With the passing of the third Sunday of Advent, the approach of Christmas is a wonderful time to talk about mission and incarnational ministry. Jesus is our great model in being sent by God, putting on our skin, scenting himself with our earthy stink, and walking among his hopelessly lost creation. It’s a beautiful, other-worldly, unbelievable, and illogical event.
And as we gather with family and friends, sit in our warm churches, and stuff ourselves with cookies, it is helpful to remember that Jesus was probably one of the most uncomfortable and destitute of children when he was born. That should not guilt us. It should do something like overwhelm us, cover us with the depths of God’s love, and plant a seed that will gently nudge us to do the same.
And doing the same thing is what many call mission.
And yeah, I’ve got a few things to say about that, but first of all, I wanted to share a few mundane facts that relate. Well, sort of. Whenever I go to ETREK and return home, there are some things that are just about guaranteed to happen. In no particular order, here they are:
– I smell like smoke. It’s not like we go bar hopping. The crowd just seems to choose restaurants WITH bars. And so the smoke descends upon us. I admit it, we are not as trendy as the Brits who hang out in their cool pubs. No, we go to legit little restaurants. And if I had my way, I’d add my own Pennsylvanian spin and go to diners and homestyle family restaurants. But that’s just me. And so I walked in the door last night and Julie says, “I can always tell you’ve been to ETREK because you smell like smoke every time.”
– A sore back. Biblical Seminary is certainly leading the way in becoming a school for the emerging church and those ministering in the postmodern context, but they are lagging way behind in chair selection. Those sliding boards that double as chairs cause all manners of slouching and back pain.
– That lazy, lumpy feeling. Sitting around for two days and discussing the pressing matters of the world does not leave you with time for say, a hike. Not that everything in Philly’s suburbs isn’t already covered in concrete and asphalt, but a little time on a treadmill during class would help. Oh, and I should note that one of my favorite corn fields near the seminary is about to be bull-dozed and developed. Boooo.
– Long hours and loud music in the car.
– Excessive chattiness after long hours and loud music in the car.
– Time for intercession while in the car. I had Neal Morse’s Testimony CD going as I drove around Bennington, VT last night and I had this sense of God’s Spirit just rushing up the valley that I live in. I’m not sure what God’s doing, but I agreed with that and prayed that it would happen.
– A storm surge of ideas while in the car.
– A notebook page listing all of the ideas worth exploring from discussions with my ETREK mates.
And the last two of that list lead me to what I really wanted to write.
Being seeker-sensitive is fine. Being missional may be even better. But what does it mean to be missional or seeker-sensitive? Where did you get that idea? Did you get it from a book? Did you read it on the internet? Did someone in your church share it with you???
But did God reveal himself to you in this way?
I think that it’s safe to say that many of us think what we think because we heard it from others in one way or another. We have original thoughts, but we cannot even begin to tease out the influence of our surrounding context. And so it’s not wrong to desire to be missional or seeker-sensitive because you read about it. But don’t stop there.
I think it is horribly wrong to be missional if you just read about it . . . and like it. My question: Did God reveal himself to you as a missional God? Do you have God’s heart and passion and leading to do ministry in this way?
Leaving God’s heart out of the picture in any missional scheme is the same as picking up a program, any program and dropping it into a ministry without regard to context, the local population’s demographics, spiritual strongholds, etc. I think that a lot of churches have no clue why they are seeker-sensitive. It just made sense, other people seemed to like it, attendence was up in seeker-sensitive churches, and so God MUST have been blessing it. It was a program that you pour into the mix, add a little Bible, and presto.
But here is the thing. There was a time, and there may still be a time when God revealed his “seeker-sensitive” heart to some churches. They made God’s desire and reality, and God was able to use them powerfully. The problems come when people don’t have their own spiritual well to draw from, and just drop a model into their situation. This is easy to say, but far more difficult to apply.
And so my caution to all missional leaders is to seek the heart of God and ask him how he wants to reveal himself. Let’s not hop on the missional bandwagon and assume that God is behind everything we set our hands to. I think that missional churches are good and right and capture the trajectory of God, but let’s proceed with caution, asking God to teach us HOW to be missional.
Once we get that down, I think it’s time to move forward with reckless abandon.