Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Missional Church is Incarnational

John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The term "Word" is the Greek word logos. It refers to Jesus, who is the Word or revelation of God to humanity. It's interesting that John didn't say, "The Word became man," but rather, "The Word became flesh." The disciple whom Jesus loved (cf. John 20:2) intentionally emphasized the fact that Jesus had a fleshly body—one that could get hungry, be touched, feel pain, etc. John then declares that the Word "dwelt among us." Literally, Jesus "pitched His tent" or "tabernacled among us."

The picture John is giving us is that Jesus became incarnate. The word "incarnate" literally means "to make flesh." Jesus became one of us. He made His dwelling with us. He dealt with the customs and laws of the day. He ate what other people ate. Why did He do this? Because Jesus was on mission.

Jesus serves as an example for us. God calls His people to be on mission. A missional church is to be incarnational. A missional church doesn't sit back and wish people would come hear the gospel.

Instead, it penetrates its world with the love of Christ. A missional church pitches its tent where people are. One way churches can become more missional is through block parties or parties in the park. Instead of sitting back in the church sanctuary hoping that a visitor might attend, a church can go to where the community is and give out free hot dogs, hamburgers, & drinks. Let the kids bounce on a bounce house, eat popcorn, and listen to fun music. And most importantly, we can point people to Jesus. How many guests attend on Sunday nights at your church? A few? Any? On the same Sunday night, a church can impact touch hundreds of people with the love of Christ.

When God's people bless people in God's world, God returns the blessing to them. Perhaps the biggest transformation actually occurs in the hearts of Christians. The more we serve, the more our love grows. A missional church is an incarnational church. In other words, a missional church is like Jesus.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Identity of a Missional Church

It's important to have a biblical understanding of church. The church is not a building, a physical location, a denomination, or a specific time to meet. In the first century, there were no church buildings. The early church met in people's homes or occasionally outside. Denominations did not yet exist. The early church sometimes met daily (cf. Acts 5:42) and always on the Lord's day (cf. Acts 20:7).

If we're going to recapture the vision and passion of the early church, we must understand our identity as they did. Our language should reflect the truth of who we are. Instead of "going to church," we gather with God's people. Instead of meeting "at the church," we meet at the church's campus. Church is not something we "go to" or "meet at." Church is who we are.

This understanding of who we are is foundational to our mission. The early church encountered a Greek culture that was largely ignorant of biblical truth. They viewed themselves as missionaries: people who were on mission for Jesus. There are many parallels between our own society and that of the first century. No truth, however, is more critical and self-evident than this: we must be missionaries.

In his article, "Is Your Church Missional?", Dr. Ed Stetzer, Director of LifeWay Research and LifeWay's Missiologist in Residence, writes, "There are three emphases that every church in every culture needs in order to faithfully proclaim the gospel. They need to understand what Jesus called them to do, what culture they are in and what a biblical church looks like. A missional church lives at the intersection of three things." He diagrams these emphases like this:


The truths that Stetzer has discovered are the same truths that lost people are searching for today:
  • People are looking for something to believe in (Christology).
  • People are looking for some community to belong to (Ecclesiology).
  • People are looking for someone to bless them (Missiology).
A church reaching a balance between these emphases will be an effective church on mission in its community and around the world. We must maintain a proper relationship with Christ, one another, and the world. Much of the church growth movement of the 1960's, 70's, and 80's focused on bridging the gap between the church and the world. The problem was an overemphasis on methodology to the exclusion of doctrine. A reaction to this was the church health movement of the 1990's, which focused on the church's relationship to its Savior. Unfortunately, this inward focus resulted in an underemphasis on the church's missionary role to the world. More recently, there has been a widespread increase in Christians who are rejecting the "established" or "organized" church in favor of a more individualized faith. Sometimes these believers gather in house churches as their primary expression of the Christian community. While there is nothing wrong with house churches–and indeed we in established churches should actively explore how we can partner and support them–there exists the danger that these churches would never become a full expression of the community Christ intended.

As we grow in our understanding of becoming a missional church, we will no doubt discover that it is Christ's plan for us to be incarnational, indigenous, and intentional. We'll explore these ideas in some upcoming posts.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Missional Church

Every church must determine what kind of church it wants to be. Many American churches have, over time, become attraction-oriented. They attempt to develop programs and activities—sermons, music, youth and children's ministries, senior adult ministries, etc.—attractive enough that people will come. This approach has trained Christians to sit instead of serve; to observe instead of participate; to watch instead of act.

In an attraction-oriented church, members expect their pastors to do the work of the ministry, even in the face of explicit biblical injunctions that say just the opposite: that ministry is accomplished by the people (cf. Eph. 4:11-12). The further this expectation sets in their hearts, the more apathy develops. Why? Because apathy is a by-product of inaction.

There exists a more biblical and effective kind of church: missional. For an attraction-oriented church to become missional, the pastors must help believers change the way they think. Thought processes are changed by changing actions. (You probably already knew that thoughts influence behavior, but God also designed us so that our behavior influences the way we think.)

Instead of sitting in pews hoping that perhaps someone in the community will show up, the church can follow Andrew's example and take Jesus to them (cf. John 1:40-41). The church can follow Matthew's example and throw a party, with Jesus as the honored guest (cf. Luke 5:27-29). The church can finally obey Jesus, who says to "Go" (Matt. 28:19).

Essentially, we must answer this question: Where would Jesus be? Would Jesus keep His ministry relegated to the church building or be in the community? Where was the focus of His life and ministry? Even a cursory reading of the New Testament demonstrates that while Jesus indeed ministered in the Temple and in synagogues, He spent a large amount of time in the community. If we want to be the church God wants us to be, we cannot escape the conclusion that we must be on mission with Him to seek and to save that which is lost.

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