MR #27: A Strange New Voice: Who are Missional Leaders?

Since childhood, Jim had dreamed of standing before a large congregation encouraging them to faithfully follow the way of Jesus. Now in seminary, he imaged his future ministry as teaching, preaching, and counseling within the body of Christ. Although he has grown up in a tradition believing in the “priesthood of all believers,” the heritage of preacher as pastor had taken root.

A new, strange voice, however, had begun to sound in Jim’s seminary. Teachers and students were talking about missional churches and missional leaders. The words sounded strange as if ministering preachers in North America should become missionaries teaching the gospel in another language to natives in some exotic land.

He heard Leonard Allen’s opening remarks in a panel discussion at a lectureship forum at Abilene Christian University:

“Churches of Christ now find themselves in a new missionary situation in North America. The changes and upheavals all around are forcing us to think like missionaries in our own backyards. One of the things missionaries have to do is think about how to acculturate the gospel. It hits them in the face everywhere they turn. They can scarcely avoid its challenges. That’s what happening here in America, to us. We are being forced to think like missionaries. To be missionaries. And that’s a good thing. It’s what should have been happening all along.

When you are forced to think like a missionary, lots of exciting, often disorienting, often-scary things happen to you. You have to make sense of the faith in new and strange circumstances. Your theology gets tested. You find yourself having to revisit “the essentials.” You find yourself having to sit more loosely with the cluster of traditions you’ve brought with you, some of which you may be seeing for the first time as your own local traditions that don’t translate well (and shouldn’t).

This is one way of understanding what’s happening to us right now: We are being forced, perhaps kicking and screaming, to become missionaries. Whatever else this postmodern thing is doing, it is making it hard to avoid thinking like missionaries.
(Allen 2002, 1)

These were troubling words. No longer did ministry seem so simple. “Can a minister not simply preach, teach, and exhort members of an existing church?” he pondered. “What is a missional church? Who are missional leaders?”

A missional church, Jim concluded, was being defined not merely as a congregation of believers who sends missionaries to other parts of the world. A missional church feels sent to represent the God’s kingdom in the world. The mission of God is at the core of her identity. A missional church looks to scripture to define its nature and then learns to incarnate that nature within its community. It is not like a caterpillar crawling in the earthlies seeking to meet its own felt needs. It has rather undergone a metamorphosis to become like a butterfly. It is able to fly in the heavenlies drawing nectar from Scripture through theological reflection, from God while honoring and petitioning him and from Christian community as believers care for each other in the kingdom of God.

He concluded that he had not yet experienced a missional church. The churches that had nurtured him from childhood were generally composed of loving, holy people. But they hardly ever engaged the culture in which they find themselves. The focus was upon maintaining the church rather than missionally living within the larger community. Upon initially reflecting upon the meaning of misisonal churches, Jim concluded that he is missionally illiterate.

This is the situation in which we find our selves today.

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