I appreciate the video above as a quick way of explaining the missional church — people empowered and encouraged to be the church in their community, following Jesus and bearing witness to him wherever they work, play, and live.
But as I’ve been thinking about this more, I wonder, for a church to be missional, must all of the arrows point outward? Is being the church and living out the good news only for the surrounding community and world? Is everyone who is part of the church a missionary, and every place outside the church a mission field?
What about the church itself? Is it really all Christian “in here,” and all mission field “out there”? Isn’t the church at least part mission field as well?
At least that’s how I understand my own church — I’m thinking of the long-time attenders who tell me they’re not Christian even though they may appear that way to other people; the person who tells me, “I’m not a Christian yet, but I like to hang out with nice Christian people”; some of our international students who have never experienced church before; others who have been active in the church for most of their lives but who are no longer convinced as they once were about following Jesus.
I’ve changed some of the details in the previous paragraph to protect people’s privacy, but that’s hardly necessary since these descriptions might equally apply to any number of people in any number of churches. I’m not sharing anything particularly unique here. It’s this way in many “established” churches where those who regularly assemble together are a diverse group, a mix of those who bear witness to Jesus and those who need it (and don’t we all?). The divide between “inside” and “outside” — between the church and the missionfield — is not as clearcut as this simple video seems to assume.
So YES!! I’m all for being missional in our neighbourhoods and communities. But I also don’t think it’s enough. I think we also need some of those arrows reaching over and across to one another within the church. I think we need to be missional in the church community too.
My dream of a missional church is a church that is missional both inside and out, that tells God’s story both inside and out, that has compassionate relationships both inside and out, that is genuine both inside and out. It’s not one kind of behaviour on the inside and something else on the outside.
After all, what happens within the church can be a powerful witness. As Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Here he’s not talking about going outside to others, but attending to the relationships close at hand. Jesus himself went first to his “own” people while at the same time welcoming those who were marginalized and “outside.”
When the church has covered up sexual abuse, or failed in numerous other ways, that also speaks loudly both to those inside and outside the church. How the church has handled such so-called “internal” matters has missional significance.
So I think we need missional church where what happens “in here” is just as important as what happens “out there.” That means:
We need missional hospitality — where we pay attention to the person standing awkwardly next to us in the church foyer, instead of focusing only on our friends.
We need missional potlucks — where a person doesn’t have to bring farmer sausage or the right kind of potato salad to fit in, and doesn’t end up having to take their dish of rice and beans home untouched because no one else would eat it.
We need missional worship that doesn’t assume we all know the Old Testament story of Abraham and Sarah, or that we all know the words to the doxology “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” or that we all identify with language like “we as Christians” or “we as Mennonites” (or any other church tradition).
Now I know that “missional” is not an adjective to be thrown in front of anything and everything, so maybe I’m out of line here. But if we have “a renewed theological vision of the church in mission,” I can’t imagine that it’s only for the face we show to the world, but it will renew us through and through. “Inside” or “outside” is not really the point–we need to bear witness to Jesus everywhere.
What do you think? Can an established church be missional? Is your church missional, and how does that matter?