In A Light to the Nations, Michael W. Goheen argues for a vision of the contemporary missional church that flows directly out of the biblical story. Heady stuff, as evidenced by chapter titles such as, “Israel Embodies Its Missional Role and Identity amid the Nations” and “Jesus Gathers an Eschatalogical People to Take Up Their Missional Calling.”
But Goheen closes with an extremely practical question: “What Might This Look Like Today?” He offers thirteen reflections for local congregations seeking to live faithfully in light of God’s missional story. I think these hold great potency for mission in the North American context, particularly as practices for churches in this nation.
A church with worship that nurtures our missional identity.
As famed missiologist Leslie Newbegin noted, the weekly gathering for worship is the most important thing we do. Our worship must tell the truth story of the world over against the competing narratives we hear at nearly every turn in our culture.
A church empowered by the preaching of the gospel.
We must repeatedly announce the Good News we have found in Jesus and invite the people of God to embody an altogether different story than the stories embodied by others. If the goal of preaching is to make Christ present, His presence must empower our living out this Good News for the sake of the world.
A church devoted to communal prayer.
Fervent prayer is a New Testament normalcy. Sadly, this is not the case in many of our churches today. As Andrew Murray points out, prayer is our “strategic position” that we must cling to with great devotion.
A church striving to live as a contrast community.
The opportunities here are myriad:
- The church exists as a community of justice in a world of economic and ecological injustice.
- The church is a community of generosity and simplicity amid a consumeristic world.
- The church is a community of selfless giving in a world of gross selfishness.
- The church clings to hope in a land of deep disillusionment.
- The church looks for true joy and thanksgiving in a pleasure-seeking culture.
- The church experiences God’s presence in a devoutly secular and humanistic world.
A church that understands its cultural context.
Living as a contrast community inevitably prompts a missionary encounter with the culture. We are to challenge the cultural story rather than being absorbed by it. Culture is built upon a foundation of religious commitments and assumptions. But we are tasked to challenge the faulty and idolatrous religious commitments that are so prevalent in our culture.
A church trained for a missionary encounter in its callings in the world.
Does your church train you for these missionary encounters? According to Newbegin, the church has failed to recognize that the primary witness to the sovereignty of Christ must be given — he says it can only be given — in the everyday secular work of lay men and women in business, politics, professional work, etc. We must capitalize on the opportunities we have to demonstrate that we have been shaped by a different kind of story.
And make no mistake: faithfulness to this point will lead to:
- Greater suffering
- Deeper prayer
- Stronger community
A church trained to evagelism in an organic way.
Much of the church’s evangelistic strategy fails because it comes across as propaganda and a sales pitch to the unbeliever. But if the Gospel impacts all areas of life, then both our words and deeds will make the Gospel credible. This means there are tremendous opportunities for evangelism that emerge all the time. May we simply have eyes to see and ears to hear!
A church deeply involved in the needs of its neighborhood and world.
When unbelievers in the vicinity of a local church are asked why they think that church exists, they often answer, “It exists for itself.” How tragic. We are called not to live for self but for the sake of the community around us — to be an expression of Good News in our context. This means seeing and responding to the very real needs of those around us.
A church committed to missions.
The church is the only mission body established by God in the New Testament. We must be deeply committed to God’s Good News mission — because God is deeply committed to this mission as well.
A church with well-trained leaders.
In the New Testament, leadership was primarily in mission. In Christendom, leadership was pastoral care of established communities. Commenting on this, Newbegin says, “In one, the minister is facing the people — gathering, teaching, feeding, comforting; in the other he is leading the people, going before them on the way to the cross to challenge the powers of this dark world.” We need well-trained leaders to take up both of these tasks.
A church with parents trained to take up the task of nurturing children in the faith.
Technology, for instance, will nurture our children into a particular story — usually not a Gospel-formed story. How will we combat this? Even their education is often in service to the gods of economic utility. The church must help parents nurture their children in the faith.
A church with small groups that nurture for mission in the world.
These elements must be maintained in the church’s small groups: prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and outreach / orientation to the world.
A church that seeks and expresses the unity of the body of Christ.
The church today should exhibit reconciliation and unity as a preview of what is to come in eternity.
This is what it looks like to be a “come and join us” people.