Missional does not mean 'zealous'
Hello again from sunny California! For those who don't know, we have closed our first chapter/term and now transitioning into our second phase of ministry. The Bocanegra family will be traveling to supportraise for Kaihin Makuhari Grace Church. Mark has been called as their pastor, who will be particularly focused on the planting of their second congregation. Please see this brochure for an overview of what we hope to do. Also, some have asked me about my pursuit of a PhD. I applied last year and I was waitlisted and rejected. I was encouraged to reapply again, but Megumi and I felt it was more urgent and a more strategic need to focus on the church plant now rather than postpone everything for the PhD. This is why we have come back to the US and focused the next year on fundraising. Please see Prayer Need #1 for specifics.
Mark was asked to speak at the West Coast MTW Equip Missions Training this past month. Mark spoke on what it means to be a 'missional' church and how to become one. For the next couple of issues, I'll be sending out what I shared in the seminar. Hope it is edifying to you all.
“What is a missions culture? How do you get it going?”
When I received this question, I felt like I was set up for failure 😊 The question felt like the question “how do you encourage your people to pray more?” or “how do you encourage your people to worship better?” or “how do you encourage your people to read their bibles?”
It feels absolutely humbling because—it’s an x-ray question. It asks the speaker whether they have a ‘missional record’ or a ‘prayerful life’ or a ‘worshipful attitude’ to actual solidify what they are about to teach on. I don’t at all.
It feels absolutely impossible because—it’s an gargantuan task. It asks pastors to drag totally corrupt, sinful, and selfish people to be sanctified, obedient, and self-sacrificing. It’s like herding a bunch of cats to the swimming pool.
It feels absolutely burdensome because—it’s another responsibility among the million things a pastor has to do. Forming a missional culture seems like another Christian plate you have to spin without trying to drop the other Christian plates you’re currently spinning.
If someone would come to my church plant in Japan and talk to me about this question “What is a missions culture? How do you get it going?” That’s essentially, what I would feel. However, what we need to remember is that this question is like any other question that revolves around sanctification or any other spiritual discipline. Which means, what I will say to you will be nothing new—just like the Gospel. Just like any aspect of sanctification....
We need to be careful of the motivation—are we doing this in a self-reliant, dutiful, and Pharisaical manner? Is this born out of thankfulness, joy, and hope?
We need to be careful of neither over-emphasizing nor under-emphasizing the human means in which people grow.
We need to have realistic expectation of growth—just like any other sin or spiritual weakness.
Lastly, we need a healthy reliance on the kindness of our self-sacrificial “missional” Father, the perfect righteousness of the Ultimate Missionary, Jesus Christ, and the miracle-working, Kingdom advancer, the Holy Spirit.
Since I am probably one of the younger and more inexperienced pastors in the room, rather trying to pretend that I know what I’m talking about… I want to try to piggy back on our older brother in the faith, Paul, to answer the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of a missional culture using the example of the Philippian Church and Paul’s call to missions in his letter to the Colossian Church. My hope is to merely recast basic principles in sanctification into this context of missions.
If you’re here for the “how-to’s,” I’m sorry but I cannot give that in 30 minutes and there are much better resources out there. You should talk to the MTW West Coast Hub guys for those good specific how-to’s.
So first, what is a missions culture?
This is my working thesis... (definitely not set in stone!) We are not given the option to merely support missionaries dutifully, but commanded to co-suffer joyfully with them in the Great Commission.
I think a missions culture is rather simple—it’s a church that is an obedient, self-denying, and joyful servant to the Lord of the Harvest.
1) A missional church is an obedient church – the Great Commission is not an option but a command.
I think too often ‘missional’ is a synonym for ‘zeal,’ ‘passion,’ ‘enthusiasm,’ ‘risk-taking,’ ‘proactiveness.’ I do think it is a part of it, but not the foundation. Because the Pharisees in Matthew 23 are painted as passionate, zealous, risk-taking, proactive evangelists—but they were essentially cursed by our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? You could be absolutely zealous, but completely disobedient. (Cf. WCF 16.1) Too often, we overly emphasize the “GO” of the Great Commission, but forget what comes at the very end—"teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” If you are not committed to teach and obey “all” the commandments of Christ, you have no business going to “all” nations. And I think many of us in the Reformed camp who are committed to the whole counsel of God would agree with what I just said.
But building upon that, I want to reiterate a very basic truth that is I think underemphasized--especially for those in the Reformed Camp. The Great Commission is not an optional or extra-curricular activity of the local church. It is a direct commandment and our marching orders from our King, the Lord Jesus Christ—who has all authority in heaven and on earth. The King says to us, his undershepherds, his stewards, his servants, his bondservants (i.e. slaves), “Go, therefore, make disciples of… not your neighborhood, not your city, not your nation… but ALL NATIONS”—but don’t worry, I have all authority in heaven and on earth and I will be with you!!! So… GO MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS.”
And remember… at this point, every single nation was an unreached people group!!! This is obviously difficult for the 12 Jewish fishermen, but also for the American Church… Why? Because we both really love our homes, neighborhoods, nation and this commandment is pushing us out of our comfort zone.
When I was at Westminster California, a fellow intern at my local church who eventually went to the mission field said this to me (Shout out to Brent Meyers!). Many WSC students and graduates are committed to Christ-centered preaching from all the Bible. And many quote Luke 24:44 as the imperative to preach Christ from every text… However, many don’t read until verses 47 and 48: “…should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Sometimes we get so excited about the Christ-centered nature of the Scripture, that we neglect that commandment that is mandated in the text. We are called by Our Lord Jesus Christ to proclaim Christ through all of Scripture; however, we are also mandated to proclaim it to all nations—and this is attested in all of the Scriptures. Not only is the Scriptures Christ-centric, but it is also mission-centric.
The Great Commission to all nations is not an extra-curricular but the very heart of the mission of the Church. Do we preach, teach, and pray that the Great Commission is throughout all of the Scriptures--as much as we preach Christ? Are we being obedient to the entire hermeneutical lens that Christ presents in Luke 24? As Reformed people who love the Word, if we accuse people of cherry-picking passages, we should NOT cherry pick our favorite passages as well.
Do we understand that the imperative of Gospel-centeredness, Christ-centeredness cannot be separated from the imperative of bringing the Gospel and Christ to all nations.
As many of you know, the letter to the Philippians is a missionary sending a letter of thanks to his supporter. When Paul says in 1:5 that he is thankful for their ‘partnership in the gospel’—he specifically meant financially supporting his labors and being committed to missions as we see in 1:7. But do you see how he connects their involvement in missions? He saw it as “God” beginning a “good work” in the Philippians to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Us, Reformed folk, love this verse because it talks about the perseverance of the saints and showing how God graciously leads us and sanctifies us… however, we must not forget that Paul is specifically referring to the Philippian church’s involvement in missions. He even calls it a “fruit of righteousness” in v11. Putting it more succinctly, being involved in missions is a fruit of sanctification… it is a fruit and evidence that you are obeying our Lord and King. That is what Paul is so happy about the Philippians involvement in 'missions'—not the fact that he’s receiving money, but the fact that they are obeying the King of the Great Commission! If you rob people of the opportunity of being involved in missions, you rob them an opportunity to obey their King, Jesus Christ.
You could say first, that a missional church is not first a zealous church, but an obedient church.
(Stay tuned for more next month!)