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In case you haven’t heard, there is a big Missional Community conference happening here in Austin Feb 4-6—VERGE. Sold out at 2000 attendees, with 30 organizations, and 70+ on the waiting list, this just might be the hottest conference of the year. Of course, Austin Stone, the conference organizers, have no interest in being “hot”, but they do want to be missional.
What is VERGE for?
My old friend Michael Stewart, Pastor of Missional Community at Austin Stone, is the VERGE conference architect. Stew’s strategic gifting is through the roof. VERGE will be proof. I recently asked Stew to clarify just what VERGE is (in 160 characters or less)! He replied:
To equip & unleash ordinary people to pursue Jesus, be gospel-centered missionaries, recover a movement ethos, & multiply MC.
As you can imagine, planning a conference this big requires a lot of energy and time. Much of the Austin Stone staff has been devoting time to VERGE. Curious how this workload is affecting Stew, I asked him it has shaped his view of mission and Jesus. He replied:
A deeper affection for the person and work of Jesus on our behalf as the propulsion in any gospel movement. Jesus is not just an example, he is our source, our strength, our refuge, our good news, our hope, our wisdom, our joy…he is everything to everything and renewer of all things, even me, us, our neighborhoods, our communities, and our cities.
That’s the kind of architect you want behind a conference. This God-sized, Jesus-centered goal is inspiring! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God granted Stew’s hope and aim?
What Will Happen at Verge?
The unlikely line-up of VERGE speakers around a topic like Missional Community is intriguing. Mega and Micro churches are represented, theoreticians and practitioners, and despite differences in philosophy of ministry, all these speakers agree on one thing—the centrality of Jesus in the Mission of the Church. This united but diverse focus will prove helpful and interesting as the missional church dialog continues at VERGE.
What will happen at Verge? It largely depends on you. Will you come to engage, repent, adjust, encourage, affirm, critique, dialog, and strategize? If you do, great things could happen. Let’s pray they would, starting now. Let’s come, not just to consume, but to give and strengthen one another in the great task of gospel leadership and the mission of the church.
Missional Lunch Break-outs
Some news on VERGE offerings. Several new break-outs are now being offered. Register here.
“For the City: Theology, Principles & Practices of Mercy Ministries” (pre-conference)
World Vision Gospel Quest Dinner
Friday, February 5, 5-7PM
BBQ Dinner by Rudy’s
International Justice Mission Brunch
Saturday, February 6, 10:45-12PM
Hope to see you at VERGE!
Some churches emphasize parntership/membership in the New Year, so I thought I would update on our material for our Partners on Mission class. The material previously listed under Tools for Missional Church is outdated, so I’ve updated that link. All material is under a Creative Commons License, which means use it, adapt it, but give credit. Merry Christmas!
Smay and Halter are releasing a new book on missional church, AND, aimed at equipping all sizes of churches to engage unchurched people.
AND helps you—whether you are a mega-church, traditional, contemporary, or organic church leader—focus on the vast majority of unchurched Christians and non-believers who are not moving toward any form of church. You will learn how to value existing church forms—attracting people to a physical church and releasing people into hands-on ministry … bringing together the very best of the attractional and missional models for church ministry.
Some of you may have read the beginning of this series, How Not to Be a Missional Church, on my blog. I’ve pushed the series to Resurgence, where it will be running all week, and will conclude with the Evangelism-Driven critique. Others of you are reading some of this for the first time. As each post goes up this week, I will post some further commentary for explanation and interaction.
Event-Driven Missional Church:
I am not saying events are bad, but that event-driven churches miss the mark of missional church. If we put all our eggs in the basket of out-reach events, in the name of mission, we have misunderstood the purpose and nature of the missional church. The missional church is a Jesus-centered community that redemptively engages peoples and cultures. It’s not a switch you turn on or off, a date on the calendar, or an item we tick off the list. Mission is our identity, because we have be rescued by a missionary God and placed in his missionary family.We live missionary lives, doing everyday things with gospel intentionality.
At Austin City Life, we do events. We baptize, we preach, we gather on Sundays, we do fund-raising garage sales for Operation Turkey, we clean apartments for homeless women and kids, we visit nursing homes, we do Teen Therapy Room Renovations. One difference, however, is that these missional events are typically linked to a greater community over time. They are done with non-Christians, for non-Christians, to address real needs in the context of a long-term relationship. I like to call them strategic social partnerships (in-house language), to convey the importance of missional churches/communities making a long-term social, cultural, and relational impact through gospel witness. Events aren’t bad, but when we mistake event for missional church we get off track. People will see it as just another program, which it is, unless we explain to them that mission is our identity, responsibility, gifting, and joy. (scroll through to our mission series for more)
Just how global does the North American missional church need to be? After all, the center of global Christianity is no longer in the West. Should we rely on receiving missionaries from Africa and Asia for a season, instead of pouring out resources beyond our boundaries?
Shockingly, 80% of deployed missionaries are sent to already evangelized areas. Roughly 30% of the global population is unevangelized and largely untargeted by so-called missional churches. This amounts to about 1.6 billion people not hearing the gospel in 38 different nations. There are still at least 13,000 unreached people groups and millions of people who have not heard a first proclamation of the gospel. In light of these statistics, just how missional is the missional church movement? Can you be a missional church and not engage the global missionfield?
- Second paragraph an excerpt from How Missional is Your Church?
- Consider 5 Reasons why your so-called missional church may not be doing global mission by Ed Stetzer.
- Planting to Movement: Forming City Networks
- Best Practices of Missional Communities
Afterwards, I will be coaching the Watershed Church Planting team on Missional Core Team Development. They have developed an interesting approach, really savvy, as I have reflected on it. This team invited me to do customized coaching and teaching for their church plant. Here’s why I think they came up with a savvy idea:
- Contextualized Training: Instead of generalized training at a bootcamp, they get both general and specialized training, for their context.
- Method-specific Training: They get to select a particular church planting model and go deep into it with an experienced planter.
- Cost Effective Training: They save a little money by not paying for hotel, airfare, meals for the whole core team or leaders. They just pay the trainer/coach.
“Since the advent of Protestant missions, the dominant motivation for missions has been an appeal to the “missionary mandate.” Thus, missions became a response of obedience to a particular set of commands, most notably those texts commonly referred to as embodying the Great Commission. In contrast, Lesslie Newbigin has pointed out that in the New Testament we witness not the burden of obeying a command, but rather a vast “explosion of joy.” Jürgen Moltmann described it as the joyous invitation to all peoples to come to a “feast without end.”…
Harry Boer in his Pentecost and Missions rightly points out that none of the key figures in the book of Acts ever makes a direct appeal to any of the Great Commission passages to justify their preaching, even when questions are raised about the emerging Gentile mission. He further points out that the earliest believers who took the initiative to preach the gospel to Gentiles (Acts 11:20) were very likely not even present at any of those post-resurrection commissioning events.”
Read the rest of Tim Tennent’s fine post.
So far we’ve seen that God motivates us for mission with our gospel identity (missio Dei) and missional responsibility (mandates). Another way God motivates us to mission is by giving us particular graces. These graces come in the form of spiritual gifts. All of these gifts are intended to advance the mission of Christ. The Holy Spirit empowers us for mission by giving us missional gifts.
In Ephesians 4, we learn that, not only is mission our identity and responsibility, but it’s also in our gifting. The Spirit gives missional offices to the church—Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher—who exist to equip the saints for the work of ministry. The first three offices are inherently missional, for building out the church, adding to her number, advancing the mission through starting new ministries and churches, leading people to Christ, and proclaiming the gospel. The latter two, pastor and teacher, reinforce the mission by teaching God’s people about the missionary God and the missional church (along with a lot of other things). All five offices exist for the advance of teh gospel. Peter O’Brien comments on these five offices as “ministers of the Word through whom the gospel is revealed, declared, and taught.” So, these five gifts to the church are missional gifts for the sake of the gospel.
But that’s not all. Ultimately, these five equippers (Woodward) exist to mobilize the church for mission, for ministry. The Spirit has given you, each one of us unique gifts to advance the mission of Christ, to redemptively engage peoples and cultures (1 Cor 12; Rom 12; Eph 4). In Ephesians, we see these gifts operating in the church community, the Body of the Head. Fine enough. But then something interesting happens. The body grows. It grows up and it grows out, into the full stature of Christ. We build the church up with our gifts (community), and we build the church out with our gifts (mission). As it turns out, the gospel converts us to a Missional Church. The Pauline vision of the Church is a growing, diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural new humanity created by the Spirit. How does it grow? It grows through the godly, responsible, and gracious use of these gifts. If we are in Christ, the Spirit has given us missional gifts, to build the body up and out. To not use these gifts for mission is to to squander God’s graces. The Spirit motivates us with these graces. Be yourself in the Spirit, not yourself in the flesh. Walk out your gifts in the Spirit in everyday life.
Despite the preponderance of missional church resources, American Christians are slow to live missionally. Why is this? In our last post, we suggested that one reason is that we are motivating the church with best practices of mission, instead of an identity of mission grounded in the Missio Dei. Today, I’d like to suggest another motivation, with a twist.
Any evangelical can tell you that they are supposed to be on mission, but very few are. They can rattle off the Great Commission by memory, while running along no differently. Yet, all four Gospels contain missional mandates from the resurrected, King Jesus himself (Matt 28, Mark 16, Luke 24/Acts 1, John 16/21)! Why does missional disobedience persist? Perhaps because…
- We don’t take Jesus seriously. Jesus is our friend, not our Lord.
- We think the missional mandates are for apostles or super Christians only.
- We have a functional God that we like more than Jesus.
- We believe that mission is optional and that we won’t be judged for our missional disobedience.
- We don’t actually believe the gospel.
Do you ever struggle in motivation for mission? Do you ever see your people lacking in motivation for mission? After all the shifts in ecclesiology, the planting of many churches, and the landslide of missional literature, why aren’t people more missional? Perhaps it is because we are motivating them with the wrong things.
What should motivate us for mission? There are numerous motivations for mission in the Bible. Many of them can be grouped under three headings that point us to the goal of the gospel, the demands of the gospel, the graces of the gospel. In this first post, I’ll address our missional identity.
The missio Dei, a Latin phrase meaning, “the sending of God”, reminds us that mission is not merely something we do, an action; it is something God is. Mission is an attribute of God. He’s a sending God. He sends his Son (Easter) and sends his Spirit (Pentecost) to renew the world. So, mission doesn’t start and end with us. It starts and ends with God. His mission is nothing short of the redemption of peoples and cultures, the renewal of all creation for his own glory. It’s God’s great, burdensome, and glorious mission—the renewal of all creation! My goodness, we can’t manage that, but God, in his mercy has invited us to participate in his mission. Through the gospel, He rescues us from a life of self-serving mission to participate in a life of God-serving, Christ-glorifying mission. We are remade into missional people by the redeeming work of the Spirit and the Son.
Therefore, if we are in Christ, we have a missionary identity. We are adopted into a missionary family. We serve a missionary God. Mission becomes part of our identity, because we cut from the cloth of a missionary God. So, the church is a missionary church, with missionary people, that do missionary things. It is who we are and it is also what we do. Mission is not merely for the superspiritual, an option, an appendix to Christian faith. To be Christian is to be on mission. It’s who we are and it is what we do. We redemptively engage peoples and cultures, by sharing, showing, and embodying Christ in our context. This includes evangelism, social action, and cultural engagement, counseling, empathy, celebration. It’s bringing the renewing power of the whole gospel into the whole city.
Now, the good news of the gospel is that we get to be the blessing of mission, while God carries the burden of mission. Ultimately, it is God’s mission. The Spirit does all the changing; we simply share, show, and embody the wonderfully renewing power of gospel. However, if we aren’t walking with God, keeping in step with the Spirit, and following Christ, out life will hardly be missional. In fact, it will be rife with dangerous disobedience. If you are in Christ, you have a missional identity. To disregard your missionary identity is to reject your identity in Christ. The first motivation is the missio Dei, that mission is in our DNA, our identity. It is who we are in God, through Christ, by the Spirit.