What’s all this talk about being “missional” mean anyway?missional-300x240

This is a strange new word I and others in Houston use a lot these days. But what do we mean when we say “missional”? For starters it might help to contrast it with the classic understanding of mission.

Foreign missions has to do with a sender (local congregation or mission agency) sending special people (missionaries) to a special place (over there!) to do special things (missions).

That’s not what missional living is all about.

Missional language invites us to imagine a new sender (God) who sends all people to the places they already live to restore all things. No longer do we compartmentalize super Christians who respond to God’s call to go and second class Christians who choose to stay. The concept of missional living infuses the very definition of “Normal Christian” with the call to partner in God’s shalom project right where we are by doing the very things Christ would do if he were living our lives.  It invites us to imagine things differently: God, the gospel, the time we are living in, the location we live in, and the ways we’ll spread and live the good news.

So when I say “missional” here are 10 Core Components of what I mean:

10. The core of the core of missional living is the missio dei (the mission of God). The “sender” is no longer church but God, who sends the Son, Spirit, and all followers into the world to join what God is already performing. All theology is viewed through this missio dei lens. Placing mission at the core of theology broadens our vision to see God’s loving restoration for all creation- things on earth and things in heaven.

9. The assumption of missional living is Post-Christendom.
We are living in a new epoch in which we can’t take the Christian-ness of culture for granted. Rather than assuming the culture is Christian and therefor all that is needed is to slip a new evangelized soul into an otherwise  Christianized cultural glove, missional sees culture itself as no longer “Christian,” and understands that significant portions of western Christendom have always been antithetical to Christianity.

8. The energy of missional living is outward. The church is no longer an “attractional” body but a sending body. God is already present in every human community, which is itself filled with assets and expertise. Thus our ministry is performed with people and never to them. Missional projects partner with and follow the lead of those we’re called to love. This allows us to resist classic missions which too readily lends itself to patronizing and patriarchal colonialism, replicating patterns of the “sending” culture.

gospel of westheimer stop sign7. The locations of missional living are the places where we live, work, and play. No longer the “special places” associated with foreign mission, but our context, our relationships, our cities. Missional thinking is thus radically contextual rather than universal.

6. The duration of missional living is sustained consistent long-term relationships over time rather than one-off events or projects. Mentoring, and relocating into the neighborhood you are called to restore are exceptional examples of this component.

5. The instrument of missional living is we not me: a community approach rather than the sending of individuals. Missional communities such as congregations or missional covenant groups act as a sign and foretaste of gospel for those they are called to love.

4. The goal of missional living is the restoration of creation (including people!). Christ followers demonstrate the gospel by seeking the common good, interpreting their actions with words. Missional views restoration – of both souls and systems – as one and the same project of partnering with God.  It’s not a new word to describe old actions (for most but not all of us). And because the goal is for “all” creation, it means that our context is intimately connected to the global village. War, fair trade, oil… all these issues are both global and local, what some call “glocal.” Fine examples include 19th century Evangelical’s social concerns, Germany’s Confessing Church, the Anabaptist movement, the Community Development Association movement, the black church’s role in liberating America in the 1960’s and infrastructural/economic development overseas.

3. The mobilization of missional living is of every person to join what God is doing. Missional living is a new movement to equip the laity, returning to the people what never should have been taken: ministry. Every Christian and person of good will is “special” and sent by God into ministry through vocation as much as volunteerism to bring restoration to our locale and global community.missional

2. The promise of missional living is transformation. God’s quest for the Peace of the city and salvation of humanity reveals a breathtaking love for “the world” God created and is recreating. It is loving restoration of both what is broken and those who are lost. God’s missional promise that “I am making all things new!” is intimately connected to the “abundant life” that Jesus promised.

1. The new normal of missional living is that everyone is called to be a disciple not just a church member. Daily discipleship to Jesus in a community on shared mission is normative Christianity.  Following Jesus is both an invitation and a deep challenge.

Hope this helps! What would you add? How does your faith community speak about or live our missional?

One of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever been given was the Sabbatical that Houston Mennonite Church offered me this summer. At the core of my Sabbath from the rigors of daily ministry was reading and writing. I read countless articles, the New Testament, the Psalms and several prophetic books, some of Poe’s short stories, some great novels, and a ton for my writing project. My upcoming book, tentatively titled A Gospel-Formed Imagination: Seeing (& Joining) Who and How God is in the World, is about what Jesus’ gospel action looks like when it intersects with communities, churches, and neighborhoods.  

Reading for this was a true joy and curiosity! Here’s my book reading list from the summer. The first book in each category is the one most meaningful to me.

Books about The Gospel: Who and How God is
This section was awesome, and complimented so well the several dozen books already read in prep for my writing. I can’t say enough about Randy Woodley’s capacity to help us re-image faith, Darrin Belousek’s detailed approach to atonement and its connection to shalom, or the shock I found in reading about two committed Christians who proved to be devastating Cold Warriors in Kinzer’s book. I’d recommend all of these, but particular these three. 

Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, Randy Woodley.
Birmingham Revolution, 
Edward Gilbreath.
by Walter Brueggeman.
Atonement, Justice, and Peace: The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church, Darrin Belousek.
Just Spirituality, Elise Mae Canon.
Empire of the Summer Moon, S. C. Gwynne. 
Slow Church, Jon Pattinson and Chris Smith.
The Brothers, Steven Kinzer. (Read more about this in my post here). 
Surprised by Hope, NT Wright.
The Change of Conversion, Alan Kreider.
King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight.


Books about the Imagination:

This was one of the several surprising turns that my research and writing took for me. The more I delved into the “glorious splendor of God’s kingdom (Psalm 145)” the more I realized how much my imagination needed redeeming. These books helped to move me off center and get me hoping again. 

Imagine, Jonah Lehrer.
I believe I’ll testify, Cleo Larue.
A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink.
Your Creative Brain,
Shelly Carson.
Creativity, Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi.

Detective Novels (And a book about detective novels!):
Another absolute surprise was discovering detective novels! I’d never read one in my life until a group of pastors and I decided we would explore together the theological qualities of the detective genre. This is the kind of project that suits me and brings out my pastoral nerdiness! Why just enjoy a book, when you can analyze it, debate the genre, dissect the implications of how it has changed, and try to understand what it’s rise and potential downfall says about our culture??? Robert Paul’s book is about detective murder mysteries, the rest are all novels. Louise Penny’s book is a psychology marvel, but I couldn’t stop entering the broken cultural landscape of Sweden and the Henning Mankell novels. For subversive fiction, I’d recommend his Kurt Wallender books highly. 

What ever happened to Sherlock Holmes? Robert Paul.
The White Lioness, Henning Mankell.
The Fifth Woman, Henning Mankell.
Before the Frost, Henning Mankell.
The Man from Beijing, Henning Mankell.
The Ravens Eye (Sherlock Holmes Prequel for young adults).
Still Life, 
Louise Penny.
Red Means Run, Brad Smith.

These two are a return to old favorites. MaddAddam I wrote about already it was so good. And Percy’s creation of the “stethoscope of the soul” is brilliant comedy and scathing social critique. Love love love them both!

MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood.
Love in the Ruins, Walker Percy. 

Anabaptism is rising.

Names such as Greg BoydScot Mcknight and Stuart Murray have helped many find clarity for their faith through the practice of Anabaptism.  

Many Houstonians have connected with me personally, and perhaps you’re interested too!

Here are my 7 Core Convictions that guide my life as an Anabaptist Christian, based roughly on the excellent short read The Naked Anabaptist, by Stuart Murray.

You might be an Anabaptist Christian if….

1. You see God actively restoring our world.

good news

You’ve awoken to God’s concern for more than souls, the person, or life after death. You’ve taken flak for seeing forgiveness as an essential – but not complete – part of the gospel of God. God is at work creating a beautiful new world in the midst of the old. You’re increasingly comfortable connecting “gospel” to God’s actions in our world (shalom, peace, justice, gospel, salvation and the kingdom of God) beyond and above narrow atonement.

2. Jesus is the clearest example of what this looks look.

Jesus is the center of our faith.
Jesus is the center of our faith.

You’ve likely wondered aloud about how we Christians think Jesus is “Lord of the universe,” and assume that includes politics, finances, and loving those pesky “enemies” our government is constantly creating. You see Jesus as our example, teacher, friend, Lord and redeemer- the downpayment on our new world. You increasingly read God and Scripture through the Jesus lens.  

3. You see yourself as a Christian because you follow Jesus in this mission in our world.

follow me

You realize that neighbor and enemy love, not some abstract beliefs or doctrine or ways of thinking, define what it means to be Christian. You think about how the gospel applies to systems (justice) and individuals (grace) with a focus on the marginalized (the poor, widows, orphans, and strangers). You’re committed to Christ above any other power or authority, including political platform, nation or interest.

4. You’re frustrated that your church thinks its a purveyor of religious goods.

There's no such thing as a Christian. Only the body of Christ.
There’s no such thing as a Christian. Only the body of Christ.

Ugghhh. You are not an individual, you are an interdividual connected to others in a community of mission and discipleship. You know its not about your purpose because the church is the center of God’s redemptive activity in the world! You are not alone.

5. You recognize how seriously Christendom distorted the gospel.

Turning Christendom on its head!
Turning Christendom on its head!

You’re tired of marginalizing Jesus to safeguard privilege and institutions. And you’re fully aware that marginalizing Jesus has radically reduced both your capacity to follow him and the discipleship making culture of our churches. Combining church and state, faith with power hinders or dissolves our missional presence, it does not further it. 

6. You believe peace is at the heart of the Gospel.

The Gospel of Peace.
The Gospel of Peace.

Everyone wants peace. I get that. But Anabaptists are audacious enough to see peace as both end and means. We are to be “makers of peace” who “know the things that make for peace” both internally and in the world. As masters of peace, the method (peace) must match the goal (peace). After all, we’re dealing with one of the Bible’s biggest words. Biblical peace (the kind of peace I seek for Houston) means wholeness, prosperity, completion, right relations – the way things are meant to be. 

7. You believe you can’t compartmentalize faith.
compartmentalized faith

Discipleship is for all of life. So much so, you wonder if  Jesus came to abolish religion altogether. You see no distinction between faith and politics, spirituality and economics. Jesus isn’t just interested in your “personal life” or religion. He’s itching for it all. Perhaps you’re aware that if Jesus’ lordship or love stops at the line of politics, or national defense, than we might need a bigger god. Admittedly, giving your entire self (and not just yer wee tiny heart) to God will likely make you weird, unconformed, and appear as if you’re living in a different story (not to fear, see Point #4 above!).

If any of these 7 Core Convictions of Anabaptism resonate with you, perhaps its time for you and I to kick off an Anabaptist book study, Google hangout, pub night, church plant, Bible discussion, lecture series, or…. you name it. I’ll be there.

For starters, I’ll be at the Anabaptist church Houston Mennonite on Sunday morning at 9:30 (Bible Dialogue) and 10:45AM (Worship Gathering). I’d love to see you there too!

By Pastor Marty

 “Nothing less than life in the steps of Christ is adequate to the human soul or the needs of our world.”  – Dallas Willard, The Great Omission.

windowOur call is clear: we are to follow Jesus to love and serve our world. On Sunday Doug led us in a stunningly rich dialogue on what it means for us to “seek the peace of our city,” which is a Biblical way of saying we love those around us through service and vocation. Jane shared about volunteering at Casa Juan Diego among refugees and immigrants, where she folds sheets and prays for each person who will use them. Felipe shared that in his vocation, making peace means truth-telling, and how hard this work is. As a professional historian, he’s following Jesus and seeking peace in his job.

While many Mennonites gravitate towards the helping professions, this is equally true of our business people: we are loving and serving our world through our vocations.

Service, whether through volunteering or vocation, is to take on the cruciform shape of the life of Christ. In a recent blog post on Jesus and his mission I said it this way, “We, as followers of Jesus, are called to become masters of shalom committed to the common good in the shadows of empire.”

And then I ask the million dollar question, “How in the world could we ever embrace a mission which makes us look so, well, odd?” How can we capture God’s vision for ourselves as servants, and begin to live into the cruciform life of Christ?

In the prayer journals that the church provided this spring (need another? Grab one when you do!) we see a glimpse of how we can increase living “life in the steps of Christ.” We do this through the Spiritual Disciplines, which is “doing what we can to receive from God the power to do what we cannot.” On our own we simply can’t live our core values during the week; but through spiritual disciplines and prayer we can orient ourselves  over and again to God’s values and vision for self and world.

So if our goal is service through vocation and volunteering, seeking peace and acting justly, life in the steps of Christ, what’s something that we can do that models for us the life we long to live?footwashing

What about the worship ritual footwashing? What if on Sunday we performed a literal act of service for each other in the context of worship? In this context, washing someone else’s feet feels safe, inviting, holy and well, Biblical. It feels different to wash someone’s feet you’ve known for years and worshipped with 500 times than to serve a homeless person or unknown corporate executive in this same way. Jesus of course washed his feet and invited us to do the same. In doing so, he took the form of a servant, not a leader or ladder-climber. Footwashing in worship is, along with communion, quintessential examples of doing what we can, in an effort to gain greater capacity in doing what God is calling us to do.

This Sunday in worship we’re going to try it on. Mennonites have practiced footwashing to form our faith for centuries, though less so of late. But Sunday we invite you to do what you can to receive from God the power to do what we cannot.

Specifically, we’ll invite you to respond to Micah 6:8’s call to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” by partnering up and washing each other’s feet. Our worship planning team was very excited about doing this together to praise God and form our faith. But they were also aware that for many of us, this is something new, something we might be anxious about or not want to do for various good reasons. And that’s ok! That’s why we’re inviting you, an invitation you can say either yes or no to without pressure. If, when we invite folks to wash feet you would prefer not to, by all means, stay in your seat and listen or participate in our singing. Whether you choose to or not doesn’t reflect on your faith or commitment in any way! Only you can decide if washing feet or staying in your seat will connect you more closely with God and empower you for ministry.

But the invitation is there: Come! Come into God’s kingdom and find that you are infinitely loved and celebrated by our servant God. Come to the basin in prayer knowing that God is at work in you to help you love and serve our world. Come, and try on this new way of worshipping, doing what we can Sunday to receive from God power to do what we cannot.

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. – Jesus (John 13:14-17)

 Reading the Bible Jesus Taught this morning talks about the “glory of the Lord” and how it can be revealed. It struck me as i was praying this text how deeply I want this to be true. I want God’s glory to be revealed. I want people (all people) to experience wholeness and healing. I want people to hear that they are loved by God and to believe it. I want all this “for the glory of the Lord.” Or, as Psalm 23 says, “For his names sake.”

Yesterday, I had coffee with a fellow Faithwalker and we both shared our stories, how truncated our image and conception of God has been for various reasons. And how, when healing comes, our worlds are totally transformed by a larger more complete and absolutely stunning image of God. A God who is so much more than dreamed possible! 

This is the God whose glory I want revealed: fully, for everyone.

So, what does our text say it will take? Isaiah 40:3-5 (a text used in reference to Jesus and John) points to a just society where those on the bottom and fringes are lifted high and cared for. The uneven places in our world will be made level. 

The glory of God is revealed (ie, people see God’s genuine goodness) when the world looks and functions how God intends for it to look and function! 

When we who claim his name work for this image of the world made right, when we work towards the justice and kingdom of God: God is glorified.

The familiar song “they shall know we are Christians by our love” should then be modified to say, “They shall know God is God by our love.” “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give the Glory” (Psalm 115, or 116, or 118)

May it be so in your life today.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 15,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

There’s more to look forward to this Thanksgiving than a second slice of pecan pie when you’re [finally] alone in the kitchen.

For starters, every road in Texas is officially a speed trap for the next week, and the Highway Patrol intends to feast.

And then there’s this: you’re getting ready for hours of extroverted time with people who believe differently, vote differently, function differently, parent differently, eat differently, relax differently, entertain differently, pray differently, and expect differently than you do. Let’s face it, we like our routines, and Thanksgiving is nothing if not unusual. It’s not that we don’t love these people, we’re just not used to interacting with them. And most aren’t used to dealing with conflict daily. Which means Thursday is as ripe for anxiety as it is for giving thanks.

From my experience with FaithWalking, here’s how to eat the turkey and not each other.

Remember that anxiety is contagious, but you don’t have to pass it on. Everyone at table Thursday is connected, and each person’s anxiety can and will ripple throughout the room. For instance, if the turkey isn’t done on time the host may visibly or emotionally vibrate with anxiety. You have a choice to conduct that energy, or to soak it up and allow it to stop with you. Easier perhaps when its a turkey than when dad flips out over your election vote, but the principle is the same. Choose to absorb, not conduct, the anxiety in the room. And pay attention to your own anxiety (clinched fists, tightened back, drooping posture, etc…) so that you can be its master and not the other way around.

Be gracious with people’s blind spots. Old roles and patterns of behavior may be on full display, as family reunions have a tendency to call out the best and worst of family systems. And much that you will see and experience will be blind to those who are saying and doing it. The image to the right explains this well. When your awareness of someone’s behavior exceeds their awareness of their own behavior, you have a lot of power! Use it well. Yes, you can predict who will explode and leave the table (like always). No, your parents still don’t want your financial advice no matter how brilliant. This is not the time to bring up personality traits, point out glaring weaknesses, or say anything that includes “you always!” or “you never!” Yes, you can see it as plain as day, but if they haven’t been transformed in the last 30 years, don’t expect it to happen today. If you’re really itching to make a point, read more here first.

Say what is so for you, but take a learning posture. In other words, be civil. I love the definition of civility from Tomas Spath, “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.”   Speak the truth, tell your story and don’t let anyone run all over you. The Jesus ethic does not demand you loose arguments. Honesty is essential. But so is granting others the same amount of respect you desire. Don’t in any way hide your beliefs, but at the same time stay engaged with those you disagree with. Taking a learning, rather than a “teaching” posture, can often diffuse the anxiety and shows respect for those around the table, even if you experience them as “enemies.” (Remember what Jesus had to say about enemies?)

If insults start to fly, just take it. Of course you’re right, you’re absolutely right! Doesn’t matter what you’re right about (ObamaCare, Benghazi, the ridiculousness of a Red Dawn remake) just shut up and take it anyway. Why? Because your relationship with these crazy people is more important than being right. Trust me on this one, it doesn’t matter who wins the argument, you’re family. You can’t control what anyone else will say or do, but you can control your own actions and anxiety. We are, after all, people who claim not only to “believe in” Jesus, but people who actually believe him when he lays out for us a strategy of non-retribution for the healing of both the human heart and the world community. So if you’re insulted, don’t insult in return.

Finally, Apologize and forgive. Whether you’ve been the one who pushed too far or they were, Jesus tells us in Matthew it’s our responsibility to initiate reconciliation. Cool off first, eat some pie, watch the second half, whatever. But say the words. Make it right. There’s a reason we leave dessert for last, it covers a multitude of sins.

And, if by chance you learn something important about conflict, come back here Friday and let us all know what it is! Thanks.

This is also posted in Marty’s Houston Chronicle blog, The Peace Pastor which you can see here.

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