Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Warning: Missional Is Messy

            The solution to the “great omission” lies in moving from in-reach to outreach.[1]  It means shifting into ‘go-mission,’ breaking out of the ecclesial ghetto and taking the initiative to go to “the neighbor.” This go-mission requires overcoming initial inertia.  And going is messy.

            The church must go to others for they will not automatically come to the church, meeting on the church's turf, on the church's terms.[2]  It is the church's responsibility to penetrate people in the spheres of the market- place, neighborhoods, universities, arts, and government.  God calls the church not merely to gather but to scatter, exiting the building and taking the initiative to go and meet sojourners (not-yet Christians) where they are and engage them in meaningful conversations.  Like a football team that breaks from its huddle, the church must break from its "holy huddle" to carry out its mission.   Charles Colson states:

We must take the church to the people.  Too often we sit in church as spectators, waiting for the needy multitudes to come watch the show with us.  But for those in need—spiritually and physically—a fat, lethargic church preoccupied with its own entertainment holds no appeal.  Jesus didn't set up counseling hours in the Temple; He went into the homes of the most notorious sinners, to the places where the lame, the beggars, the needy could be found.[3]

         This "go-mission" calls us to leave our comfort zones and enter various spheres of influence.  Taking the initiative demands that we move from “the calm of the pew” into “the messiness” of people’s lives.  And so we say with C. T. Studd: “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.”  And going is messy.

            The great commission will not be accomplished by timid action, or by waiting passively for it to happen.  The church must be on the offensive but this does not mean that the church is to be offensive.  Rather, we reach out intentionally and tactfully to those who do not know God.  Boldness and gentleness are not mutually exclusive. As John Stott said, "We carry out mission in Christ’s way."[4]

            For us, the most receptive groups to engage are found within our spheres of influence.  These comprise our everyday spaces— neighborhood, workplace, and third places. For a local church, the most receptive population to engage is its collective sphere of relationships.  In order to do this, however, the church must provide encouragement and opportunities for believers to build relationships with those in their sphere of influence.  It becomes counter-productive to over-program, expecting believers to attend several services and meetings each week to the neglect of reaching out to others.

            Rather, believers should be encouraged to attend a worship service, a small group or missional community, and service opportunity, with the balance of time given to activities such as entertaining neighbors, exercising at a health club, volunteering at a hospital, coaching a soccer team, helping with a reading program, or participating in a local civic group.  As we respond to the "go-mission," depart our comfort zones, and serve "the neighbor," a warning is in order: missional is messy!


     [1]George Barna, User Friendly Churches (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1991), 46.
     [2]Delos Miles, Master Principles of Evangelism (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1982), 15,
     [3]Charles Colson, Who Speaks for God?  Confronting the World with Real Christianity (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1985), 96.
     [4] John R. Stott, “A Note about the Stuttgart Statement on Evangelism” in Proclaiming Christ in Christ's Way: Studies in Integral Mission, Vinay Samuel, Albrecht Hauser, eds. (Oxford : Regnum Books, 1989), 208.

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