Have you considered how dangerous it is to be a Christian? Perhaps not so much for us, but for millions of Christians around the world, the name of Jesus upon the lips of the believer can be life-threatening. From the earliest depictions of martyrdom, to the tragic reports of the victims of modern day terror, we see heroic accounts of what it means to be a public witness, to bear the name: Christian. By today’s standards there was and is, for these victims, very little ‘in it’ for them—Christ simply captured their hearts, and mission becomes a rather natural outcome.
Today, in the western world, mission is often reduced from personally taking the name of Jesus on our lips, to leaving the important work of mission to church leadership. In such instances, the primary work of mission emphasizes the planning of worship services in order to be attractive—this becomes our primary means of evangelism. Therefore, ‘mission’ becomes easy for us as we become ‘inviters’ to church, instead of individuals willing to be an incarnational presence, which often requires us to live contrasting lives to cultural norms. This kind of witness invites missionary dialogue—the kind of witness that begs the question, “why?”. This missional lifestyle is more often than not costly.
It is common in church-planter circles today to talk about church being much more than Sunday. While it certainly is, we need to be careful not to de-emphasize the importance of Sunday worship in the life of the church. Stated values are more commonly focused on relationship throughout the week, and outreach to the community. But too often we are silent about the centrality of worship in the life of a church, not to mention it’s connection to mission.
Worship is an important component of mission, but not for the reason we often think. Mission for the church should not start with planning an appealing worship service, so as to draw people. Instead, it ideally functions to shape a particular kind of people—a mission-minded congregation that recognizes what God is up to, and responds to the invitation to participate with Him. James K. A. Smith writes in Desiring the Kingdom, “In short, every liturgy constitutes a pedagogy that teaches us, in all sorts of precognitive ways, to be a certain kind of person.”
Worship shapes into its participants a common desire, pointing us in the same direction. Every liturgy has a mission at its core. Therefore, we want a liturgy with Christ’s mission at its core, so that we will be a people with His mission at our core. Smith warns we cannot co-opt the world’s liturgies without forming it’s mission into our congregations. Liturgies will form the desires that drive our mission. Instead of asking ourselves if our services are attractive, we should first ask if they are God-focused, and consider if our liturgies effectively form the worshiper. We should be asking ourselves ‘How does our worship urge our congregations to love the good news, and to participate as it’s ambassadors?’
Consider this: Mission begins with prayer, not just my prayer, but the common prayer of the church. When we use the traditional prayers of the people of God, we join our ancestors in praying the words that have been passed on to us. And in speaking these words we learn both how to pray and what to pray for—and it is our prayers that give us a faith-filled imagination that can see and understand God’s intended outcome for creation. The words we pray paint a picture of what ‘Thy Kingdom come’ might actually look like. And it is in our prayers that God enrolls us as participants in bringing it to fruition. When we pray for God to do something, we are assuming that it is his desire is to do it. Our prayers embody and evoke a kind of expectancy. We learn to anticipate God’s action in the world because we have prayed for it.
Nothing is more missional than this! We gain an understanding that the mission the church is on is His. It begins and ends with Him. And as those who call out to God, we begin to act in accordance with His desires.
INWARD IS OK
Aspiring to be an inward church is not an ideal ambition. Rarely will you find it in a church’s mission statement, but it’s not all bad. While mission requires us to have an outward impact, making it our sole emphasis, the thrust of all that we do, is dangerous and neglects what might be our strongest opportunity for mission.
God delivered our ancestors from slavery in Egypt, led them into the wilderness, and introduced Himself—giving them his personal name to call on. In Exodus 19, YHWH informed them that they were His people! Then, He gave them their vocation in the Law, instructions for living as the ideal community. The commission? Go about the world living in a particular way—the assumption being that the nations of the world would see this distinct community in action and desire to be a part of it. The Law was a means of preservation, for sure, but it also called the freed slaves to live in contrast to the surrounding world. These differences would beg the question, ‘why?’, thus serving its missional purpose. In this sense, the way they lived as a community was a primary means of mission. This method did not change with Jesus, or with the church we have been born into. Acts clearly depicts a church that cares well for itself, sharing all that they had (Acts 4), healing their sick, and caring for it’s widows (Acts 6). The result: “Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women…” (Acts 5:14).
Frequently we respond to the pulpit’s call to be missionally engaged with the needs of our community. But, while we are exceedingly more directed to the needs of our neighbors outside of the church, we are growing exceedingly more unaware of the needs of those sitting next to us. We serve the poor outside of the community, but often don’t know the name of the person we worship alongside of. What does it mean to live as the people of God—and, furthermore, do our worshiping communities live together in such a way that people long to be a part of it? This has the potential to be our most effective strategy for church growth.
PERSON TO PERSON
In Missionary Theologian, Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin writes, “One is chosen to be the bearer of the message to another, one people to be God’s witnesses to all people. Each of us has to hear the gospel from the lips of another or we cannot hear it at all .” This acknowledges our role as 2 a ‘people’ for all other peoples, and reduces down the corporate use of ‘people’ to referring to the church as a ‘people’ consisting of individuals. Henri De Lubac writes, “Each one of us is a member of the unique body, and each one of us, in his own small way, “is” the Church (Splendor of the Church).” While our corporate witness is key, it requires my individual participation.
Because evangelism is ideally person to person, education should be a priority of the church, and a key component to it’s mission strategy. This is not a new concept. Catechism has always been central to the life of the church. Initiation into the community typically required a depth of knowledge about the community whose identity the new convert was about to assume.
Education is required to evangelize our secular world. We cannot assume anymore that everyone has even the most rudimentary Christian background from which to draw. If we do our jobs, inviting the question, “why?”, we need to be ready to answer. Many churches have shifted focus from catechesis (instruction), to small groups that emphasize relationship, and are mildly devotional at best. Thus, the participants may experience personal growth and encouragement, yet often remain ill equipped for missionary dialogue.
In his description of the Church, Newbigin consistently uses the same language he employs to describe the sacraments. This appears to be a purposeful correlation, both the church and the sacraments representing a sign and foretaste of the coming Kingdom—the visible witness. In this sense, our witness is sacramental in nature—both in its external/visible expression, and as a vehicle of grace to our community. This goes beyond symbolism, the church functions as the embodiment of Christ in our neighborhood. In Heavenly Participation, Hans Boersma writes, “The church is the body of Christ, and thus does the church make Christ present in the world.” He describes this as a participatory relationship, “our being participates in the being of God.” How do our churches embody Christ, and function as dispensers of his grace to our neighborhoods?
BUILDING A STRATEGY FOR MISSION
Always be mindful that we are not inviting God to join our mission. It is God’s mission to which we are invited to participate in. We discover this mission through the means listed above: through our worship of Him, life in the community of God, and by coming to know him through catechetical means.
The ministry that falls in our lap.
Someone in our congregation said recently, “We need more poor people in our church.” I wholeheartedly agree. Most of my ministry has been with impoverished people. However, there is ministry right in our neighborhood—in many cases compassionate ministry is not limited to those experiencing financial need. However, make no mistake, there is poverty (family disfunction, addiction, etc.). Who are the impoverished in your neighborhood?
Our neighborhoods need to see a gospel presence, to know that the church is alive! As often as possible, begin your liturgy outdoors and process in. Sing and celebrate, leave the church doors open!
Emphasize personal responsibility, in addition to corporate mission.
A mission ‘strategy’ based on one person proclaiming the gospel to another increases a personal urge to welcome folks into the body (as opposed to just attending a service).
In order to invite people in to the church, we must know what were inviting them into. Furthermore, intelligent answers gain us a hearing with the skeptics.
Gary Ball is church planter and rector of Redeemer Anglican Church in Asheville, NC. Gary graduated from Trevecca Nazarene University, in Nashville, TN. In addition to church planting, he is in the D.Min program at Nashotah House Seminary exploring the relationship of art and theology. Gary is married to Susannah, and they have three children.