Posts Tagged ‘Mission of God’

When I posted on Facebook that I would be taking a course in “Missional Leadership,” one of my colleagues asked – facetiously, I think – if I was preparing to take over from the president of our mission, WorldVenture. The question highlights the misunderstanding that exists around the word “missional,” especially when cross-cultural missionaries enter the conversation. When we talk about the “mission,” we frequently make the same mistake we do when we talk about the “church”. “Mission” and “church” can come to mean organizations instead of “sentness” and “the people of God.”

In “Missional Leadership,” Dr. Reggie McNeal challenged us to rethink both church and mission, but especially then to involve ourselves in the adventure that such a rethinking could initiate. He helped us define “missional church”, shared with us several shifts that identify a missional focus, and helped us think through some leadership challenges for bringing missional change. However, the concept that will probably have the most ongoing impact for all us is the idea of changing the scorecard, of counting and rewarding those activities that matter most.

Much of what he said in class can be found in his book Missional Renaissance, which I reviewed here.

I’ll include some of my highlights from the course, especially focusing on the missional church, and a brief response. I’d like to especially focus on the potential impact or difficulty I see in applying these highlights in our Polish context.

The missional church is:

a.)    The people of God b.) partnering with Him c.) in His redemptive mission d.) in the world. (RM) (RM will refer to quotes from Dr. McNeal in class)

“Missional church is a redundant term” (RM). The church (the people of God) are sent. They are on a mission – always have been. Among Jesus’ last words in the Gospel of John, we read, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”[1]  A number of times in the New Testament, we see Jesus sending His disciples (Mt. 10:5,16; Jn. 17:18; Acts 9:17; 22:21; 26:17; Rom. 10:15).

The people of God “have a way of being in the world, that is informed by the biblical notion of God creating a people (Ex. 19). Abraham’s part – bless everyone not in your tribe. The message we are priesting (Ex. 19) – to be people of blessing. This biblical covenant has never been rescinded.” (RM). This people of God is sometimes gathered into silos, but missional followers see the people of God deployed all across society – in and out of “church.”

When we partner with God, as the people of God, we join with what God is doing in the hearts and lives of people – in and out of the church community, but more frequently outside of it. God is not confined to a shrine, and works of ministry should take place on the street, where people live and hurt and love and die. Partnering with God in His redemptive mission in the world means finding people who are also involved in His mission, and blessing them. It also means functioning as God does and blessing those who are not blessed and have no hope for blessing.

In Poland, there is significant potential for building on the idea of the people of God. There is a growing willingness to put denominationalism aside in the family of God. However, the chasm between Roman Catholic and everyone else remains wide and deep in any way that involves Church hierarchy. There are still frequent spats between evangelical churches over prospective or wandering members. If anything, though, this may force all of us into looking past church structure to truly be the people of God.

“Being a people of blessing” is a radical, very necessary, and potentially game-changing concept for believers in Poland. Polish people strongly believe in the maxim “don’t praise a child, or you’ll spoil him.” Many Poles grow up with a shattered self-image, and the idea of blessing someone else – or for that matter, being blessed by someone who has no ulterior motive – is a truly unknown idea. In a private conversation with Dr. McNeal, as I mentioned the language difficulty of using terms like “missional community” or “life groups,” he suggested using some term that included the idea of “communities of blessing.”

The Polish word for blessing can have a double entendre meaning of “pregnant,” so the term may or may not work (a pregnant group, of course, also implies multiplication – a very good thing). Of course, simply beginning or naming groups “blessing groups,” is not sufficient. We need to learn how to bless others, and even more important, how we can contextualize blessing others in Polish culture and engage our Polish brothers and sisters in blessing their communities.

[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jn 20:21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

This post is a reflection on a guest lecture by Dr. Ed Smither in my class “The Mission of God” at Columbia International Seminary, taught by Dr. Mike Barnett. Dr. Smither has a special interest in the history of missions in North Africa, and wrote his Ph.D. on Augustine as MentorYou can (should) check out his blog: I don’t believe I can post his entire lecture – although I’d love to. I would like to post his “summary of strategies” used by early missionaries, though.

1. Proclamation (full-time, bishops, monks, lay people)
—2. Favor with kings and political leaders
—3. Monastic mission centers.
—4. Suffering (Ignatius, Polycarp, Scillitans, martyrs of Lyons, Perpetua and Felicitas, Cyprian)
6. —Scripture translation (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Gothic, Latin)
—7. Holistic mission (healing, spiritual warfare, caring for the poor)

I was most intrigued by some of the lessons learned during early Christian mission, shared by Dr. Smither. That period of history has always interested me, especially when considering the growth of the church. Two lessons especially resonated for me: the use of miracles and other power encounters, and the fact that everyone was involved in the proclamation and spread of the gospel.

Gregory Thaumaturgos, Martin of Tours, Augustine of Canterbury, Boniface – all used miracles and power encounters. Some, like Boniface, saw this as a strategic method of winning pagans by demonstrations of the power of God. I got the impression, though, that many of the others treated miracles and other manifestations of God’s power as normal expressions of their faith.

Dr. Smither summarized this as “holistic ministry,” and this does serve to underscore the importance of modern holistic ministry. In spite of my fundamentalist background, I have come to realize just how important are the manifestations of God’s power today, and how important it is to meet people’s physical needs, even while maintaining the preeminence of proclamation. Our international fellowship in Lublin began just after a miraculous healing of a Hindu American student – as a result of this very non-charismatic Baptist praying over his comatose body. (You can read that story here). It’s exciting to hear and read about God’s power manifested in the early centuries of the church, as well, and to understand that God has always been working in similar ways throughout the history of the church.

The other amazing lesson came from the way God used all kinds of people to advance His Kingdom. Usually the merchants and soldiers went first, but the priests and monks were close behind. Slaves played a key role as well, especially in taking the gospel to countries that we would today call “creative access nations.” Everywhere these Christians went – they took their faith, talked about it, and people converted.

As a “professional” missionary, it was nice to see that other “professionals” had blazed a trail as well – priests and monks. However, it was both encouraging and humbling to realize that the pioneers were usually business people. As they conducted their business, they travelled. As they travelled, they told others about their greatest treasure. Sometimes the professionals would follow and help deepen the faith of people who had already heard, but usually when a missionary monk went somewhere – the gospel had gone on ahead already. Dr. Smither called this a proclamation strategy – by bishops, monks and lay people. And it still takes everyone proclaiming the gospel to adequately reach a people for Christ. The full-time missionaries are invaluable, but so are the people involved in business as mission, the NGO aid workers, the Christian international businessmen and even the soldiers who still share the gospel.