For the last few years the phrase missional living has been tossed around in my mind and in my congregation. Not carelessly tossed around, mind you. But rather well thought out. An invitation into a discussion evolving around how one can incarnationally live out the truth of Christ and His desire to see a reign of justice, mercy, and peace take place in this world.
I’ve notice that there seems to be a bit of a disconnect, though, between the more “evangelical” churches and the so-called “liberal” churches. I’ve been a part of both camps as an observer, a participant, a member, and a university placement student. I spent a large portion of my young, formative years in more conservative and evangelical camps where you had to remember the day that you became a Christian or you weren’t really one. If you had doubts, you would look at the cover of your Bible to reassure yourself that you truly did belong to Christ. I’ve also belonged to the more liberal churches – believe what you will as long as you live out a life of love, peace, and joy. Churches which said it wasn’t my place to tell someone who was not a Christian they were wrong. It wasn’t my place to try to convert anyone, but rather I should help that individual to live out their lives and their spirituality in the fullest way that is possible to them.
So, who’s right and who’s wrong? The answer: both camps have things going for them and both camps have things going against them.
Let’s dissect the more conservative churches first. Growing up, I was part of a culture which taught children “you should accept Jesus today because you never know if you will be alive tomorrow. Anything could happen. You could die in a car accident tonight.” Looking at this type of theological position at my age, however, is a bit more than simply unnerving. For one, I disagree with this type of preaching because it is so heavy on scare tactics. We would shake our heads if someone made a decision for what school to attend, what major to pursue, or which geographical house to buy on the whim without thinking it out. So, I tell you today that Queen’s University (just for an example) is prestigious and that my brother went there and you automatically sign up for the same program he was in without doing your research, without knowing anything else about Queens, and without even knowing the options for courses that are offered there. Perhaps it will work out for you. Perhaps not. So, if we cringe and think decisions made on the fly are foolish for things in this life, why should we not apply that same mindset for the most important decision of our lives. One in which not only our present life but also our eternity will be built?
What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t just make a decision to follow Jesus on the fly because we are scared of what COULD happen. YES, you could die at any time. Yes, none of us knows the future. However, it is highly improbable that that will happen to you. The average person needs to hear the Gospel 6 times before they will accept it as truth. So, why should we make all those times full of doom and gloom? We should focus instead on making it a positive thing. Not feeding into this mindset that God is an angry God who is willing to banish someone to hell just because they didn’t make a split second decision. To me, a God like that would be rather fickle. I’m just not interested in serving that type of God.
Another thing that I rebel against from my childhood experience is the concept of evangelism without discipleship. I definitely believe there is a place for sharing the Gospel, however, I would argue that discipleship is a far more important piece than simply sharing the Gospel. You see, when we just go out into the world to convert others and then we leave them a week or two later what have you really done? Did not Jesus Himself warn against this type of conversion tactic when He said, “ You Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses are in for trouble! You’re nothing but show-offs. You travel over land and sea to win one follower. And when you have done so, you make that person twice as fit for hell as you are.” (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+23:1-15)
Lastly, I am not sure where I stand on altar calls. I believe that there are good ways to do them as well as not so good ways. I’ve witnessed churches which do altar calls in such a non-evasive way and then churches which use them for show. Perhaps, some people do need an invitation to truly come forward and surrender their lives to Christ. For others, perhaps this is seen as too forward. I believe God can use altar calls, but I would strongly disagree that this needs to be the case for every conversion. In fact, I would say that it probably needs to be the case in less than 10% of all conversions.
Now let’s turn to the more “liberal” churches. I think, perhaps unfortunately, that the more liberal churches DO tend to emphasis acts of social justice and justice more than the conservative churches do. At least in my experience, though there are certainly evangelical churches which do care about creation care and social inclusion. I say, unfortunately, not because I think that the liberal churches are doing anything wrong by espousing this type of theology, but rather because I wish ALL churches would actively pursue a reign of justice and peace in this world.
However, the downside of the more liberal churches is that some of them tend to lean more to the side that everyone is right and because everyone is right we should not offend anyone. This does not make logical sense because it is impossible for every single person to be right since when it comes down to it many ideas contradict themselves. Having a personal moral ethic may work in some cases, but it does not always work when it comes to global and political affairs.
I have been shut down from teaching the Gospel in liberal churches before even though I have never used scare tactics. To me, my life and my walk with Jesus Christ is the most precious and powerful thing going. I cannot imagine life without Him and that is the reason I want to share about His love and forgiveness with everyone I come into contact with.
My personal ethic of evangelism is not about shaming someone or telling them that they are wrong. It is my belief that we should respect and honour everyone regardless of their spiritual preferences or religious leanings. At the same time, I am aware that the Bible espouses Jesus (not Ghandi or Buddha) as being the ultimate choice. That’s not to say that I can’t also get to know other religions because I truly believe that each religion has much to offer and in reading their holy books I often stand back amazed at the similarities we share. But in the end of the day, my personal understanding of the Bible is that we are called to follow the Great Commission. To go out into the world preaching the Gospel AND disciplining.
So, let me pose the question again: who is right and who is wrong? The truth is, it’s not an either/or dichotomy, it’s a both/and dichotomy. It’s about unashamedly sharing the Gospel, BUT also caring about social justice and peace advocacy rather than only caring about the number of converts. Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is God’s powerful method of bringing all who believe it to heaven. This message was preached first to the Jews alone, but now everyone is invited to come to God in this same way.” If we are followers of Jehovah God, there is no reason to be ashamed to unabashedly share our faith because it is Gospel – Good News. It is the saving message of Christ. If we had the cure for cancer we wouldn’t keep it to ourselves, we would give it to everyone we know who is sick and dying of cancer. How much greater is the Gospel which has the power to save EVERYONE from death and the grave? From the very effects of their sin and to offer them hope and peace.
Ultimately, I have found that what I understand from studies and much personal research to be the Anabaptist vision of missional living greatly articulates my already held belief that we are to incarnate Christ. In missional living we serve the least of these and offer them a cup of cold water. We do not simply preach the Gospel without living the Gospel. We choose to be faithful followers of God going into places of darkness, despair, and hardship. We live in neighbourhoods that are rough or we live in intentional communities that reach out to people who are otherwise shunned by society. In missional living we don’t just preach the Gospel, but we empower others to live the Gospel just as we are living the Gospel. Sometimes we empower them to live the Gospel out even before they know the vocabulary of evangelism. The Christianese.
Intentionally living missionally requires a commitment and a dedication to walk alongside others not just for a short time, but for the long haul. It’s easy to preach the Gospel once. Even twice. It’s a lot harder to form an ongoing relationship, an ongoing mentorship, where community is fostered and grows. It’s hard to not see progress overnight. It may be hard to patiently toil and pray for YEARS before a person accepts Christ, but once the decision is made we will know that is was not made in vain but with careful consideration. Living missionally strips away the altar call and transforms us into Christ’s living altar calling each individual into a deeper awareness and fulfillment of themselves.
That’s why I want to encourage each one of us who considers ourselves a Christian to choose this lifestyle. A lifestyle not of scare tactics and rushed decisions, but one of careful observation and fellowship. When we do this we will gain many friends and pilgrims along the way.