Recently I was asked to speak to a group of leaders at a leadership conference. This was the topic.
Keeping it Missional – what does it take?
I thought on this for a while and was a little flummoxed. Isn’t ‘keeping it missional’ just being the presence of God in our society and following the life and teaching of Jesus?
What does it take?
1: Understanding the context of the group asking the question.
2: Understanding the meaning of the world missional.
3: Understanding the context of the gospel.
So these were my thoughts as I prepared for this session.
1: Context of the Modern Church and its current fascination with the word missional.
The modern church today could also be called the ‘attractional church’. This model, “the attractional model”, has dominated the western church. It seeks to reach out to culture/society and draw them into the church. It aims to produce attractive services and programmes for the purpose of attracting people to the church. The modern church has youth programs, children programs, women’s/mens programs, community programs and missionary programs.
In this context ‘missional’ is an arm or a program of the church. There are certain people, ‘ministries’ who have a vocation to be ‘missional’ but the main aim is to connect them TO the church.
This model is dying because it creates a culture where the church is unable to speak to the needs and lives of those who are outside the model. They, the church, become cut off and irrelevant to society. Pentecostal churches particularly, who still work under the ‘purity model’, go a step further and cut people off or ‘out of’ their communities if they do not conform to the strict purity codes. Alternatively, they will not associate with or fear certain groups of people – seeing them as leaven who can taint the whole loaf.
“As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, the attractional model has lost its effectiveness”. Alan Hirsch.
2: The meaning of the word missional.
This quote by Alan Hirsch was helpful.
A missional theology is not content with mission being a church-based work. Rather, it applies to the whole life of every believer. Every disciple is to be an agent of the kingdom of God, and every disciple is to carry the mission of God into every sphere of life. We are all missionaries sent into a non-Christian culture.
This quote is helpful because it give us language for the word missional, but really all it is doing is totally summarising the work of Jesus and mission that he has in turn given to us. God by his very nature is ‘the sent one’. ‘This doctrine, known as ‘missio Dei’—the sending of God’ (Alan Hirsch). So like Jesus missional for us is simply to be sent into the world. Jesus told us to ‘Go’ into all the world. He did not tell us to make nice institutions and bring people to the programs of the church.
It is a very different posture, we do not expect people to come to us, we go to them. We become the presence of God within our communities.
3: The context of the gospel
To fully comprehend the gospels and their meaning it is important that we understand the era, society i.e.: context into which it was written – post-70 C.E and where the stories of the Gospels and of Jesus occurred.
The political situation of first century Jewish Palestine was a domination system marked by peasant society, purity society, and patriarchal society.
~ Marcus Borg
Firstly in the Palestine when Jesus walked the earth the language was Aramaic. Jesus was Jewish and his teaching came out of Jewish history and culture. Much of the new testament is very Jewish. The jewish manuscripts were translated into Greek and then into English. (note: to those who use the bible as a weapon) Translation is not infallible and we must be wary of making the scripture bend to our culture today.
At this time Israel had no central government and as a result the largest and most important social structure was the family. What determined the social position was your religious tradition. The priestly class could claim some degree of social importance or nobility on religious ground. Jesus talked often of the rich and poor primarily because the gap between the two was so great. There were very few rich people, only those who had acquired land or who had accumulated trade or political influence became rich. Jesus scolded those with wealth and power who refused to share with those in need.
Upper class were landowners, government officials, and army officials.
Middle class were merchants, artisans.
Lower class were unskilled laborers, farmers and slaves.
Jesus was born into a society that was ruled by the domination system. Jesus himself was at the bottom of the pile and would possibly have been considered an artisan. Overlay the Roman empire onto the above pyramid and you have an even more complex, ruthless, hierarchical system which dominated a society where Caesar ruled above all.
This domination system was marked by:
Agricultural was the only source of wealth and there was an enormous gulf between the peasants who worked the land and the urban ruling elites who owned the land. Urban ruling elites were (king, aristocratic families, high government officials) and retainers (servants, army, lower government officials, religious officials)
The central social structure of the society was organized with purity as the core value. Purity systems generate a class of untouchables and outcasts.
Social outcasts included those who were labeled unclean, the extremely poor, the sick, slaves and women. Jews had slaves but not as many as the pagans. Jewish law insisted that slaves be freed after seven years (source).
Shepherding was the second to lowest position on the social ladder and was considered the lowest working class and were despised. All of these people were excluded from religious life. Society rejected the poor and the weak, but Jesus made these people the center of his message and those to be most honoured.
The Pharisees were made up mostly of devout laymen who aimed at observing religious practices down to the utmost detail. They were dedicated to the study of the Old Testament and the following of the Old Testament Law “Ancient Israel (source) Chief Priest belonged to certain powerful families and were considered sacred figures. They were in charge of the charge of the temple, which was the religious and political center of Israel In Society (source).
Women were considered property and were unclean. They sat at the bottom of patriarchal society which was completely and utterly ruled by men. Women were forbidden to be educated. In this society, only 10% of men were literate. This is why Jesus mostly used parables and stories as they appealed to everyone.
Why is it important to understand the context of ancient Palestinian society?
It is important because those of us who live in the western society live as the privileged 1% richest on the planet. We have the luxury of deciding who we talk to and when. We have the means by which we can remove ourselves from poverty and protect ourselves from unsavoury situations.
It is sobering to think that if Jesus were to come today, we would be the minority that he would rail against. His ministry was to the multitudes of impoverished and marginalised, not to the wealthy and privileged. He so annoyed the religious elite with his mixing and ministering to the unclean that they killed him.
Missional life is about being the presence of God in your homes and in your community and in your work place. Not with the hope of inviting them to church but just because the love of God working through you is enough. Missional life is about loving the oppressed and those who live on the margins of society and doing life with them.
“A missional theology is not content with mission being a church-based work. Rather, it applies to the whole life of every believer. Every disciple is to be an agent of the kingdom of God, and every disciple is to carry the mission of God into every sphere of life. We are all missionaries sent into a non-Christian culture.
Missional represents a significant shift in the way we think about the church. As the people of a missionary God, we ought to engage the world the same way he does—by going out rather than just reaching out. To obstruct this movement is to block God’s purposes in and through his people. When the church is in mission, it is the true church”. Alan Hirsch Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
Each one of us has lived through some devastation, some loneliness, some weather superstorm or spiritual superstorm, when we look at each other we must say, I understand. I understand how you feel because I have been there myself. We must support each other and empathize with each other because each of us is more alike than we are unalike.
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