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What is a Missional Church?

There are a few animated videos explaining a missional church. Some very popular videos have pitted the gathered church against missional churches, which is an unnecessary bifurcation—the church gathers and scatters.

This vid is short and unpolished, but so far, is my favorite, because it’s spot on.

When passion becomes apathy: A plea to my fellow millennials

Operation Lydia ~ mission

Adorn’s second step of Operation Lydia is to…

2. Go outside the gate to where the people are.

The idea is that Christians are called beyond the “gate” of their church subculture, and into the lives of outsiders on a regular basis. We are called to interact with them. A simple way to start this is by getting out of the house! (or church).

  • Paul “went outside the gate to a riverside” before happening by a group of spiritually hungry people (Acts 16:12).
  • Jesus had an urge to “pass through Samaria” where he met a spiritually broken woman (John 4:4).

God’s instructions can’t always be systematized. But sometimes it helps to break things down in our minds so that we aren’t overwhelmed with the grandioseness of the mission. Here’s a way to start…

  1. Be intentional (don’t aimlessly go anywhere. Seek the Lord as to where He would have you be)
  2. Take initiative (don’t expect opportunities to come to your doorstep. Engage! Seek out!)
  3. Expend yourself (commit to that place/area/community/scene once you discover it)

This “place” should be where the Christian is best able to cultivate their own identity as imagers of God.

Invest yourself there!

Operation Lydia ~ Image

Yesterday, I introduced Operation Lydia as a four-part series. It is a simple way to consider mission in the context in which you live.

First things first:

1) Be yourself.

Matthew 5:16 – “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

There are two things we should be aware of before we ever go on mission…

  1. What we have in common with the world around us: the image of God
  2. What makes us different from the world around us: the likeness of God
Being the light of the world is a direct call on the Christian to reveal by our lives the image of God within culture, society, environment, arts, sciences, music, and the people around us. This is outlandish!

Jesus is saying that we image the good that is around us through good works, yet we maintain the likeness of God in us by staying grounded in our identity in Christ!

Since we have been renewed into the likeness of Christ (Col. 3:10), we have now been given an uncanny ability to be immersed in a dark environment, while maintaining our identity as Christ-followers, i.e., lights shining in the darkness. So, for the Christian to be themselves is a tremendous call to be both an imager of God and an imitator of God in the world directly in front of us.

What’s liberating about this is that Christ nominates us for transformative mission in our closest spheres of influence.

What’s difficult about this is that our sphere of influence may be our lame 9-to-5 job, our daily commute, our favorite coffee shop (where we love our privacy), our family, our irritating next door neighbor, our favorite hobby….

As a hardcore introvert, this is for me an olympic feat.

What is it about the implication to be yourself that keeps you from immersing yourself in the world around you?

Missional Millennials (part 5) ~ The Narrative of Mission

In the past three years of pastoring a college ministry (Adorn), I have been overwhelmed by God’s grace to send his Spirit and his presence upon us on a weekly basis. We started as a prayer meeting of three people that used to meet at the Mason Street campus at Brooks Institute of Photography to pray for college students. Now, it is a worship gathering of 400+ twentysomethings that meet on Friday nights in Carpinteria, coming as far North as Isla Vista, and as far south as Malibu, Thousand Oaks, and Newbury Park. Out of this group have come restored identities, passionate worshippers, overseas missionaries, builders of community, beautifiers of culture, and lovers of the King.

I’ve noticed five elements that are prevalent in these young adults who are cultivating a lifestyle of a Millennial on Mission…

  1. They are always having their identity renewed in Jesus (identity)
  2. Their new identity forms their worship of Jesus (worship)
  3. Their lives influences other lives (discipleship)
  4. They bring everything back into community (community)
  5. Their community reaches outsiders (evangelism)
Notice that this is not a systematic, point-by-point outline of steps you should take. It’s not, “Ok, first lets go evangelize at Target, then let’s go disciple some people at the coffee shop, and then let’s have an outdoor concert, and how about a bible study on Thursday, and then…”

Rather, these elements seem to happen all at once!

It’s not a system, but a story.

But wait, you say, “where is the ‘missional’ element in this series on Missional Millennials?”

All five of these elements encapsulate mission, because in order for mission to work, the messenger must be identified with Christ, a worshiper of Christ, wanting to draw others to worship Christ through every area of life, and in a community that is just as concerned with outsiders as they are for each other. It’s a culture.

It’s communities of 18-30 year old men and women that are living in this story, not only through Adorn, but across the Coast, that have captured my attention, and they seem to be making a difference, by the wonderful grace of God.

For this reason, I sometimes refer to them as Missional Millennials.

Missional Millennials (part 4): Evangelism through community

Not all Christians know how to have a good time, but they should. We’ve cornered the market on “piety” and “reverence,” but in the process, lost our God-given sense of “joy” and “fun.”

Christians should repent of their inability to party.

Evangelism is the proclamation of good news! Why so dreary all the time?? Is it just me, or does the thought of “evangelism” sometimes provoke in us the imagery of a door-to-door salesmen, trying to sell a product he doesn’t want, to a stranger he doesn’t know? Perhaps if that’s the way you feel about the caricature of street-corner evangelism, you should try a different method of spreading our “good news.” May I suggest relational evangelism. It’s simple. You get to know people, you live life with them, you suffer with them, you party with them, and along the way, you teach them about Jesus. Of course, this takes quite a bit more investment than door-to-door sales, but it has a better return too. And Jesus rarely preached to people from a distance; he hung out with them, ate in their living rooms, and shared meals with them. Guess what…he often got to know them at parties. (gasp!)

We’ve already looked at the discipling effects of a Christ-centered community on a growing Christian. Now imagine what that would do for a non-believer?

In recent months, I’ve seen people who have been redeemed from many variations of oppression by the power of Jesus Christ. But I’ve also seen some of those same people fall away within less than a year, because they were not connected to the body of Christ in meaningful community.

Many of these people start their new life in Christ (identity) by leaving the old groups that are damaging them spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.

But you can’t just stop hanging out with the old crowd; you’ve got to replace it with a new one.

And a Christ-centered community must be more engaging to newer believers than their former one. Otherwise, when young men and women who are still maturing in their faith encounter a life situation they can’t handle, they will often fall back into their old social patterns, in order to fill the void of support and community that WE should have provided. I never use all caps, but this is begging for it…

EVANGELISM SHOULD NOT BE DONE IN ISOLATION OR IN A RUSH.

To evangelize someone is to introduce them to a new identity in Jesus and walk with them through the rhythms of worship in community for as long as it takes.

We get into trouble when we focus “discipleship” only on Christians, and only “evangelism” for the non-believer. The two become a sweet mixture, however. When you have an opportunity to bring an outsider into Christ-centered fellowship and celebration, you are beholding something beautiful: God’s expansion of God’s kingdom through God’s Church.

Britt Merrick once said, “God chooses to work alongside people, not independently of people.”

So what are you waiting for? Throw a celebration with your Christian community, and invite some visitors!

Contextualization: communicating the gospel in contemporary language

Imagine bumping into someone you met recently while perusing through electronics at Costco. Instead of sparing any small talk, she dumps weeks worth of unfortunate events upon you. Her dad just suffered a heart attack, and is now in the hospital fighting for his life, but her car won’t start, so instead of being there for her dad, she’s stuck in Costco talking to you while her family suffers. Watching a stranger break down in front of you in the middle of aisle five, you realize you have no Bible, and the only passage of Scripture you can recall in the pandemonium is the one you read during your chronological devotions that morning: “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14).

So what do you do??

You interrupt her sobbing, grab the emergency fire hose to your left, and begin spraying her feet. Because that’s what Jesus did.

No, that would be silly. Yet, the Bible says to wash feet as an act of service, and you want to serve this woman. After all, doesn’t every word of the Bible speak truth into our life? Yes. Paul said that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

The problem is not in the universal truth of Scripture, but in the practical application of it…you did not contextualize it!

What does it mean to contextualize?

True contextualization happens when there is a community which lives faithfully by the gospel and in that same costly identification with people in their real situations as we see in the earthly ministry of Jesus. – Lesslie Newbigin (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. 153-154)

To contextualize the gospel means that you communicate it in contemporary language, and live it out in such a way that is suitable to the society you are in. For example, we are told to make disciples of all the nations. But disciples in a first century Middle Eastern country will look a lot different than disciples in twenty first century Europe (though both may be grounded in the same timeless truth of the gospel). Churches looked different during the medieval period than they did in Rome during the fourth century. Worship may involve liturgy and solemn reflection in a traditional church on the East Coast of America, but it may involve dancing and chanting in a Tanzanian congregation, even though both worship Jesus Christ. Why? Because the same gospel is being expressed through different cultures. Now just as we should be careful to keep the beauty of foreign culture intact while we’re evangelizing, instead of assimilating them into ours, so we must also consider practice with our local neighborhoods and cities. Think about it…does your neighbor need to dress just like you to go to your church? No! Jesus never called people to change before coming to him, he simply called, and often went to them in the process.

Everything needs balance

Meeting people where they are at can sometimes be taken too far—as when the occasional college student ends up losing their integrity in order to be considered missional by the outside world—a common pitfall otherwise known as “over-contextualization.” Darrin Patrick writes,

Over-contextualization is when you view missional opportunities primarily through a cultural lens instead of a gospel lens. In this instance, I was more concerned with providing a cool, “unchurchy” environment than I was with making sure the environment didn’t reflect poorly on the gospel. (HT: Resurgence)

Let’s be clear. Parts of culture are good, and other parts are bad. It can be sticky business to stick ourselves into it. It’s even possible to stain ourselves in the process (Jam. 1:27). This tension begs another question…

Why contextualize anyway?

Because we cannot escape culture, nor does God call us to do so. By definition, people create culture wherever there exists a social group. We must remember that as Christians, we are citizens of another world (Phi.3:20), but ambassadors in this one, and must live redemptively in culture without conforming to or separating from it. We are counter-cultural, living on mission in the midst of its brokenness, sent by God to interact with its beauty for the redemption of them both. This means we’ve got to speak the gospel in a way that those you are trying to reach will comprehend.

Human beings only exist as members of communities which share a common language, customs, ways of ordering economic and social life, ways of understanding and coping with their world. If the gospel is to be understood, if it is to be received as something which communicates truth about the real human situation, if it is, as we say, to “make sense,” it has to be communicated in the language of those to whom it is addressed and has to be clothed in symbols which are meaningful to them. – Newbigin (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. 141)

In other words, Christians live in culture, therefore “every interpretation of the gospel is embodied in some cultural form” (Ibid, 144). You have no choice. Even if you hide behind a rock in stubborn defiance, preaching against the ills of culture or anything that does not look exactly like you, you do so naively. Think about it… you go back to a culture of people that look like you, dress like you, act like you, and sound like you in a Christian subculture that no one can understand but you. And as long as you stay tucked away in it, you may fail to communicate the gospel to many people who are thirsty.

Going back to our story of the gal at Costco… Jesus washed people’s feet as a cultural practice which spoke volumes to all the people he wished to reach. Only slaves washed feet! So when Jesus (a rabbi) washed the feet of his followers, he was communicating servanthood to them. But if you wash people’s feet today, it can be pretty weird! Servanthood, not the ritual of washing, is the timeless principle that must be carried over cultural boundaries, languages, and practices. If you contextualized servanthood in the aisle five situation, you would probably just give the poor girl a ride to the hospital, or jump start her car.

When you contextualize the gospel, you do not change the timeless content of the gospel, you mold its communication and application so that the truth will reach their hearts unobstructed.

Has the gospel ever made sense to you on a practical level?

Missional Millennials (part 3): Community through discipleship

Let’s say you committed a day out of your week with someone outside of your church community, doing something that you both enjoyed. Over time, you would eventually begin to establish a community.

All communities develop around a common purpose.

So if you begin shooting pool at the local billards once or twice a week with the same people, you will inevitably form a community around pool (I explain this process a bit more in depth here).

Common purposes give two strangers an excuse to hang out—thats why people throw parties.

Bonding may start on a personal level, but it doesn’t have to remain a one-on-one situation forever.

The Bible suggests that there is tremendous power in community (Acts 2:42-47). So why be satisfied with individual camaraderie when you can invite individuals into a community of kingdom-minded friends?

If you can wield a certain amount of influence through shared activity, think of what a community can do if you were risky enough to open it to non-believers.

A few weeks ago, some people got saved and baptized at our annual lake trip because this was being lived out by normal young men and women. Why? Because common purpose is the mission field that brings people together. And these college students decided to step on the field and expand the Kingdom of God.

A hobby may become an excuse to socialize for most people, but millennials on mission choose not to underestimate the power of a shared purpose, and often make sure these hobbies lead to the raison d’être of all communities: knowing God together.

So…got any hobbies?

Missional Millennials (part 2): Discipleship through worship

In the first post of this series, I suggested that our identity forms what we worship. Now I’m proposing that what we worship will inevitably form discipleship in our lives and in others around us.

My mom used to say “You are what you eat,” as a euphemism for healthy nutrition. In other words, you become like what you digest. It’s not much different for making disciples and being discipled. You are who you hang around, and most communities gather around a common purpose. Something which both parties share a mutual interest in.

You will become like who you hang around.

You will hang around people you have something deeply in common with—your social circles will revolve around the things that you adore. In a nutshell, you will be discipled in accordance to what you most value. Further, you will also influence others in the same sphere of shared desires. Take bowling, for example. If your identity is shaped by your desire to become the best bowler in the world, the practice of bowling will feed your obsession; you will go bowling all the time. You will also surround yourself around a natural community that gravitates towards the same passion, and in so doing will unavoidably become like them, as they become like you. Mutual discipleship. You are what you eat, and you eat bowling.

This can get really interesting for the Christian. We immediately have an open door of evangelism with many people based on shared interests.

  1. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
  2. Who else likes to do that?
  3. Share with them this common purpose, and build a community around it.

The reason this is usually problematic, is because many Christian’s don’t like hanging outside of their usual church culture.

We like to spend time with other Christians, and remove ourselves from the big bad world. In doing so, we disciple other Christians, and only influence them. Yet if you scan the New Testament, you will see that all people are disciples of something or someone, because we all have an inherent sense of identity, that leads us to seek out communities of worship centered around a common purpose. But dozens of people in your social stream are being naturally discipled by everyone else but you. If it’s true that God shares common grace on the wicked and the righteous alike, then shouldn’t we learn how to enjoy the finer things in life with the non-believer, if for no other reason, than for friendship?

It seems these days, the only time we will ever spend with a non-believer is for the split second it takes to convert them to Christianity. And even supposing that strategy works, they will convert to Christianity without any hope of godly discipleship. Oh but they will be discipled. The question is who?

The conversion lie.

Missional Millennials: Worship through Identity (Part 1)

Millennials are the ambitious generation of movers and shakers, distinguished as those born between 1980-2000. Several hundred of them congregate at a weekly gathering called Adorn, in Carpinteria, CA., seeking an overlapping encounter with Jesus, his community, and the world.

This is our story.

Our identity forms what we worship.

We’ve discovered that our beliefs about ourself have a profound influence on how and what we worship. The power of the gospel can widen our capacity to worship God with relative ease, since the gospel—with its outlandish teachings of an alien validation wrought in Jesus—manhandles what we end up thinking about ourselves.

The gospel transforms our identities, and with it, our worship.

We exchange our identities for Christ’s. This is why I spent the first year of Adorn focusing on one section of our vision: Jesus must be our highest joy. It occurred to me that there was no real output (mission) in our first year of gathering, and I often fought with the pressure to create programs, outreach, and missional opportunities for this rambunctious group of millennials. But the God and time would prove my stress unfounded. After a year, a culture had developed where people’s identities were being transformed into the image of Jesus, and the outflow that resulted from inward change would yield far more motivation and opportunity than any program I could contrive or manufacture. Without warning, we had a gathering of young people who were ready to change the world, yet firmly grounded in the unchanging identity of Jesus. It wasn’t “callings” that I was supposed to dish out, but rather, a clear, direct route to the person and work of the mighty Son of God.

Find your identity before you find your calling.

If we do not shape our identity around Jesus, we will quickly default, wrapping our individuality around what we can carry out because we are a generation that is driven to make a difference in the world.

Consider these two scenarios…

  • You’re hired in the field of your choice, but only to a cut-throat corporation where those with the lowest performance record are routinely fired. The culture that will likely develop there is one of performance. Performance is determined by your own success or failure, and should you get hired, will be at the center of your identity.
  • Or, you’re hired by a corporation that only picks the best in the field, yet puts tremendous value on their employees as well as their contributions. The culture that will likely develop here is based on trust, and will be at the center of your identity.

In the first scene, your passion determines your identity; in the following scene, your identity determines your passion. Since our identity forms our worship, we must be exceedingly careful not to develop our identity (who we are) around our calling (what we do). These things must stay separate! An identity formed in Christ will create the motivation to succeed, without the fear of failure. But an identity formed by calling will relegate worship from God’s performance to ours, and will set us up for heartache when we fail miserably to match his impossible standards in every way. This generation must understand that our primary goal in this season of life is not in figuring out what we are supposed to do, but who we are supposed to be.

Effective millennials who want to be on mission with God must first have their identities rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

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