What is Missional Preaching?
The preaching of a Missional Church
If we are a missional church, sent to proclaim and live out God’s mission, then preaching becomes about more than just unfolding a scripture passage. Missional preaching is not about telling people about the Bible as much as it is about proclaiming what the Bible itself proclaims — the good news of God — and inviting people to live within this reality. After all, we were commissioned to preach the gospel by Jesus Christ, who preached the good news that the basileia (literally sovereign activity) of God is at hand, so we should repent and believe. This Christ commissions us to continue in our incarnate contextual realities, just as he did in his. Like Christ, we are to proclaim God’s mission, or what in the world God is up to in bringing creation under the divine dominion of shalom.
Missional preaching, then, has to not only look at what a particular passage of scripture says. It has to look at the whole message of the Bible’s gospel — namely, that God is actively at work to redeem creation from sin and transform it into what it was intended to be in the first place — a place of shalom under the sovereign care of the Lord where health, peace, harmony and wholeness result from being in communion with God, who dwells with us. Because Christ is Emmanuel (God-with-us), we also have to consider our context when we preach and look for the places where the Holy Spirit is at work transforming persons and situations. We have to be on the lookout for where God’s sovereign activity is at work in and among us and the world and announce this, too, as part of the good news we’re called to preach. Considering not only a passage of scripture, but the whole of the Bible’s message, the gospel and our own contexts in which God is at work here and now means that preaching requires much spiritual theological discernment.
Of course, we can only discern what is of God in the ambiguous admixture of our human reality by being assiduous students of theology, history and the whole of scripture in its original languages. Preaching the gospel requires that we know scripture more thoroughly than just preaching isolated Biblical passages does. It also requires knowing the theology and history of the church in various ages in order to make discernments in our own time about what in the world our sovereign Lord is up to now so that we can invite people to come get in on the divine action. Bringing all of these different kinds of knowledge to bear on the task of preaching, we preach the good news by looking through scripture, using it like a magnifying glass as we inspect our world in order to detect traces of God’s redemptive activity among us here and now.
A missional preacher, therefore, will preach through scripture in order to amplify its good news that God wants us to live a redeemed life of shalom — full of peace, justice, harmony and well-being. As Paul Galbreath observes, “the preacher cannot lose sight of the fact that the primary purpose of preaching on [Biblical] texts is to open up and present options about how to live and function in the worlds before us and around us” as faithful followers of the Way. Discerning God’s way of being/working in the world, then, we preach through scripture to proclaim where the Lord is among us here and now so that we can tell people how to get in on the goodness God wants for us.
We preach the gospel that in Christ, God offers us the Way of shalom that we can live, in part, here and now until such day when the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord. Casting forth the vision of God’s desire for us, preaching thus creates a space in time in which one might encounter, though the offering of our words, the living Lord whose presence in this world changes everything: instead of living for ourselves in despair unto death, we now live toward eternal life for all in worship and praise.
Because God’s Way in the world is inherently incarnational, missional preaching pays careful attention to the context in which it speaks so that, like Christ, it can meet people where they are. Missional preaching proclaims the good news of a living God working for our good here and now. At the same time, it invites people to come and see for themselves the living Lord Jesus Christ as they join us along the gospel Way, caught up in the wonder and praise of God’s redeeming of a broken world.
The primary purpose of missional preaching is to invite people to join the sovereign Way of Christ by announcing the New Reality that God is bringing about through Holy Spirit. We shout out the good news that God’s New Reality has begun with the resurrection of Christ and that its way of life characterized by love, justice and shalom for all people has been instituted as divine law for all. The proclamation we utter is God’s, just as the Emancipation Proclamation that was published during the Civil War was Lincoln’s. Preachers are simply those who have continually been sent out down through time to announce the good news: in Jesus Christ we have been set free from bondage to sin.
Like slaves during the Civil War, we hear this as good news: our dearest hopes and dreams for freedom have come to pass! But this announcement may also bring confusion, for it involves a whole new way of life and being in the world that we can’t fully comprehend. Though this New Reality has been instituted, as with the Emancipation Proclamation, living into that freedom takes a while to come to full fruition. It involves a series of choices as to whether we will indeed live in accord with that New Reality despite the dangers that an unaccepting world will inflict upon us for getting too uppity. The New Reality/Way of Christ may indeed be instituted, but we have to live into its reality and resist those forces that would keep us down and bound. Indeed, we have to learn how to live as free people, which often involves a whole new skill set, because the ways of God are not the ways of a survival-of-the-fittest world. This is why missional preaching will also involve teaching about how to live under the New Reality of God’s sovereignty in Christ Jesus. While its primary task is to announce and remind us that we live under the sovereignty of God, missional preaching also helps us understand what that life looks and acts like.
The reason why missional preaching is done out of a wide view of scripture is because the Bible helps us understand, first of all, what God’s sovereign work in the world looks like in various contexts among various peoples. It also teaches us how we are to live as subjects of the Sovereign, grateful to serve in the household of God not as slaves, but as royal adopted children, eager out of love to do whatever is asked of us, honored that the Lord of the Universe would entrust to us the message of this New Reality and share with us its abundant Way of Life. Peering through scripture, like Sherlock Holmes uses his magnifying glass to peer into what’s really going on here beyond mere appearances, we can see glimpses of the New Reality, the basileia of God, working to bring all things into the divine intention. And we can point to God-with-us even in the worst of tragedies to offer hope to live into that New Reality assured that the Lord does indeed live and execute power for the sake of love’s compassion over against the destructive powers of sin, which will not win in the end.