Tuesday evening, I had the privilege of speaking at the Frisco Baptist Association's annual meeting. Frisco's DOM Otis Cayton is one of my favorites and it was an honor to be able to join them. The attendance was great and they had 41 of their 51 churches represented at the meeting.
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Before I get into this text, let me share what "missional" does not mean.
1) Missional does not mean "emergent". There is much confusion over the emergent movement and missional. These are two separate movements and in some ways are incompatible.
2) Missional does not mean "postmodern". Missional is not necessarily a youth or young adult movement. We have senior adults who are living missionally… and some don't know it! Living as a missionary in your neighborhood is not something that is or should be confined to young adults.
3) Missional is not part of the "green movement". Okay, let's separate missional from politics. Missional is about every Christian living as a missionary with the purpose of saving souls… not saving the planet! (although we all recognize that we are to be stewards of our environment)
Two key words in this passage.
Ambassadors (verse 20). An earthly ambassador represents their king or government to another country. Ambassadors do not share their own agenda, but they represent the interests of their leader in foreign lands. As Paul shares in verse 20, God is making His appeal to citizens of a lost world through us, His ambassadors. Living missionally means that we recognize that we appeal to others in our workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Missionally speaking, every "ambassador" is a missionary to a foreign culture. Lottie Moon is a revered leader among Southern Baptists precisely because she chose to live missionally in China. She learned the language, lived among the Chinese people, and wore Chinese clothing. She ate Chinese food! Being missional means living as a missionary (ambassador) in your context.
Reconciliation. The second key word is reconciliation. Reconciliation is not compromise. Reconciliation is what happens when Person A has offended Person B, and Person A repents of his hurtful actions. Compromise is when Person A does not repent but still wants to be friends with Person B and Person B accepts this attitude. God takes sin seriously and refuses to compromise with us about our sin. Until we admit and repent of our sin, reconciliation with God does not take place.
The point is that missional Christians do not represent a compromised gospel to the world, no matter how much we might like to or how expedient or politically correct it might be. We are ambassadors of our King, and we represent His plan of salvation for mankind, not our own.
As part of God's ministry of reconciliation, missional evangelism is theological rather than programmatic in nature. Southern Seminary president Dr. Al Mohler states that as Southern Baptists move into the 21st century, we must move from "a programmatic identity to a theological identity". In my book Missional Pivot Points, one of the pivots is that to be missional, we must move from talking points to theology. LifeWay Research indicates that 89% of unchurched American young adults would like to have a conversation with a Christian about Jesus Christ. One reason we are not engaging our culture with the gospel is because many of us do not have a strong enough grasp of our theology. We know a few talking points but not the grounding doctrines the talking points represent.
In Acts 8, we find Philip the Evangelist meeting the Ethiopian eunuch. Note that upon finding the Ethiopian, Philip does not ask him to join the church's softball team or invite him to "Friend Day" (programmatic choices). Philip simply asks, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He then proceeds to explain the gospel (theological).
So how do we become missional churches?
I'm not sure that my idea here is a clarion call from leaders in the missional movement, but in my opinion one of our best opportunities to develop missional disciples in our churches is through the Sunday School/small group movement! Since Arthur Flake penned Building a Standard Sunday School in 1922, the purpose of this movement has been stated as: The Sunday School is the church organized to do the work of the church. I often restate this purpose in this way: The Sunday School's (small group's) purpose is to accomplish the church's mission. That mission is to make disciples. Whatever the mission of the church is, that is the mission of the church's small group ministry.
How? First, our groups and classes must study the Bible as the Word of God, and not as a self-help manual. Yes, you can learn how to have a better marriage or how raise your kids by studying the Bible, but that is not why the Bible was written. The Bible was written so that you and I and our lost next door neighbor can know God! When we people engage with our group, we must be sharing what we believe from the Book that we believe in, much like Philip did with the Ethiopian eunuch.
Second, missional living must be directed into the smallest common denominator of the church – which is its small group structure. If we are to have a missional DNA, then that DNA must exist in every cell. The DNA that determines the color of your eyes does not just exist in your eyeball, it is present in every cell in your body. For missional DNA to take hold in our churches, it must exist not only in the pulpit, but in every class and person in the church.
Third, put your small groups to work! We have far too many people in our churches who think that Sunday School means to sit and soak. Our classes and groups have grown spiritually flabby from lack of exercise! At a minimum, every class or small group in the church should conduct at least one group mission project every year! And by the way, painting the choir room does not count as a mission project. Missional means being an ambassador of Christ in enemy turf! Attendance does not replace activity. Good intentions are no substitute for action.