The word “mission” comes from the Latin missio, which means “sending.” As a missional movement, we are sent by the Holy Spirit out into the world to glorify God and invite everyone into the life of challenge and transformation that Jesus has shown us. Just like the first Christians in the Roman Empire, we are called to proclaim and embody the message of Jesus Christ in a wide variety of contexts – most of which are hostile to the word of God.
For far too long, our gatherings have been places of refuge from the world, an escape. We first turned the Church of God into an accomplice of Empire, and later, into little more than social clubs for people with similar class, race and ideological backgrounds. In many church communities, a living relationship with Christ has been almost incidental – nice if you have it, but certainly not expected – most definitely not something to base a community on.
William James wrote that, “in some people religion exists as a dull habit, in others as an acute fever.”(1) The movement that Jesus calls us to definitively qualifies as the latter. It cannot exist merely as a routine, a comforting ritual, a family heirloom to be passed down from generation to generation. Such an antique faith is dead, and we would do well to bury it and move on. We are called to lives of radical faithfulness that will shake the foundations of our neighborhoods, offices and public spaces. Jesus invites us into his Way, which will lead us out of our selfish stupor and usher us into a life of service to others.
If there is any single trait that sets missional communities apart from other kinds of Christ-centered fellowships, it is the decision to place the group’s focus on the work that God is calling us to do in the world. As missional churches, we should concentrate our efforts primarily on going where Christ is sending us, rather than on preserving the comfort and superficial stability of the existing community. As students in the Way of Jesus, we are called to be like a kernel of wheat that falls to the ground and dies.(2) By surrendering our own comfort, assumptions and inertia, we die to our own wills and are able to see more clearly God’s will for us. As we live into that will, we will be shown the ways in which God wants to use us to share Christ’s love with the world.
In order to be faithful to God’s call, we are challenged to do two things simultaneously: First, we must look inward, listening carefully to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, both in our hearts as individuals, as well as in the ways God speaks to the church as a whole. At the same time, we must maintain an outward focus, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with our neighbors and doing justice in the wider world. It is not easy to maintain a balance between inward listening and outward action; we are tempted to pick one or the other – either inward contemplation or “results”-focused activism. However, if we are to live out the radical mission that God has for us, we must keep our inward ear open to the voice of the Spirit, while at the same time being faithful to the work that Christ calls us to in the world. This is the narrow Way of Jesus that leads to life.
As we walk the tightrope of inward and outward focus, we must take care that we not become self-focused. This can happen whether we are looking inward or outward. Whether we emphasize contemplation or activism, it is far too easy for the work to become about us, rather than about God.
One thing is clear: There is enough work to go around, so we do not need to seek it for our own sake. We can trust in God to give us the tasks that we are particularly called and gifted for. We stand the best chance of serving faithfully when we wait upon the Lord to show us how to proceed, rather than acting out of our own assumptions as to what is important.
1. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Lecture I, 1901-1902. http://csp.org/experience/james-varieties/james-varieties1.html
2. See John 12:24
Resources for Further Study:
Paul Lacey, Leading and Being Led, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #264, 1985.