A couple years ago I watched a special on PBS about Rolling Stone Magazine called “Voice of Our Generation.” It really connected with me because the film was about music, culture and the creativity of the Baby Boomer generation. These are things that are near and dear to my heart.
An editor of the magazine made an interesting statement that I believe we, the Church, should consider. He said, “Wherever culture goes that’s where the music goes. Wherever the music goes that’s where Rolling Stone goes.”
Now, I’m not a proponent of Christians copying what marketing experts have already coined for their products because it results in cheesy T-shirts and creepy bumper stickers. Yet, I got the sense there is something we need to consider as we move forward on this missional movement. What we should at least be thinking is, “Wherever culture goes that’s where God goes. Wherever God goes that’s where the Church goes.”
Think about it, those who understand how and what influences culture are those who are infused into and connected with the things that create a community, or a following of people who are looking for something to hope in and embrace. This is what the hippie movement of the 60s was about…creating a community of love and peace. It wasn’t necessarily for all the right reasons the hippie movement began, but one can see the yearning of a generation for something more than the status quo. The movement was about creating a culture of change and finding something to hope in and live for. The same can be said for today’s emerging generations and for those who sit in the many churches throughout America and the Western world wondering when things will change.
Is that not what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 28 when he commanded us to “go”? I’ve heard it said that we are commanded to “go into all cultures.” I like that because it truly paints the picture that Jesus was speaking in the command. If we go, or should I say, as we go, into the cultures of the world, God is already there. He wants us to jump into the things he has in motion. He wants us to be a picture of the gospel of hope that leads people to redemption and reconciliation. He wants us to live a missional and incarnational life. So, what does it mean to be missional and incarnational?
Missional and Incarnational
“…a working definition of missional church is that it is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the Church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true Church. The Church itself is not only a product of that mission, but is obligated and destined to extend it by whatever means possible. The mission of God flows directly through every believer and every community of faith that adheres to Jesus. To obstruct this is to block God’s purposes in and through his people.”
For incarnational Frost and Hirsch state,
“The missional church is incarnational, not attractional, in its ecclesiology. By incarnational we mean it does not create sanctified spaces into which unbelievers must come to encounter the gospel. Rather, the missional church disassembles itself and seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don’t yet know him.”
This is the picture of a community that is active, alive and always moving to the places where God is, even if it is uncomfortable and dangerous.
Now, it’s important to let you know what missional is not. Alan J. Roxburgh, in his article, What is Missional Church?, lays out the following:
Being missional is NOT…
• An evangelism program
• A new way of doing foreign missions
• A method for church growth
• The “Next” way to do church
• A Post-modern way of doing church
• The Anti-traditional pattern of church
I mention what the missional church is NOT because as the “emerging church” movement got traction its leaders were accused of failing to give clarity on what the “emerging church” was and how it was going to revolutionize the mission of the Church. We entered into a great conversation about deconstructing the Church and Christianity, but I believe some have enjoyed the comfort of their cynicism and critical perspective of the Western Church (I being one of them). It took missional leaders to bring some clarity to the conversation. I believe Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, as well as Lance Ford, Neil Cole, Reggie McNeal, and other leaders, have brought a good base to build on for the Church to move forward.
Still, one has to ask what the Scripture says about being a missional church. Let’s look at Acts 2 and see how God moves in the midst of humanity when one soul commits to being the voice of redemption. We see where the believers had gathered in a house to celebrate the day of Pentecost. Some heavy duty stuff happened that shook the house and caused the gathering to speak in the languages of those from distant places who were living in Jerusalem. The believers seemed drunk to those who witnessed the event, but really they were filled with the very essence and presence of God…the Holy Spirit.
Between Sacred and Secular
Surrounded by the Apostles, Peter stepped forward to explain and defend what was happening to his fellow believers. As a result, the Spirit emboldened him to prophesy the truth that the Prophet Joel had written in what is speculated to be the ninth century B.C. (Acts 2:17-21).
Now, I want you to picture the scene where Peter spoke because it creates a huge metaphor for what God was beginning to do with his people, the Church, through the missional movement. Some of the research I’ve read states that the house where the believers met was very close to the Temple. This might be the case because they were celebrating Pentecost. Some scholars also say if that is the case then Peter could have stood in the court of the Gentiles. This is significant because it is where the Gentiles went to escape life’s chaos.
“The Court of the Gentiles was not a place of organized, official, programmed activity – other than the selling of sacrificial animals and the changing of money for the purpose of paying the temple tax, of which Jesus appears to have disapproved. We might think of it as essentially a place of presence, being, community, communion, congress, prayer, meditation, a place of proximity to God. The Court of the Gentiles is where the temple overlaps with the world. It is a place where people may safely approach the presence of God, but it could also be regarded, at least in our postmodern context, as a place of escape both from the world and from the sanctuary – a transitional arena, where people move between the secular and the sacred.”
It is very possible that Peter positioned himself between the people, who were in transition, and the Temple, which represented the unattainable and unreachable presence of God by the ordinary person.
Aren’t we, the Church, supposed to overlap the kingdom of God with the world? If we are the new temple then it is important to understand that we are the bridge that connects the world to God.
I know what you’re thinking, “Gibby, I remember a tract that showed the cross connecting the divide between the lost people and God.” That’s true, but we are the cloud of witnesses on this earth that God will use to draw men to him. We must be the flesh and bones of God’s truth, or as Audio Adrenaline says, the “hands and feet” of Jesus. We must be the gospel for a hopeless world.
In Acts 3 and 4 we see that Peter’s words continue to fuel a movement we now call Christianity and it transformed the world in a way that no other religious or spiritual movement ever has. It was a movement that revealed the very heart and mission of God. That mission is one of offering the hope, redemption and reconciliation of God to a hurting world.
With Peter we see a missional leader who stood in the midst of humanity as one who would bridge the divide between what was then described as secular and sacred cultures. In Acts 4 he stood on Solomon’s Colonnade (a regular meeting place for the early church) and continued to speak a message of hope and reconciliation to a people that had been emotionally and sometimes physically beat down by the Roman Empire and spiritually manipulated by some of the Religious leaders of the Temple.
Let’s go to verse 42 in Acts 2 and see the overflow of the Spirit. Keep in mind that for decades we have tried to find the best formula for doing and being church, and for reaching people. When we take a practical look at the Early Church we find a good foundation to build a church on and grow from. I’m using the International Standard Version here:
42 The believers continued to devote themselves to what the apostles were teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to times of prayer. 43 A sense of fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything with one another. 45 They made it their practice to sell their possessions and goods and to distribute the proceeds to anyone who was in need. 46 United in purpose, they went to the temple every day, ate at each other’s homes, and shared their food with glad and humble hearts. 47 They were praising God and enjoying the good will of all the people. Every day the Lord was adding to their number those who were being saved. (ISV)
In this passage we see the believers continued to share everything they had for the purpose of serving those in the community who had need. While many were being saved there were also those who were on the fringe of these faith communities. They too had needs and the believers were very inclusive when it came to loving, healing and serving the people. There was nothing exclusive about their faith and they wanted to share it in every possible way. In their own way they understood they were a called-out community of God that needed to live in the midst of and serve their specific culture. They no longer lived for themselves or their own needs. They were imitating Jesus who was the best example of a servant.
Ministry of Reconciliation
In 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 the Apostle Paul says,
“18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (NLT)
Basically, the Apostle Paul is saying we have been given a mission that requires us to be relevant within our culture by living as “Christ’s ambassadors” of reconciliation. This ministry of reconciliation is at the very heart of God’s mission because His plan is that all of humanity and creation be reconciled through Christ and redeemed to Him.
The difficulty we face today is that we live in an individualistic and pluralistic society. In other words, and especially in Western culture, we live for our own desires and ask that others not intrude in our freedoms and rights. Some of us believe that every path of belief (Islam, Buddhism, etc.,) will lead us to God. Yet, the Scripture is clear on both issues that life and our existence is not about us. That is where the Early Church was creating a counter culture…a movement.
Parts of that counter culture were the acts the Early Church were devoted to:
1. The teaching of the Apostles
2. Fellowship with each other
3. Breaking of bread
4. Times of prayer
If you carefully examine these four acts you will see that they are ways for creating and perpetuating community with God and others. It’s never about us, but about God and others. Ultimately it’s about the kingdom of God.
They moved forward in these acts because they were unified in purpose and they shared their possessions with those who had need. These are acts I will hope to address in greater depth some other time.
What I want for us to see is that the Early Church is a great earthly example of being missional and incarnational. While they faced persecution from the religious leaders and government officials, they remained true to the new covenant that Christ brought about. They took on His yoke (teaching). They remained faithful to living as Christ did because they saw it in the lives of the Apostles.
grace and peace…gibby