A recent article in Leadership magazine talked about some characteristics of "Missional Churches." I know this is another title like emerging/postmodern/seeker-sensitive etc that often has a vague definition. If you want to be part of the naming discussion, go to Out of Ur, the Christianity Today blog. The article is title "Missional Buzz" by Tim Conder.
I want to discuss some of the specific points he makes individually over the next several posts. He begins with:
Identifying missional churches can be difficult. Such churches are separated by identity and perspective as much as their visible forms. Nonetheless, there are some common commitments.
(1) Missional communities try to align themselves holistically with God's theme of redemption. They resist the use of Christianity as an anesthetic to the pain of human needs and as an affirmation of the superiority of one culture's way of life.Wow. That is a power-packed statement. That really smacks the state of American Protestantism over the past 30 years. We have gone into mission fields and interjected our culture along with our religion as if they were inseparable. That is getting better in some tribes of Christianity, but I suspect that it is still prevalent. I find it disheartening to hear people in the far-flung corners of the globe singing American or Western hymns in their language and at a tempo that doesn't suit their culture. The form is not as important as the function for this.
The whole "Christianity is the cure for all that ails you" argument has been spiritually destructive to many people. Yes, ultimately faith in Christ does cure your underlying illness of original sin. But it may not cure your illnesses in this life, it may not help you lose weight, get a spouse back or find a better job. God blesses his people, but He is also sovereign. And sometimes he chooses to allow suffering for reasons we cannot understand. Go read Job for an example.
So a missional church is one that does not misrepresent the Gospel as a path to prosperity and happiness, and one that does not ally itself with a particular culture. If we can grasp that we have made significant progress. There is no "right way" to do church other than to follow the instructions of the Lord. The rest is preference, and each group should be allowed to choose its preferences so long as they do not violate the laws and instructions of God.
We are all sinners, some have been redeemed, some are still waiting. If we keep redemption as our central focus, it will make the mission much easier to grasp. We don't have to be cleaned up first to be redeemed. We don't have to look good, smell good, stop smoking, drinking etc to be redeemed. Jesus meets us where we are. After that, the Holy Spirit will do the cleaning from the inside. We just need to keep focused on the redeeming process. God has cleaned many of us, and we can help those who have joined our tribe. But let redemption be the first order of business. The cleaning comes later.