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.