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Missional Living

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As a youth pastor one of my biggest challenges was to make the teachings of the Bible relevant to teenagers. I struggled with it on a weekly basis. It didn’t matter what kind of vocabulary, games, videos or illustrations I used; it seemed that I was always at least 6 to12 months behind the trend. However, I did the best that I could. Then I became a church planter. And it got worse.

It seems that no matter what form of ministry we are in, we will always be challenged to make the Christian faith relevant to those we minister to. However, we must take care not to strive for relevance at the expense of faithfulness. True apostolic Christianity requires both.

Recently, a new word has emerged to describe how modern Christians should relate to the rest of the world: “missional.” In his book Planting Missional Churches, Ed Stetzer states: “Missional means adopting the posture of a missionary, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound. Think of it this way: missional means being a missionary without ever leaving your zip code” (p. 19). While living missionally may not require us to leave our zip code, it does require us to leave the confines of our homes and church buildings. Core to a biblical philosophy of missions is the conviction that we should “go and tell.” However, most church outreaches operate with a “come and see” mentality. One has to ask, if we didn’t have church buildings, could most of our attempts at outreach survive?

Church father Tertullian, in a statement directed toward the Roman Empire, wrote: “We have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, marketplaces, the very camps, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum. We have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods.” Ray Bakke, in A Theology as Big as the City, comments on Tertullian’s statement: “Early Christians penetrated the whole city, but not by claiming space for church buildings or programs of their own. They penetrated everybody else’s space instead” (p. 193). Could this be what Jesus meant when He called His followers the “salt of the earth”?

Finally, by serving as missionaries within our own zip code we recognize that while some may be called to reach Judea and Samaria, many more are called to reach Jerusalem.

What are some practical steps we can take? Below are practices that have been fruitful as our church seeks to be alive missionally:

  • Rather than joining a church softball league, try joining a public league. Better yet, flood a public league with people from your church.
  • Pastors, commit to spending at least one workday a week outside of the church. Find a library or other public area to do things like return e-mails, write reports or study. Even if you don’t make any connections, you’ll get some great “real-life” sermon material.
  • Do one-on-one discipleship training in a public area like a restaurant or coffee shop. You’d be surprised how many nosey people will interrupt your conversations. Of course, you need to be willing to be interrupted. These surprise encounters could lead to some interesting “on the job” discipleship training experiences.
  • Ever wonder where early Christians gathered before church buildings existed? They met in homes. Try decentralizing your church ministry and moving it into the community.
  • Rather than reinventing the wheel by starting “Christian” community organizations, join existing service groups and witness for Christ while volunteering.
  • Become a “regular” somewhere. Find a restaurant, coffee shop or other business to patronize weekly. Try to learn the employees’ names; maybe they will even learn yours.
  • Rent your facilities to a community organization. This can be risky, but it’s a great way to build bridges and break down some of the barriers that people have toward coming into a church.
  • Create inroads for spiritual conversations. When you’re at the hardware store, instead of asking where the paint is, say, “I’m helping at my church. Can you direct me to the paint section?” In my experience, at least half of the time, the person responds with “What church do you go to?”
  • When possible, walk rather than drive. It gives you a better feel for your neighborhood, you’ll be more likely to pray and you’ll actually meet people. Remember their names!

If you follow a few of these tips, at least two things will happen: you will dig deeper into the Bible as your faith gets stretched. And you may see people show interest in your faith. This may lead to new relationships that culminate in gaining new brothers and sisters in Christ.

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