Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Missional Church is not a New Thing

The idea that mission should not just be a ministry of the church, one of its offered services, but actually a fundamental and foundational aspect of its whole life is at the heart of the idea of missional church.  With its new title, and the coining of a new word, "missional," the missional church sounds like something cutting edge and new and trendy.  However, while such an idea and emphasis may seem new to those of us who grew up in a church environment when mission was what was done in some other country by a unique and slightly doubtful class of people known as missionaries, it actually represents the character of the earliest church: 
The single most striking thing about early Christianity is its speed of growth.  In AD 25 there is no such thing as Christianity . . . by AD 125 the Roman emporer has established an official policy in relation to the punishment of Christians; Polycarp has already been a Christian in Smyrna for half a century; Aristides is confronting the emporer Hadrian with the news that there are four races in the world, Barbarians, Greek, Jews and Christians; and a young pagan called Justin is begininng the philisophical quest which will take him through the greatest of the pagan thinkers and lead him, still unsatisfied, to Christ.
(N.T Wright, NTPG, p359)
After pointing out the blindingly obvious but often overlooked fact of the early church's incredible expansion and what this tells us about early Christian praxis, Wright goes on to confront the fallacy that the early church grew so rapidly because the pagan world was such fertile soil for it.  Having established that for both the pagan and the Jew becoming a Christian would be a difficult, dangerous, and counterintuitive thing to do, he then aks,
Why then did early Christianity spread? Because early Chistians believed that what they had found to be true was true for the whole world.  The impetus to mission sprang from the very heart of early Christian conviction.  If we know anything about early Christian praxis . . . it is that the early Chistians engaged in mission, both to Jews and Gentiles . . . This missionary activity was not an addendum to a faith that was basically 'about' something else. 
(N.T Wright, NTPG, p360)
If Wright is right about this (no pun intended), then is a missing ingredient from our churches' conviction that what is true for us is also true for everyone else?  Have we secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, bought into the lie that everyone gets to have their own private version of the truth and that that is OK?  Are the churches in the West not doing mission because they and their constituents no longer believe they know the truth or that the truth is worth knowing?


  1. Its a good point you make but I am somewhat concerned when "Mission" becomes the primary source for Christian gathering (which seems to be a growing trend in post modern church planting). Surely the chief aim of the gathering of the saints is to worship God (of which Mission is a part). also Wright fails to note (in these quotes at least) that it was the Spirit that propelled the early church into the world...

    Thanks for the post, it got me thinking.

  2. Hi Mark, and welcome to xenos. I wouldn't fault Wright here for not mentioning the Spirit, because that was not the point he was making. And I'm sure he would agree as do I that the Spirit is not a dispensible factor in either mission or worship. What I would tentatively suggest is that your comment might betray a false dichotomy between mission and worship. Is it really possible to worship God in the abstract without relating it to what God is asking us to do in the world? While we often do "worship" God in the abstract, I question how much that is really worship, and how much it is just "Christian" entertainment.

    Thanks for your comment, this is all stuff i'm working throguh at the moment so I really keen to hear other POV and be challenged on this.

  3. Christian gatherings today are driven by worship (music) and climax with preaching.

    Missional church, and I'm still working this out, let's mission drive the gathering (worship) rather than the other way around.

    Climax becomes celebration of the Table; focus still remains worship of the Father, especially when you're busy celebrating what he's doing in the midst of the community.

  4. Hi Ro, thanks for stopping by. Yes the church meeting should be driven by mission, as mission is our expression of worship, but church is not the sunday meeting, the sunday meeting should be one among many expressions of church which is the reality of God's people doing God's work in God's world all week long.