Striving to be missionally effective Missional Polity? It sounds like an oxymoro...
For seven years now I’ve been watching my suburban church fall in love with mission. We’ve begun to leave behind the out-dated myths that tell us (the local church) to merely write checks and leave it to the real professionals to do missions. We’re listening more to those who remind us that missions “…is the distinctive mark of being a Christian.” (As the great Scottish preacher, James S. Stewart put it.)
As a result, we are actually getting caught up in the work God is doing in the world around us! People with minivans and mortgages are getting swept off their feet into God’s mission all around us. We’re getting more involved with the non-Christians who live right next door to us. We’re getting more involved with refugees and others who are struggling in our city. And we’re even getting involved in God’s work with orphans and unreached peoples in Honduras and Russian and Ethiopia.
This process has been exhilarating and breathtaking and, to be honest, pretty challenging.
You see it’s one thing to say that we are going to be “missional”, it’s another thing entirely to begin living into that.
Our church loves ECO’s value of Missional Centrality, and we genuinely stand with other ECO churches in our commitment to live out the whole of the Great Commission – including evangelism, spiritual formation, compassion, and redemptive justice – in our communities and around the world. But when it comes to actually living that out, we find ourselves taking risks, stepping into areas of weakness, and needing to be trained. As a Presbyterian church that always prefers matters to be done “decently and in order”, our foray into missions has proven wonderfully challenging!
If God had asked us, we probably would have preferred to have all our ducks in a row, do all our research, make careful plans, and then (and only then) begin living out Missional Centrality. Instead, we are getting swept up into something God is already doing – which means we’ve made mistakes, have been surprised, have been forced to admit our weaknesses and ignorance, and have throughout it all had to become humble learners.
While it’s hard to admit you need to learn, it’s actually been quite refreshing! It’s actually freeing to admit that vacationing in Cancun isn’t great preparation for how to enter into other cultures with grace and humility. It’s empowering to confess that being successful in business (as many at Bonhomme have been) doesn’t exactly equate to understanding successful mission partnerships.
And so we leaders at Bonhomme have woken up to a truth about leading a church that wants to be more “missional” – we need to train and equip all these folks that are getting caught up in God’s work. As pastors and teachers we are called to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” as Paul tells us in Ephesians. And training isn’t easy work. There’s no reason that folks at Bonhomme would implicitly know how to engage postmodern non-Christians, or develop a healthy cross-cultural partnership, or understand the complexities of community development. And so we need to train.
Here at Bonhomme we have a healthy, thriving Alpha ministry that draws many non-Christians to the table to hear about Jesus. But not all of our Alpha volunteers understand how to help a distrustful postmodern non-Christian take a step closer to Jesus. So we train them on postmodernity and evangelism.
Bonhomme has a blossoming partnership with a small orphanage in Honduras. But not all of those initially involved understood the dangers of dependency and so chartered some unhealthy courses for our partnership. So we began to train them on the principles of healthy international partnerships and how to pursue sustainability.
And here’s the trick about training that we’ve been learning: if God is at work all around us, then this means folks from Bonhomme could get caught up in all sorts of mission: from family healing to relational evangelism to urban mercy to global partnerships. This is inherently much messier than a top-down, more focused approach to mission. And this means (here’s the tricky part) we need to be prepared to equip and train people in various kinds of mission work.
So while living out Missional Centrality in the local church is messy and risky and requires church leaders to increase their own missional IQ, there really is no other way to be the local church, is there? That’s what we’re learning. As James S. Stewart put it, “To accept Christ is to enlist under a missionary banner.”