I have just picked up a new book entitled "Introducing the "Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Become One." Alan Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren are the authors. Thus far, I have liked what I have read. In fact, after returning from Africa I have been thinking more about missions, missionaries, and missional matters. As I have shared with others, I have gotten the missions "bug" bad!
Without going into a great deal of hairsplitting over missionary and missional aspects of ministry, I would like to think that there is a deep connection between those churches that are seeking to become more missional and those that have a strong link to supporting or sending out missionaries, whether locally or internationally. The missional church cannot help but to have significant ties to missionaries overseas, for example. Likewise, missionaries overseas are likely to have support from vital missional communities. The two go hand-in-hand.
I make this point to share that in the past, at least in my experience, the missionary supporting congregation could easily fall into the rut (and it still can) of thinking that missions is something others do "over there." While such support is critical, as I have learned, it can too readily lead, ironically, to a kind of disconnect from mission, that is, to a kind outsourcing. I don't think this insight is new, but I would like to think there is truth to it. It is another aspect of a Christendom consciousness. (I am also wondering how this dynamic is related to the drop in the number of missionaries the church sends out. That's a topic for another day.)
On the other hand, the whole thrust of the missional congregation is to foster the kind of imagination and commitment to discerning the movement of God's Spirit in the world and to join that Spirit wherever it may lead, whether "here" or "there." The missional church will find ways of assisting missionaries, to be sure, but it will also seek to discover ways of being in mission with missionaries, regardless the circumstances. It will do so because it realizes that the purpose is to carry out God's mission. Moreover, it will realize that God's mission is so much larger than the church can fathom. The key, then, is to invite others to imagine what God's mission is. In short, as Roxburgh and Boren state, the key is to cultivate an "alternative imagination" to the "attractional model of ministry" that has dominated mainline and evangelical Protestantism for so long
(p. 20). Or, as they go on to argue quite persuasively in the following paragraph it is to recognize that "God is up to something in the world that is bigger than the church even though the church is called to be sign, witness, and foretaste of God's purposes in the world. The Spirit is calling the church on a journey outside of itself and its internal focus. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, summarizes this imagination in this way: "It is not the church of God that has a mission. It's the God of mission that has a church." He is saying that God is at work in the world to redeem creation, and God invites us to participate in this mission. God is not interested in getting more and more people into the institution of the church. Instead, the church is to be God's hands and feet in accomplishing God's mission. This imagination turns most of our church practices on their head. It invites us to toward our neighborhoods and communities, listening first to what is happening among people and learning to ask different questions about what God is up to in the neighborhood. Rather than the primary question being, "How do we attract people to what we are doing?" it becomes, "What is God up to in this neighborhood?" and "What are the ways we need to change in order to engage the people in our community who no longer consider church a part of their lives?" This is what the missional imagination is all about" (p. 20).
I still have many questions about the connection between missional and missionary. Perhaps they may seem pedantic, but they persist. For if I understand what Roxburgh and Boren are saying there are ways we can engage in the kind of imaginative process they encourage; that is, there are ways we can participate in the kind of process that asks the question, "What is God up to?" Roxburgh and Boren are not asking anything new here; they are asking what we have failed to ask for so long: "What is God doing in the world?"
As we look back to see how God has lead us to this point, it is hard to imagine any missionary or pastor or church failing to ask this important question. But then again it seems we haven't been to awake to the reality that we are not in Kansas anymore! The mission is always closer than we think.