,” I’m not entirely certain this Proverb refers to the church. Is the church name to be: 1) descriptive of the sending of God; 2) a tool to bring people to God; or 3) nomenclature of the people that are being sent out that bear the image of God?
- Style of worship – This seems to be one of the biggest debates over the past several years. Really I think the debate is about issues much bigger than just the style of music. I also think it is about bigger issues than the style of preaching. But is the debate as important as we have made it? How does this music or that music / this preaching or that preaching correspond to the sending of God? What place of preeminence should this topic hold in “as you go make disciples?”
- Buildings and campus(es) – As a pseudo-foreigner, the message I am receiving is: a (church) building is good; a campus is better; multiple campuses are the best. Does this follow with the sending of God? I’m not saying, I’m just saying. I do see an outlier effect here, but that is for another post on another day.
- Sermons for sale – Really? If that were to happen then I would think it would be time to be thinking about a Great Commission resurgence.
- Numbers – Is the staff office covered with numbers or names of those the staff is pleading for? If staff are hired or fired based on their output of numbers, what do we do with proven servants of God? Are we craving efficiency or an anointing? Would a church today hire Jeremiah?
Both simply straightforward and overwhelmingly complex, the nature of God is comprehensible to a child yet ever fascinating for an adult (an idea fleshed out in “The Ethics of Elfland” chapter in Chesterton’s Orthodoxy). A range of books on the topic illustrate this fact as you can see this in books such as the children’s book What is God Like or adult classics such as J.I. Packer’s Knowing God or Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy–all great reads. One aspect of the nature of God that profoundly impacts an evangelical’s understanding of Scripture, worldview, life, family, etc. is the missionary nature of God. The Missio Dei or “sending of God” is key for us, I firmly believe, to “think rightly about God.”
This is a key theme that will receive space in this blog. The “sending of God” impacts church past, present, and future. The creation and implementation of Sunday School reflects the church’s understanding and identifying with the Missio Dei when it was instituted a few generations ago. The Willow Creek seeker-sensitive model also is consistent with the Missio Dei for its time and place. The future is now in the making. How we move forward will be consistent with how we understand God and our willingness to be passionate about the things he is passionate about (aka obedience).
Continuing to be impacted by this, I have been reading the Bible with Missio Dei as a filter for some time now. Recently, I had the privilege of sharing “The Missio Dei Story” (MP3 download) with the wonderful people at Northstar Church in Blacksburg, VA. This is available through their website (10/13/09) as well as on the mission resource page on this blog as a tool to further thinking about the “sending of God.”