You’re Not From Around Here Anymore

The biggest obstacle to a church truly becoming missional is a mistaken sense of citizenship. Missionaries to foreign lands understand quite well (and quickly!) that ministry among a different people requires them to change the way they see things- they learn language in order to communicate, they study culture in order to relate, they build relationships in order to love. This sort of immersion is fundamental to the establishment and growth of the Church among a people. Without it, the Way of Jesus remains just another imperialistic foreign religion.

Being missional is about applying missionary thinking to everyday life. It means giving up expectations (delusions?) of unearned social credibility, common morality, or programmatic attractional ministry. A church is missional when it actively and intentionally goes out into its surrounding community and engages people in redemptive relationships on the culture’s terms. The result of this ongoing activity is a truly indigenous church that is continually translating the gospel into the local context in word and deed.

What prevents churches from becoming missional is their inability to see themselves as foreigners (“strangers,” or “aliens”). When you live in the town you grew up in, when your best friends are the ones you’ve known since elementary school, when you don’t have an accent and everyone around you looks just like you, it’s difficult to see yourself as an outsider. When you have your own space (building, campus, etc.), when you enjoy favor with the government, when your neighbors automatically modify their behavior to conform to your values when they’re in your presence, it’s hard to be convinced that you don’t belong.

By grace, we are saved into God’s Kingdom. Our citizenship is transferred from the earthly place where we were born to the heavenly place where God rules. Our ongoing presence on earth means that we are now sent as ambassadors- representatives of Jesus to the unbelieving societies among which we live. Our physical location may not have changed, but our orientation certainly has.

When you’re an outsider in your own culture, you’re careful about being to comfortable in it. You immerse yourself in the human story in order to influence the people who are still slaves to it. You watch movies, eat food, play games, attend parties, read books– all for the sake of incarnation. Not that there isn’t much to enjoy (there is!), but that we enjoy this life because of our relationship with God, not because of our relationship with this world.

Mission is a fundamental part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. That part has been neglected by churches that do nothing to be on mission. It has been relegated to program by “mission trip” churches. It has been outsourced to “the professionals” by passively involved churches. By not developing the missional aspect of Christianity, the church has stunted its growth and sapped the power of its influence.

When the church sees itself as foreign, its perspective will change. It will rethink its methodologies, its public relations, and its structure. It will lose its sense of entitlement and its claim to rights. It will stop assuming or pursuing “home court advantage.” It will not overestimate its ability to influence people or speak into culture.

Only the church that sees itself as alien can truly be missional.

6 thoughts on “You’re Not From Around Here Anymore

  1. Good insight, but I think more analysis of the term “missional” is needed. I say this because most of the individuals I have talked with or read, who use this term tend to use it in reference to how churches should become relevant to their parishioners. The use of the terms seems to have sprung out of Christian’s feeling that the church was not relevant to them and their surrounding society. That the church is focused on activities which do not parallel its member’s every-day modern life.

    The majority of the users of the term “missional” seem to hold that the church should be characterized by some type of mission, but this mission seems to have more to do with morphing the church to reside nicely in modern society. These users do not seem to be interested in being aliens to the society around them, but to adapt their practice of Christianity to it.

  2. Eric,
    Yeah, I’ve heard lots of guys use the term “missional” to refer to making church seem cool to outsiders. I think that’s a terrible misuse of the word, one that completely misses the point. Toe me, making things cool is more of an attractional approach to ministry.

    That said, I tried to explain in my post that doing the work of missionary (cultural translation) will result in a presentation of the gospel and an iteration of the church that is more appropriate to the specific context. In other words, churches that locals can relate to.

    One thing I’m sure of: our status as strangers and aliens does not mean that we’re to isolate ourselves from the world. It means that we’re to be more intentional as we immerse ourselves into it.

    In a sense, I’d like to reclaim the term “missional.” I’m with Alan Hirsch on this one- he uses the term “missional-incarnational” to refer to the posture the church should take in relation to the culture in which it’s found. Unless you’re on mission, any attempt at relevance will only compromise the message.

    Thanks.

  3. I’m with you and Mr. Hirsch. Christianity is more than devotion in solitude or even with other Christians. Our conversion should mark the moment when we take on the pattern of Jesus who incarnated Himself for the mission of saving us. Jesus was not simply a man, He was The God-Man. Christians are not simply men or women, they are now children of God, sealed with a promise. I guess you could say we are children-of-God-aliens.

  4. Much in agreement with you. I’ve found that a lot of churches/Christians do not take Philippians 3:20 terribly seriously, as evidenced during fundraising when people voiced concern over us staying “too long” in our mission field and “don’t forget you’re an American” came up too much. We are citizens of heaven first, even if we remain in our earthly homeland, and our Christianity puts us at odds with whatever culture we find ourselves in.

  5. Being alien and stranger in the community of one’s birth is a quite the contradiction. But I like your use of this. Clearly, we read Peter and recognize that as believers we are redeemed and relieved from the trappings of death, citizens of the eternal kingdom. Applying this to the context of one’s own hometown or place where they feel most at home makes sense. In the latest Newbigin book I’m reading, “The Light Has Come,” he continually makes reference to the fact that revelation must be take the form contradiction. Would not the reality of hometown boys living lives that contradict their cultures cause Christ to be revealed in their communities? From where I am, that seems missional.

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