Blues Brothers:  On the Missio Dei. Almost inadvertently, I began a series examining the posts from the recent missional synchroblog in which I participated with a total of 50 bloggers (plus a few unofficial entries). Recalling my the missional series from last summer, I’m determined to wrap this one up in fewer words. In any event, we dive into the next batch of submissions for consideration.

Mark Petersen begins with a story, then explains why it is missional, which he defines in ten points:

Being missional is:
1. having a focus outward, not inward
2. serving with no-strings-attached, not driving an agenda
3. listening to the needs of the community, not imposing one’s own solutions
4. learning the language and customs of the community, not being incomprehensible or irrelevant
5. enjoying the journey together, not feeling that the destination is the only thing of value
6. moving out from our community incarnationally (I am at home everywhere), not bringing people into our community (I am only at home with my own kind)
7. being all of us together, not ‘us versus them’
8. learning to dwell in the margins or risky areas, not preferring the comfortable centre
9. being changed – all of us – not just ‘them’
10. belonging before believing, not believing before belonging

Mark’s explanation illustrates a number of shifts, a theme we’ve seen already. He reinforces the idea of incarnationality, outward focus, and the removal of the us/them dichotomy.

Michael Crane observes that indeed the word is being variously used by different groups. “Part of the confusion,” he says, “is the word is deeply grounded in theology and robust with practical implications at once.” Tackling the theological aspect, he invokes Bosch’s definition of Missio Dei: “Missio Dei [God’s mission] enunciates the good news that God is a God-for-people.” (Transforming Mission, 10). He talks about our invitation into the metanarrative of Scripture to partake in God’s purposes.

The ultimate expression of the mission of God was in the incarnation of Jesus. In the incarnation was a radical, sacrificial sending out of God. It is a posture of self-emptying (kenosis) as we see in Philippians 2. In light of this, how do we respond to Jesus words in John 20:21: “As the Father sent me, so send I you”? The missional essence of God is the core foundation of our missionality.

A missional ecclesiology posits the church should be sacrificially representing Jesus in the world. Comfort, prestige, and pride should be abandoned to see Jesus communities established in the most troubled, dark locations of the globe. Nothing short of this kind of going is what it means to represent the missional God. It is for this reason that tweaking a Sunday morning service to be “missional” is still not grasping what it means to be missional.

I appreciate the way Michael cuts to the core of the word by passing through the Missio Dei to the incarnation. Indeed, as he suggests, the implications of missional — as a theological word (see my synchroblog entry) — are quite fundamental, and must be grasped and acted upon if one is to actually be missional.

Nick Lloyd reflects on fatherhood, tying missional to one’s identity.

The word “missional” has come to mean a lot of different things recently. It has become a popular word used by many Christians interested in being “cutting edge.” However, it isn’t really a new idea. It isn’t the newest fad in an often fad-driven church. It is an awareness of the great desire of God from the beginning.

Whatever else “Missional” means, it begins with the idea that the entire pie belongs to God, not just a single slice. It means we are approaching life with a holistic and unified mission: “to glorify God in every thing we do.” It means we are living with one identity in mind: we are always Somebody’s child.

Identity is a strong concept within missional theology, though normally tied to the church’s identity. His discussion omits most of the concepts we’ve seen so far, but here Nick ties missional to the individual’s identity, which is an important addition to the understanding of the missional church’s identity.

Patrick Oden says, “I’ve read my Newbiggin, and have some interesting quotes from the 17th century Baptist Roger Williams on the evils of Christendom.” He opts to leave much of that to others and tackles a specific aspect of the definition, writing, “Missional means practicing the presence of the Holy Spirit.” He looks at a few texts from Acts, from which he draws a few explanatory points. “[P]racticing the presence of the Holy Spirit… insists on a flexibility that is deep enough to respond to any context. Evangelism in the past has catered to the shallow [while] [t]heology and a mastery of Scripture was left to the professionals and almost seen as suspect.” Next, he says,

The Holy Spirit is in charge. Being missional isn’t about bringing our culture, or our customs, or our habits or preferences. There are some aspects of a life with Christ which are demanded, but very few of these are the emphases that people think of when they think of evangelism or missionary work.

Our goal is not to make people be like us. Our goal is to help people become who they were always meant to be. We aren’t in the business of taking people’s identity. We are to help them see how their identity becomes alive in the power of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Thirdly, he suggests that “Being missional means discovering God’s mission in every context. It is not just a telling it is also a listening, and a seeing, and a hearing. By being missional we ourselves become missionized by the Spirit as we learn and grow in understanding God’s work.” Summing up his post, he writes, “Being missional means practicing the presence of the Holy Spirit so that we become freedom fighters.”

Patrick’s post approaches the question from a missiological/evangelistic viewpoint, and rather than approach a complete definition, he tackles a subpoint of one and links missional with the power and work of the Holy Spirit. Pneumatology has been a largely missing topic in the emerging/missional conversation, perhaps moreso in the former adjective than in the latter. This is beginning to change for the better, and Patick’s inclusion of the topic here is therefore apropos. He deserves some extra credit for his post title: “Being Missional: Isn’t That Just Evangelism in Comfortable Shoes?”

Peggy Brown recalls Hemmingway’s six-word story challenge and offers a list of six-word descriptions of missional, all under her six-word summary heading, “Covenant Community, Mission, Ambassadors and Hesed.”

Different people will resonate with different points on Peggy’s list, many of which echo some of the common themes. A new point to the discussion thus far would be covenant, or covenant community — a big theme in much of Peggy’s writing. We’ve had some mention of community or communitas in regard to missional church, but Peggy adds the important descriptor of “covenant.”

Phil Wyman enters “the fray of missional definers” to define “a pop theological term,” saying “I would like to consider being missional as an art as I define the term. As a science, I believe it would lose its power, and its definition altogether. Missional behavior is based upon redemptive interaction with people.” He places missional within the “Praxis Oriented Stream of Emergent,” citing McKnight’s Five Streams. Coming to his definition, he states, “At the heart of missional behavior is something I hold dear: a radical anthropological missiology.” Elaborating, he says “Christ is the reason the Gospel exists, but people are the target of its mission to bless. God’s eye is upon people with a heart for blessing. This is the missio dei.” And further, “Missional behavior demands seeking to understand the perspective, the feelings, the thoughts of others, and learning to present the good works of God, and the preaching of the Gospel in a manner identifying with the needs, the concerns, and the pains of those we serve.”

A second point in his understanding of missional is that “missional activity transcends culture.” He states, “The Gospel of Christ transcends human culture and thought. It is not stuck in the 19th century, nor is it married to post-modernity…. [and] the Kingdom of God critiques each and every human culture.”

It should be said that McKnight discusses the “emerging church” and refers to missional in that context rather than within the formal organization of Emergent. That said, I think that characterizing missional as a subset of the emerging church is a large and inappropriate limitation to the term. In any event, Phil brings up the concepts of Missio Dei, the Kingdom of God, and without using the term, sets missional church as a counter-culture or contrast society. His discussion of contextualization is an important aspect of understanding missional church, as is his notation in that context that it is not tied to post-modernity. Within the context of contextualization is a discussion (again without the term) of identification with the “other,” which we’ve already mentioned.

Richard Pool cuts to the chase in a relatively brief post: “The thrust of… what I’m still saying today, is that the church needs desperately to reengage with mission as the heart of its very purpose. At it’s most simple, this is surely what it means to be missional.” Making it practical, he says, “What matters is that you exist to serve and reach communities beyond the confines of your mortgaged, owned or borrowed buildings. We can argue all day about attractional models versus incarnational models, but a church that is not missional is no church at all. It’s a club for the already initiated.”

Richard sets the crux of the matter in the church’s very purpose, saying in effect that a non-missional church is dysfunctional. I like his line that it would then be “a club for the already initiated.” We’ve seen these sentiments in our analysis of posts already, but by inference I think Richard’s post exhibits a common understanding with many that we’ve considered… for example, his point about reaching out beyond the “walls” of the church would probably be informed by the concept of “otherness” which we’ve mentioned.

Rick Meigs, the instigator of the synchroblog under examination, tackles “Missional and Dualism.” Of the definition, before pointing to others he writes,

Let us be very clear about what it is not first. It is NOT a method, model, style, agenda, program, or even an exhaustive theology. Missional is a stance, a way of thinking, a lifestyle.

I’ve often said that missional is a way of life where “the way of Jesus*” informs and radically transforms our existence to one wholly focused on sacrificially living for him and others and where we adopt a missionary stance in relation to our culture. It speaks of the very nature of the Jesus follower.

He suggests that dualism is the reason why many struggle to understand the definition of missional.

One core reason for this struggle stems from our western culture adopting the Greco-Roman supposition that all the world is divided into two realms: the sacred and the secular. The average Jesus followers segregates their lives (all they are and do) into one of these two boxes.

Work, clubs, hobbies, school, recreation, vacation, money and other such things go into the secular box. Sunday “church,” bible studies, home groups, short-term missions trips, feeding the poor, quiet times, bible reading, prayer, teaching Sunday School, serving on a church committee, tithe and the like go into the sacred box. This thinking leads to considering the secular as pretty much devoid of anything sacred or spiritual. And anything spiritual must happen in the sacred box.

When you attempt to explain the concept behind missional, the average Jesus follower simply can’t comprehend how they could possibly live their entire life in the sacred box (where all things spiritual happens, right?) unless they became full time clergy (the clergy/laity divide is a result of Greco-Roman dualism). In their mind, to live 24/7/365 as a missionary would require them leaving behind the secular. But which activities do most of our contact, dealings and interaction with our neighbors and community spring from?

Summing up, he says, “Part of the point of the missional movement is to recapture the biblical understanding of who we are and the life we are called to walk. A life where we are consumed 24/7/365 with the practical outworking of the mission of God and of the incarnation.”

I’m glad that Rick spearheaded this synchroblog, and hope that it ultimately proves helpful in clarifying the term. He zeros in on why the term is misunderstood and in so doing, fleshes out an aspect of what it means to be missional. He includes the now-familiar concepts of the incarnation and of living as a missionary in one’s own host culture.

Rob Robinson offers a fairly rounded explanation in a single paragraph:

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.

He elaborates on this explanation in several ways, including saying of one aspect that

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.

He closes with the observation that “This incarnational/missional lifestyle possesses the organic quality of fruitfulness.”

I liked Rob’s use of John’s gospel at key points, but I admit that may be just personal preference. ;^) He clearly sets missional in the context of Missio Dei and living in an incarnational manner. I would have to take up with Dwight Friesen exactly how he disconnects missional-incarnational in one direction only, but that’s perhaps another matter. Rob also includes a bit of attractional comment as an antithesis to incarnational expression. The concepts he describes have for the most part already been mentioned, but I appreciate how he manages to bring many of them together in a fairly complete manner.

I realize again that I’ve gone on longer with this post than I’ve intended — again, I blame excessive quotation ;^) We’re nearing the end of the set of posts now, and without stating agreement or disagreement with any of the bullet-points, so far in our review of the posts we have managed to pull up the following descriptors:

  • the term missional is misused by many who don’t understand it;
  • missional church is not the same as emerging church;
  • simply adding the term doesn’t make it so;
  • missional is incarnational;
  • individual missional engagement, not just corporate engagement, matters;
  • missional church roots itself in history by taking a long view of its engagement;
  • missional church is in the hands of the so-called “laity”;
  • missional is a buzz-word only to those who don’t have it in their DNA;
  • missional engagement thrives in the context of third places;
  • missional is a paradigm that should be innate to every healthy church;
  • the missio Dei institutes the missiones ecclesiae;
  • missional builds communitas;
  • the mission is to extend the Kingdom of God;
  • missional engagement takes place within the ordinary, everyday rhythm of life;
  • missional seeks to bring justice to “the other”;
  • missional is contextual, but also at times counter-cultural (contrast society);
  • missional sees no dichotomy between mission and everyday life;
  • missional attempts to transcend relegation to a specific era such as pre-modernity, modernity, or post-modernity;
  • missional church gravitates toward narrative theology and toward the gospels, particularly the Sermon on the Mount;
  • the missional life is likened to that of a pilgrim, an exile, or a vagabond;
  • missional engagement relies on the Holy Spirit;
  • missional community is covenant community; and
  • missional rejects the dualistic thinking of seeing a dichotomy between secular and sacred.

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