What Does it Mean to be Missional?
We are God’s missional people. Jesus said emphatically, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21). Whether this means we cross the seas or cross the street, God’s mission in the world ought to be our defining reference point for life and community. Certainly, the facts are in: if a simple church family does not actively nurture a missional life, its end is near. However, this does not necessarily mean a Kingdom community has to suddenly embark on a works project to crank up the missional fires. As with all things, a fresh mindset is first required … which may, of course, lead to various Spirit-led projects.
For example, if someone from our church family feels led by the Lord to move to a foreign country and, earning his living as a language teacher, seeks to advance God’s Kingdom we call them a “missionary”. If someone else in our church family, who is a teacher by vocation, has the same heart to see God’s Kingdom advance in our home city, we call them a “school teacher” (and may still put pressure on them to find their “ministry”).
Of course, I’m certainly not suggesting we fail to appreciate the cost involved in going to another nation, I know personally what it involves, but the point is that until we grasp a missional mindset—and appreciate the missional call and responsibility we all have in Christ—we will never become a missional people.
Continue reading as we look at ways in which simple churches may be birthed into a missional heart and how they can regularly engage with a missional vision.
So, what does it mean to be missional?
The verdict is in. As we compare notes with varying streams and expressions from across the world—from third-world to first-world cultures, from those just starting on the journey to those who are old timers already—we’re all in agreement that unless a simple church has a Kingdom missional base, it will become ingrown within 18-24 months … sadly, many even implode.
Even if a group initially started with a missional heart, unless the community intentionally and regularly engages with a sense of Kingdom mission, it will eventually settle for “fellowship” as is its primary purpose for existing. Now, of course, fellowship (koinonia) is a wonderful gift of God and I mean in no way to undermine this life-enriching by-product of the Spirit’s work in a spiritual family. However, herein lies the issue.
When a Kingdom community is alive, in love and on mission together, fellowship is one of the cherry-on-the-top blessings of such a way of life. But when we make it our goal—even if this happens unintentionally, as is so often the case—we’re actually doomed to lose it if we ever had it … or never find it.
Bring a group of people in love with Jesus together with His mission beating in their hearts and koinonia will be the glue that binds them together through thick and thin. Bring a group of people together for the purpose of fellowship and no matter how much they love Jesus; within 18 months they’ll be looking for a reason to still make it all worth it.
In my experience, when most people consider the need to be missional, they immediately agree. However, the light bulb moment does not last long before the next thought usually induces guilt, obligation and sometimes even fear. “Does that mean we have to find some street kids to feed? Sponsor a missionary on the other side of the world? Adopt a project together? Oh, dear … I’m having program-driven déjà vu!”
While many simple churches do thrive doing these kind of initiatives, this is not usually the place to start. In my experience, these kinds of projects are born in mature missional communities that together sense God leading them into such; usually by feeling led to support the call and initiative of one person in the group who is gripped with the burden for it. And here lies the place of beginnings.
A Kingdom community is a family of Christ-followers; the ‘safe place’ from which each disciple of Christ is ‘sent’ into his or her sphere of influence—whether this is their neighbourhood or some niche of society (vocation, special interest, hobby or sport, focused cause, etc.). In our Kingdom families, we’re cheered on by those who love us and encourage us to be salt and light in our world. Thus, the simple church does not need, in essence, to “find” a joint project; rather it need merely profile the missional lifestyle of each of its participants and become a place of team to champion each person in their mission expression.
As we applaud each other on in our individual mission to “our world”—to those people who don’t know the Lord and to those prophetic causes that ought to concern God’s people—each member of a Kingdom family is strengthened in their missional witness.
Then, it is out of this “iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs 27:17) that missional projects—planned initiatives to reach people without Christ or those in support of prophetic causes—may arise as Kingdom communities learn to be faithful to their collective sphere of influence.
If your simple church has not yet helped each person to identify their circle of influence and/or has not yet together defined the collective sphere of impact of your Kingdom community, this is an exciting and powerful place of discovery and engagement with mission.
Well, in my opinion, while the ground we’ve covered is important; there is more to this. And if we want to become reproducing missional communities I think there is actually quite a lot more.
In my understanding, there are two vital foundational or intrinsic factors to consider and two more functional or practical activities to embrace. While all four probably deserve an article in themselves, I’ll attempt to touch on them here.
Two foundational factors
The two foundational factors required in becoming a reproducing, missional Kingdom family are embracing the missional Holy Spirit and aligning to the God-given gift of an apostle.
1. The Missional Holy Spirit
It goes without saying that unless the Spirit does a work in us, whatever we do will be lifeless and fruitless. Of course every believer would fervently agree with this statement. However, many surprisingly don’t equate the Holy Spirit directly with mission. To many believers, the Spirit of God is more about giving me power to live my life better1, rather than giving me power to live His life effectively.
Without question, He makes our lives better but that is only half the story. The Holy Spirit is given to enable us to live His life more effectively; to “be,” as Jesus declared, His “witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
One of the most powerful metaphors used of the Holy Spirit by the Old Testament prophets is that of a river. Ezekiel’s River of Life flows directly from the temple (Ezekiel 47:1), or heart, of God and for one primary purpose: to bring healing to the nations; “everything will live wherever the river goes” (v. 9)2. Whenever the river is channelled away from this purpose, Ezekiel warns of “swamps and marshes” that will “be given over to salt” (v. 11).
Jesus then added to Ezekiel’s thought in John 7:37-39, revealing that the river of the Spirit flows through our redeemed “hearts” on its way to the nations. The Greek word Jesus used is koilia, meaning “womb” – yes we, the church, are the womb of God. Jesus then thundered God’s intention in His infamous Acts 1:8 proclamation:
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8)
First, note that the Holy Spirit’s work is essentially connected to the missional heart of God. The Spirit of God is not, in this sense, for me; He empowers us so that we can be more for Him. Actually, He empowers us so that we can be more like Him; to represent Him. We’re empowered to be His “witnesses”. This is an issue of both the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22, 23) and the “gifts of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)—the character of Christ.
Second, note that this endowment of power is not just about doing more for God. If this was so, why did Peter not say, “Lord, haven’t we already got power? We’ve already healed the sick and cast out demons. Why do we need more power?”
While the empowering of the Spirit would no doubt enlarge their capacity to do the work of God, this endowment was more about them being God’s heart for the nations than merely being His hands. The missional Holy Spirit fills our hearts with God’s heart; His heart beats that none should perish; His heart weeps over injustice in our world; His heart grieves over the selfishness in His people. Drenched with His compassion, we’re delivered from chronic self-absorption and become a missional force armed with the heart and character of Jesus to impact our world.
What am I contending for here? Not only do we need to restore a vital dependence on the Presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit, but we also need to engage with His missional heart for the nations. Bottom-line? This means we ought to seek fresh drenchings of the Spirit for the express purpose of revealing Christ more effectively to our world.
2. The Gift of Apostle
The equipping gift of the apostle is given by God for a reason; it is not an optional extra. If we’re going to become all God intends, it’s imperative that we receive all the gifts God gives.
After emphatically contending for the value of every “member” of the “body” in his first letter to the Corinthians (12:12ff), Paul then explains: “God has appointed these in the church: first apostles…” (v. 28).
Clearly, he is not referring to the kingpin of the church hierarchy; that would contradict his entire teaching in this chapter. Instead, he refers here to the foundational role of the apostle. The gift of apostle is required first in priority or sequence of function to advance the Kingdom and birth new church communities.
If you’re about to build a house, who do you contact first? Yes, an architect of course. This does not mean that the architect is better or more important than the builder, electrician, plumber or painter. It’s simply a matter of putting first things first if you want the job done.
I’m convinced many simple churches become ingrown in their second year because they were never built on an apostolic foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10, 11; Ephesians 2:20); that is, they did not receive the grace and ministry of an apostle in their midst.
For me, one of the most important concepts that apostle’s impart is this:
Our vision of Christ ought to determine our sense of mission and it is from this foundation that we derive our understanding of church.
If we fail to engage with an overarching, telling revelation of Christ and His compelling mission, we’ll make “church”—and all its secondary aspects such as how we meet, when we meet, why we meet, what we do when we meet, blah blah blah—the whole ball game. A Kingdom ecclesia alive and in love will, without question, meet together often and for various reasons as an overflow of their missional-life in God. But it will never compromise Who it belongs to and why it exists.
For the record then:
Our vision of Christ … is to inform…
> Our life of mission …which is to transform…
> Our idea of church
Bottom-line? Without this Biblical foundation gift in the inception and development of a simple/organic church plant, a Kingdom missional heart will always be difficult to develop or maintain.
I would recommend to the reader our articles on What is apostolic alignment?, How does authority work?, What is an apostle? and Can anyone start a simple church? for further thought on this vital point3.
Two practical factors
The two practical factors required in becoming a reproducing, missional Kingdom community are facilitating rhythmical and seasons of intercessory prayer and being intentional about outward-focused discipleship4.
1. Intercessory Prayer 5
One of the give-away symptoms of an ingrown community is either the lack of fervency in their intercessory prayer life or the inward-focus of their prayers.
A healthy Kingdom community maintains a good rhythm of prayer for both missional concerns (lost people or prophetic causes) and for their own needs. Missional prayer, or intercessory prayer, flows from hearts set ablaze with the missional Spirit; but embracing it as a group spiritual discipline and weaving it into the rhythm of the community is important to keep this fire well stoked. For example, in regularly sharing the Lord’s Supper as a feast together, creating a habit in which the spiritual family can turn their thoughts to those in need of Christ’s saving love can throw wood on the fire of missional fervour.
Furthermore, identifying seasons of prayer and fasting for a fresh drenching of the missional Spirit and breakthrough in the effectiveness of the groups’ witness is important too. Three mornings of early prayer in a selected week, or prayer and fasting on a specific day of the week for a month are examples of seasons of intercessory prayer in this regard. Of course, prayer and fasting can be done for a host of reasons—such as breakthrough in the needs of the church family—but when we are set apart for missional reasons, there is fresh power released for mission.
Bottom-line? The history of every simple church family is written in their intercessory prayer-life.
2. Outward-focused Discipleship
Some may wonder why I’ve stressed “outward-focused” discipleship. The reason is that, in my experience, most discipleship tracks or initiatives are inward-focused; that is, they focus only on the individual growth of a believer often majoring on doctrinal assimilation or an orientation to the spiritual disciplines as the express purpose of discipleship.
Of course this is not a bad thing at all; however, much thought on discipleship does not link the concept to making disciple-makers. I guess the thought is that when the new believer is finally a mature disciple—after x many number of completed resources and/or classroom time or x many hours clocked into a variety of meetings—they will eventually put their hand to the plough. This, in my opinion, seldom produces the intended fruit.
The New Testament is filled with a sense of immediacy; that is new believers engaged with the mission of Christ immediately and their discipleship was worked out with this gripping missional mandate in view6. From the get-go, discipleship is essentially empowering Christ-followers to be disciple-makers and this outward-focused discipleship involves the following7:
Discipleship is a communal experience.
There is simply no such thing as a lone ranger disciple in the New Testament. Spiritual growth requires accountability and accountability requires account-giving in the context of intentional relationships. No man is an island and sustained spiritual growth does not happen in a relational vacuum.
Groups should remain small enough to multiply (and multiplying will keep them small enough to be effective).
As soon as a group becomes more than three it loses a sense of intimacy and becomes harder to coordinate. Jesus’ promise to presence Himself in a group of two or three is a wonderful invitation to start discipleship at this size of group (Matthew 18:20)8. And as this “team” of two or three embarks on missional discipleship, their shared goal is to multiply themselves as soon as the number reaches four.
Groups should not be leadership dependent.
Many discipleship tracks turn inward because they are leadership-driven and dependent. In such cases, discipleship is not only dependent on the production of leaders but it also induces new believers to become reliant on their ‘guru’9.
A group of two or three does not require believers to commit to a leader but to other disciples, a ‘band of brothers’10; their commitment is to the spiritual disciplines of a disciple, giving account of themselves to other Christ-followers (irrespective of their maturity), for effective mission and spiritual growth.
Groups should focus on the core disciplines for spiritual growth.
While there any number of spiritual disciplines that a Christ-follower can engage in; three disciplines are core for spiritual growth: intercessory prayer, Bible reading and confession.
Intercessory prayer focuses us in heart and action towards a hurting, needy world for whom Christ died. The group of two or three exists primarily to serve as a missional team, supporting one another’s witness in the world. This outward focus is the essence of the selfless life of a Christ-follower.
Bible reading is obviously vital for spiritual growth; that many believers do not actually read the Bible regularly is probably one of the main reasons for our ineptness today11. When a group of two or three hold each other accountable to agreed upon Bible readings, not only are they encouraged to abide in the Word for themselves (John 15:1-8), what each person learnt through their reading becomes the agenda for when they meet together. Thus, the group meeting—whether this is weekly or bi-weekly—is not dependent on teaching or specific curricula. God’s Word alive in our hearts is our agenda. How refreshing!
Confession of one’s weakness and struggles are essential for a fertile, pliable heart. The power of sin is in its secrecy; confession breaks sin’s power by welcoming the light. While only our confession to God brings forgiveness (1 John 1:9); often healing and victory only comes when we confess our faults to others (James 5:16).
Bottom-line? Without intentional, outward-focused disciple-making, a simple/organic church is all gums and no teeth.
There it is.
If a simple church family does not have a Kingdom missional base it will struggle past its second birthday. However, if it is enthused by the missional Spirit of God, aligned to apostolic vision and team, fervent in intercessory prayer and intentional about outward-focused discipleship; it will be abuzz with missional fire and be a launch pad for Kingdom exploits, sustainable over the long-term.
Then Kingdom community is not just simple and organic, but dynamic and loads of fun too. We taste a little bit of heaven on earth when we’re part of a Kingdom community that is alive in the Spirit, in love with one another and on mission together with Him.
Enough said? I think so.
1 In some quarters, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit has been reduced to a feel-good experience; where the anointing, it seems, exists to make us “glow in the dark”. While I certainly believe in (and love) the manifest Presence and power of the Spirit, I just don’t think we’re meant to turn His majesty into a “bless-me, soothe-me” frenzy. Of course, I’m being a little nasty here and apologise. My passion, you see, is to see missional communities, empowered by the Spirit, pour themselves out selflessly for the cause of Christ. If we do so and enjoy goose-bumps all the way … then goodie for us.
2 Ezekiel revealed that the river would heal the “sea” and along the banks of the river, trees would grow; whose leaves would serve as “medicine” (Ezekiel 47:8, 12). Biblically, of course, the “sea” represents the nations; specifically, the Gentiles. This is clarified in John’s glimpse of the “river of water of life”; the trees that grow along it are, John reveals, for the “healing of the nations” (Revelations 22:1, 2).
3 For these recommended articles, click here:
What is apostolic alignment? <A Few Good Fathers>
How does authority work? <Like Father, Like Son>
What is an apostle? <Definitely Maybe>
Can anyone start a simple church? <Field of Dreams>
4 It should be noted that I’m convinced that without the foundational elements discussed first (the missional Holy Spirit and apostolic alignment); these two practical areas (intercessory prayer and outward-focused discipleship) can quickly become a “works regime”.
5 It may be redundant to say, but intercessory prayer is prayer for others; that is, prayer for those who do not know Christ or for prophetic causes that concern the heart of God (for example: injustice and poverty in our world or defeat and apathy in God’s people, etc.). Ezekiel gives us a great definition for intercessory prayer: intercession is prayer in which we come “before” God “on behalf of” others (Ezekiel 22:30, 31).
6 Luke uses the word “now” over 50 times in the Book of Acts; capturing the sense of urgency of the early church. Furthermore, Jesus thrust His green-horn disciples into the action immediately (Luke 9:1-6, 10:1-9). He also sent those healed or delivered straight into the playing field, most notably the former demon-possessed man of the Gadarenes (Mark 5:1-20). This in no way negates the value of a spiritual family looking after new believers; but we ought to nurture new believers as they engage with mission, molly coddling them only snuffs out their missionary zeal.
7 The best proponents of this that I’m aware of are Church Multiplication Associates and their resources around what they call, “Life Transforation Groups”. The reader will benefit tremendously from viewing their material.
8 While many simple churches may start with two or three, I do not think this constitutes a mature, self-governing church community. The context of Matthew 18:15-20 certainly implies that Jesus referred to a group of two or three as a ‘cell’ or micro expression of a spiritual family, not the complete article. For example, in the context is conflict resolution, Jesus urges us to resolve personal conflict and if a one-to-one attempt at reconciliation fails (v. 15), we must ask a mediator to assist (v. 16). If this breaks down, we need to “tell it to the church” (v. 17); an appeal to the spiritual family—specifically, the parents-leaders—the sparring parties are apart of. If the church is complete at two or three, there is no family to aid in reconciliation. It seems obvious that Jesus envisioned a group of two or three functioning as part of a broader spiritual family.
9 This certainly does not undermine the value and role of spiritual parent-leaders in the mix. The context in which healthy discipleship occurs in groups of two or three is a simple church family; supported by parent-leaders. See footnote no. 8 above and our article, What is an elder?
10 Or sisters. I’m certainly advocating discipleship groups of two or three for both men and women. Of course, this level of accountability is best along gender lines; that is, men group with men and women with women.
11 Various surveys show the terrible Bible illiteracy among Christians. One poll found that 56% of those surveyed did not know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount and 52% of those surveyed could not name the Gospels. With so many teaching aids and resources available, it seems the Book that counts is often neglected.