Explaining Emerging (Part 2) – Being Missional

We started off this series by observing the emerging church’s relationship to the post-modern culture (which generated some interesting discussion in the comments). Now we will consider how they go about being witnesses in that culture, and we have a new buzz-word to learn. Emerging churches seek to be missional in preference to simply “doing evangelism”. Before we consider what being missional means, lets think of the type of things that would be considered as evangelism in a typical evangelical church. I’ve made a list of the sorts of activities I’ve been involved in over the years in various evangelical churches and societies:

  • “Open air” singing, preaching, dramas (even escapology)
  • Visiting prisons, drug rehabilitation centres, schools, old people’s homes to take meetings or visit people
  • Wearing evangelistic t-shirts
  • “Servant evangelism” – washing dishes, doing gardening, giving out free light-bulbs
  • “Stranger evangelism” – approaching people on the street and interviewing them on their beliefs
  • Organised debates – e.g. creation vs evolution, the resurrection etc
  • Alpha / Just Looking / Discovering Christianity etc courses
  • Inviting people to tent crusades
  • March for Jesus
  • Door to door
  • Inviting people to social events (BBQ, fireworks) with an ‘epilogue’
  • Beach missions, kids clubs
  • Writing articles for evangelistic magazines / newspapers
  • Inviting people to “seeker sensitive” presentations, evangelistic meetings, Carol Services etc
  • Handing out tracts (yes I even gave out some Chick tracts – Jack Chick is the very antithesis of the emerging church)
  • Going on short-term mission trips

The concept of being “missional” is that while some of the above may be good methods of spreading the gospel, the primary way we witness is by the way we live our lives as followers of Jesus. Essentially, being missional is about dropping the idea of “doing evangelism”? in favour of living out the gospel and being so like Jesus that we attract others to find out more. As they get to know us and visit our churches, they should then see such a quality of love and authenticity (on which more in a future post) that they are attracted to join us and in so doing, discover our beliefs. Our witness is not measured by the number of items on the list above we have participated in this week, but by how faithfully we are living as followers of Jesus.

So a missional church will tend not to jump on the bandwagon of the latest evangelistic “technique” that is working well elsewhere. Rather, there is focus on helping believers to live counter culturally as true followers of Jesus in a way that is attractive to those outside. The meetings the church holds, while being culturally sensitive (i.e. not alienating visitors by our weird Christian subculture), will not seek to pander to the felt needs of the unbelievers (so no health, wealth & prosperity gospel here). Rather the unbeliever who attends a church event is invited to get a glimpse of the real issues and struggles that Christians are facing, to see us as we worship and live together in community.

The missional approach stands in stark contrast to two popular evangelical approaches to witness in their meetings.
1) Sock it to them (the fundamentalist approach). This is where you somehow get your unsaved friend into church, and the preacher then pulls out the big guns and blasts them with proofs of the Bible’s accuracy or warnings of hell until they make a commitment.
2) Easy does it (the church growth approach). This is where the whole service is designed to make non-Christians feel at home. Lots of jokes, video clips, dramas, and great music all combine for a wonderful fun experience for those of no faith. At the end they are asked if they want to make Jesus their “special friend”.

As with many of the concepts in the emerging church, being missional is hard to explain in a few paragraphs, so if you want to get a bit more detail on it, this site is a great place to start. There you will get a better idea not just of what it is for, but what trends it is trying to counter.

But what can we say about being missional from an evangelical perspective? Well first of all, I think it is a welcome corrective to certain misguided approaches to evangelism. It emphasises making disciples, not just getting people to make decisions. It recognises the need for a relational approach, and that all Christians need to be trained to be cross-cultural witnesses. The missional approach is not exclusive to the emerging church. In fact, many evangelical churches have themselves embraced a missional model, often in reaction against what they see as a shallow consumeristic approach from some church growth models. Check out Tim Keller’s paper on being a missional church.

While the missional emphasis on every Christian being a cross-cultural missionary is welcome one, we also need to recognise that there will always be people who are especially gifted as “evangelists” or “apostles”, and they need to be supported and encouraged in their ministries (the missional approach can be hostile to the idea of “professionals”). But the church’s witness should not be exclusively tied up with their personal programmes.

6 thoughts on “Explaining Emerging (Part 2) – Being Missional

  1. The fact that you cite Tim Keller is very strong evidence that the emergent church is jumping on board a movement already present and very strong within evangelicalism. My congregation is very much like this, and the Campus Crusade for Christ groups I’ve been involved with also have very much emphasized this sort of thing above the list above it (even if they have still done those things as well).

    As I said in the post I linked to before, where the emergent church is really emergent is where they are verging on (or full-on adopting) heterodoxy or heteropraxy. Where they are not doing that, there’s nothing new at all with the emergent movement. This is such a clear example of the latter that it seems strange to me to consider it a feature of the emergent movement to begin with. It’s a strain within evangelicalism that they’ve latched onto.

  2. I should add one thing. This kind of thing goes back to Francis Schaeffer, who in some ways is one of the spearheaders of the evangelical movement, not someone moving away from evangelicalism as a response to it. Most of the things in the list above that the missional attitude is in response to are things that crept into evangelicalism later on.

  3. Jeremy, I think it was Don Carson who suggested that all the good points of the emerging church can also be found in the best evangelical churches, which have the advantage of not sharing the weaknesses of emerging church. I think that being “missional” is a prime example of this. However, the emergent church is fairly unanimous on favouring this approach, whilst there is more diversity in the evangelical world. Newfrontiers, which I am part of certainly seems to have some voices calling us in a “missional” direction, but there are some competing ideas as well.

    I am hoping that more evangelical churches here in the UK embrace some of the ideas behind the missional concept. It they did, it perhaps might stem the tide of church leaders becoming disillusioned with evangelicalism and heading off in an emerging direction.

  4. Mark and Jeremy,

    Firstly can I thank you both for the very stimulating debate and discussion this topic review has produced!

    I ‘subscribe’ to the Fulcrum website, which describes itself as ‘open evangelical’ within the Church of England. One of the things it strives to do is bolster the ‘centre ground’ of evangelicalism. It seems to me that ‘names’ and ‘labels’ can mean anything we want them to mean and in many cases an “‘evangelical’ by any other name would smell as ‘orthodox'” – what I mean is that the ‘content’ of the theological system (however it is labelled) is the vital thing and there are those within so called ‘evangelicalism’ who have found problems with some of the ‘content’ and who have thus positioned themselves as ‘against’ (or ‘post’) evangelical where others (like Schaffer, and I would add Stott and Fulcrum) seek to ‘restore’ the orthodox heart of ‘evangelicalism’.

    If I’m being honest about my own Spiritual journey (another very ’emerging church’ term, but also an ancient Orthodox one….) in my most ‘post’-evangelical moments I’m reacting against those areas where evangelicalism has departed from the historic ‘catholic’ and apostolic faith (I’m sure they’d be horrified to know I thought this!) and in my ‘renewal’/open-evangelical moments I’m trying to contend for the ‘centre’ ground of evangelicalism (this occurs most often after reading people like John Stott who is the evangelical’s ‘Pope’ but who is more catholic and orthodox than non-conformists give him credit for – as Lloyd-Jones discovered!).

    Of course there are places and communities where the ‘content’ is orthodox anyhow so there is no need to ‘react’ or ‘restore’, but it’s important to listen to what people are saying who position themselves as ‘post’-anything. Of course they may have thrown some babies out with the bath water and be introducing all manner of ‘wrong content’ themselves, but such people are often reacting to ‘perceived’ heterodoxy within their former ‘movements’ and might have a valuable corrective voice to add….

    Again, the ’emerging church’ is not a ‘denomination’ I would wish to be part of (if it is an homogenous movement at all), but an interesting and informed voice which needs to be listened to and taken seriously.

    Finally re: being ‘missional’, I would suggest that this is nothing new and has been part of historic Christianity (and is part of the catholic and orthodox faith), but was ‘lost’ by those who thought that ‘salvation’ only occured in a singular ‘crisis conversion experience’ which followed a one way (and two dimensional) ‘preaching of the Gospel’ (this is part of a wider ‘error’ in soteriology which seeks to somehow ‘pre-empt’ God’s final judgement and introduce a ‘justification-through-signing-up-to-a-certain-theological-system’ mentality). That this ‘method’ is hardly effective or transformative (another EC word…) is no suprise and the ‘rediscovery’ that it takes Time, Love and Relationship (and the realisation that God accepts and invites ahead of, and often inspite of, our own nice ‘salvation systems’) is a welcome return to the ‘norm’!

  5. I love the idea of being missional over being evangelizing. But bringing people to church and asking I they want to make Jesus their “Special Friend” is a little understated IMHO

  6. Pingback: wordandspirit » Church Sell-By Date

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *