If you hang out with people who’ve gone to or taught at a seminary during the last ten years, or maybe if you just hang out with a certain kind of church folk, you’re probably aware of the trendiness of certain Christian words. Usually there are churches built around them, church conferences planned around them, and lots of books written with them in their titles. Recently words like community, emerging or emergent, koinonia, intentional, or relevant might make it on such a list.
Another one of those words is “missional,” as in, the missional church or missional living. (If you aren’t one of those people mentioned above, you might be thinking, “What the heck does ‘missional’ mean?” And that’s okay. You’re in good company. Back in 2008, after “missional” had started popping up “everywhere,” Christianity Today featured an article about what the heck it means. For more information, you can also check in with the all-knowing Wikipedia.)
I’m sure there are quite a few long, well-thought-out books written about why the contemporary church has shifted away from thinking solely of “missions” as sending money or people overseas or “missionary” as only a full-time sharer of the Gospel in a foreign land.
I haven’t read them, but I, for one, am glad we’re in this new place, a broader understanding of “missions.” Now, I’m not saying I don’t support overseas mission work: of course I do. The hubster was even in Honduras over spring break working in an afterschool program. We support people we know–friends in Haiti and other far flung places–and people and work we don’t know.
But I am not called to move my family overseas, and I’m not called to only–only–give money to support the mission work of others. I’m called to do mission myself. In my everyday life. Here in the middle of America. With my neighbors.
And you are, too.
A Christian life is a life of mission. Isn’t it?
A friend of ours came over on Sunday night to interview us for a seminary class he’s currently taking on ‘the missional life.’ It’s actually the second of two missional life classes he’s required to take for his degree. (Another sign a Christian word is trendy? Seminary classes use it in their titles.) As part of his final project, he’s to interview a member of the clergy and a layperson about their understanding of the missional life. We, even though there were two of us, counted as the layperson for the project. I guess two really do become one in marriage.
Before the interview, I tried jotting down some notes, just to see what my initial thoughts were about living a “missional” life. I like making lists, so I do this sort of thing a lot to get my brain loosened up. In teaching composition, we’d call this a form of ‘freewriting.’
Here’s what I wrote, and as usual, I promise that I did not edit it.
What is “mission”?
* staying put * planting roots * building community even when it's hard and you just don't feel like it * everyday decisions for justice: -- buying the slightly more expensive diapers or formula because of a brand's rating on Better World Shopper -- buying secondhand--and being satisfied with it--even when you can afford new * making due with holey underwear * being faithful in a church community and offering your gifts even when you're discouraged * praying for people
Weird, huh? No mention of telling people about Jesus.
At least not in words.
But you can kind of tell what’s been on my mind lately.
For the interview, I didn’t say these things, at least not in this way. I talked instead about being thoughtful, about being intentional in everyday decisions and in everyday encounters with people.
I think being missional is really loving people, cultivating genuine community, and being vulnerable. It’s staying when going is easier and more convenient, doing when what we really prefer is not doing, listening even when we feel distracted.
These are very difficult things.
At least they are for me. Maybe you’re a pro. If so, rock on.
To close the audio interview, our friend asked us to fill in the following blank, based on the hour of conversation we’d had:
Missional living is ______________.
I knew my answer immediately, because it’s been on my mind a lot.
Being the hands and feet of Jesus.
That’s what I said.
Being the hands and feet of Jesus.
How would you respond?