Theological understandings that shape a Missional Church
In a sense, there is nothing new about the missional movement. Instead, missional emphasizes certain theological understandings that have always shaped Reformed ecclesiology, though perhaps in new configurations fit for our current situation.
The missional church must be rooted in the worship of God as sovereign God of all. Worship, here, is not understood in terms of style, but as one of “thin places” open to the realm of God where the gathered people worship the sovereign Lord of the universe.
Though missional means that we live as sent people of God, we are sent from somewhere to someplace else. We are sent out from the throne room of grace, so to speak, where the Lord rules supreme and we bow down in the presence of the Holy and the Triune God’s beautiful splendor of majesty and glory, which we should experience most clearly in the worship of a congregation gathered for praise and prayer. It is from this place that we are sent out to extend the divine worship of God in our work in the world, calling others to come live with us under the dominion of God, and bringing them with us when we gather again with the assembly to worship together.
“Come and Go” discipleship
The missional church is one that gathers to “come and see” Christ before we “go tell” his good news. We have to spend time at Jesus’ feet in worship, prayer and learning on a regular basis so that we’re straight on the nature of God’s mission that we’re being sent to live. But then, as the extension of our worship in service to the world, we do need to go and tell others to come and see for themselves the divine glory that we have glimpsed. Thus, there is a constant flow of the missional church to and from worship where we meet the living Lord Jesus Christ and where God blesses our going out and our coming in. As Clark Cowden says it, the missional church is like an airport terminal that helps people get to their destinations for service to the world in Christ’s Spirit.
Living Within and Out of God’s Mission
The church exists as the embodiment of God’s mission to bless and redeem the world. The church is not primarily an institution. It is primarily Christ’s living body on earth vivified through the waters of baptism. When we are baptized, we are engrafted into the body of Christ and empowered by the same Spirit who anointed Him for service. It is in baptism that we, too, are anointed for service to the world as citizens of God’s New Sovereign Way (Kingdom).
The Sovereign Way of God
According to the Bible, Jesus came preaching the Kingdom (basileia) of God as the central theme of all he did in ministry. The Greek word for Kingdom, basileia, actually denotes not a place (as the word kingdom implies), but the sovereign activity of God in the world. God’s dominion (basileia) is one of the central themes of the entire Bible, placing Jesus’ work in continuity with what God has been doing since the beginning of time. God’s mission, which missional preaching sets forth, centers around setting humanity in right relationship with the Creator and other creatures, which involves redeeming creation from its bondage to sin, as we see through the grand testimony of the Bible’s story of God-with-us. The good news that Jesus preached is that God our Creator does not leave us alone, but as Lord actively works for our redemption so that we might have the abundant life our Sovereign desires for us. This is true on both a personal and corporate level. As Sovereign Lord of all, God desires the harmony of justice and right relationships that honor all people regardless of their status in society, and it is God who works all things together for the good of us all even in the midst of life’s tragedy and evil.
Followers of the Way of Christ
Although it is true that we do not know the mind of God, we DO know the basic shape of God’s Way in the world. We see it in Christ. And what did Jesus do? Jesus embodied God’s Way (Torah), becoming for us the Way of God’s redemptive beatific sovereignty in the world. As his disciples, the church is called to follow Christ, the Way, continuing his earthly ministry on his behalf. The Christian way of life, which involves walking in the Way of God through Christ, follows in the sovereign way of God in the world. Thus, we proclaim the good news of Emmanuel, exorcising forces that get in the way of God and calling for people to turn to God’s Way, even as we embody signs of the divine presence among us in ministries of healing, feeding, love and shalom.
To be a missional church, then, is by the grace of Christ’s Spirit and with humble thanksgiving, to be a part of God’s resurrection mission of reclaiming the world from its captivity to sin and death.
Integrity of Word and Action
The missional church practices what it preaches, as Jesus did. Jesus not only preached God’s sovereignty but also embodied its ethic, described in Isaiah — bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed and a time of jubilee in the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6). Jesus’ healing, feeding and exorcising were enacted signs of what he preached — God’s dominion over the forces that enslave human life, and his resurrection was divine vindication of his way of life. As at the genesis of the world, what Jesus spoke came to be.
Jesus preached God’s sovereignty and rose from death to inaugurate its reign through Holy Spirit. At his command we obey our commission to go and tell and live as good-news people. We invite others to join us along the Spirit Way of Christ as we journey toward God’s New Day/Kingdom (basileia). As we fulfill our apostolic commission in this way of being church, we find ourselves overshadowed by and caught up in God’s sovereign-way-of-being-in-the-world. By the grace of God through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, as we live in this gospel Way, we (yes, even we!) participate in God’s mission of redeeming the world.
The missional church is a hospitable church. By the grace of God, it assembles in the grace of God, embodying the knowledge that we live in grace. Hospitality is simply the extension of God’s hospitality to us. It is inherently other-oriented as part of the movement of the Holy Other’s orientation toward others. Respecting where others are, it tends to the incarnational needs of others — for bodies as well as souls. It doesn’t just confer charity, but is open to all others in their otherness so that they may more fully experience God. This does not mean that anything goes, however! One of the greatest acts of hospitality that we can confer is communication of the rule by which we live our lives so that everyone knows what kinds of behavior are appropriate for the common good.
Now that we have explored the characteristics of the missional church, we are ready to describe what makes preaching missional.