In his role as super spy Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise portrays an agent willing to face incredible odds and unbelievable danger in order to accomplish a "mission: impossible." Church leaders face assignments just as tough: to lead congregations to serve Christ in a changing and sometimes hostile world.
The word for this ministry challenge is missional. How does a church become missional? And for leaders, is moving a consumer church to become missional, in itself, a mission: impossible?
What "missional" means
When asked, "What kind of church do you serve?" leaders are finding that denominational qualifiers or adjectives such as innovative, emergent, contemporary, liturgical and purpose-driven don't get to the heart of the question; they tend to over-emphasize a particular aspect of the church.
Leaders are (re)discovering that the essential calling of the church has less to do with the way a church is organized, its doctrinal distinctions, or its style of music, and more to do with the missio Dei (mission of God).
UK blogger Andrew Jones explains: "Missio Dei stems from the Triune God: the Father sends the Son, the Father and the Son send the Spirit, the Father and Son and the Spirit send the church into the world." So a missional church is about doing God's work in the world today. In this sense, the missional church isn't a new emphasis, but is a renewed focus on what has been (or should have been) there all along.
Mike Breen, pastor at Community Church of Joy near Phoenix, Arizona, believes the missional church is something very old, very fundamental, and very much at the core of what it means to be church.
"Missional church is radical only in the sense that radical means root," he says. "The missional church is rooted in not just the New Testament church of Acts, but in the mission of Jesus himself. A missional church lives out the church's three-dimensional calling: to be upwardly focused on God in worship that is passionate; to be inwardly focused on community among believers that is demonstrated in relationships of love and compassion; and to be outwardly focused on a world that does not yet know God."
But if being missional is the essence of being the church, why isn't every church missional? Because many churches have turned attention to matters that distract and deter from the mission. Two main distractions often block a congregation's missional expression.
The first is self-preservation. Janetta Cravens, pastor of First Christian Church in Macon, Georgia, says her congregation is beginning to rediscover and refocus on God's activity in the world rather than the church's activity for itself. "The Builder generation came back from WWII and built churches that could withstand bombs, metaphorically and sometimes literally. The focus was on an institutional church so solid that it could endure, and yet that focus on preservation too easily became the very identity of the church. The church began to exist for the sake of the church."
Brian Wright, ...