The missional church always lives in tension. We want to make the gospel as culturally accessible (knowing/engaging culture) as possible without compromising the truth of the gospel. This is known as contextualization. This is not a new concept. The missional church enters the world with both wisdom and courage. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:19-23
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
To be a missional church means we know the culture in which lost people around them live, so we can be effective in bringing the love and truth of Jesus in word & deed: “all things to all people” using “all means” to “save some.” Too many churches end up being very hostile to those their trying to reach just because they haven’t understood the culture. On the other hand, too many churches are trying to be too “relevant/cool” that they compromise the gospel’s message. We want to walk in the tension with wisdom and courage. Listen to what Jesus says in John 17:9-16:
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
The first thing we observe is that Jesus is praying. Who is he praying for? Jesus doesn’t pray for the world, but for those IN the world. What does Jesus pray for? (v. 15) Jesus prays that we are not taken out of the world but rather that we remain in the world, but away from the evil one. Do you see the tension in which Christians must live? That’s what being a missional church is all about. What we want to avoid as Christians is either of these two extremes:
|Conformists (‘of the world’)
||Separatists (‘out of the world’)
|Behavior is essentially no different than everyone else in the world
||Follow rules that aren’t in the Bible, and hold others to these rules (self-justification)
|Ex. Sex/relationships; material possessions/use of resources; media consumption; career and academics; recreation; words
||Ex. Only attend Christian concerts; buy Christian books; have Christian friends; watch Christian movies
The missional church is in a completely different category. We were once of the world. Jesus rescues us, adopts us into his family as his children, and sends us back out into the world with a new identity, new heart, new desires, new family, and new power.
3 Marks of Being a Missional Theologian
1. Love Jesus and His Word: We’re not missional because we just want to be relevant, or accepted. We are missional because we truly love Jesus. We want to share Jesus with others because of the love, joy and peace we find in Him. Have you embraced the gospel? Do you love Jesus? Are you growing in his love and grace? Are you deepening in your discipleship? Do you love His Word? We believe that the Bible is the Word of God and the final authority in all matters of life and faith, including how we interact with culture.
We are a church that believes that the Bible has universal application, meaning its principles hold true regardless of your circumstances, preferences, age, ethnicity or culture. This means that lying is wrong, murder is wrong, and rape, homosexuality, slander, gossip, materialism, lust and pornography are wrong. Are there cultural activities in your life God would deem sinful? The Bible is either the Word of God or it’s not. Before you go into culture and know culture and try to reach your friends for Jesus, there is a key principle: If the Bible says NO, we abstain. In some circles, they like to use this language: Reject Culture, Receive Culture or Redeem Culture. How do you know when to reject, receive or redeem something? You can’t answer this question until you can genuinely say you love Jesus and know His Word. We cannot be missional without being “of Jesus” first. We are in the world, but of Jesus.
2. Go into and Know Culture: We embrace the gospel, we love Jesus and we know the Bible. What’s the next step? It’s to go into and know culture.The missional church must understand the people God has sent them to. A big mistake churches often do is to copy other churches, especially those in different cultural contexts.That’s like trying to raise a Polar Bear in the desert. God calls us to go into know our culture. That’s why we use the term “missional theologian” (missional = being sent into a particular culture; theologian = knowing God). We want to study our culture so that we can bring the gospel to people in our culture in an effective way.
Practically, how do we know culture? The key is to listen, watch, read and interact with people. You are listening, watching, reading and interacting so you can uncover the idols that are in people’s hearts. You’re trying to see how sin has replaced the gospel of Jesus as the source of hope, love and joy in a person’s life. What is their “heart’s cry”? Let me give you a recent example from our culture. Steve Jobs. His heart’s cry was beauty and perfection. It wasn’t money or status. It was finding that beautiful balance between technology and art, and in that, making people’s lives better. I’m reading this and I’m thinking: Jesus came to redeem a sinful, broken world and restore it to perfection and beauty. That’s going to happen one day. So the world Steve Jobs wanted to create has already been addressed with the gospel. So when you talk to someone who loves Steve Jobs and what he represented, you can tell them show them the relevance of the gospel.
Consider the Apostle Paul and his gospel strategy in Acts 17. His cultural context was Athens, and his listeners were pagan polytheists who enjoyed discussing philosophies (Acts 17:19). So he quoted pagan poets whose ideas were consistent with biblical theology because the Hebrew Scriptures were unfamiliar to the audience and were not considered the final authority. Paul went into the culture, got to know it, and adapted his message to address the heart’s cry of the people there.
3. Speak and Live Out The Gospel: Once we know the culture, our job is to speak and live out the gospel in that cultural soil (c.f. gospel is the seed).This involves two things: (1) We don’t compromise the truth of the gospel. We have to talk about sin, judgment, justice and even hell. It’s not uncomfortable and it’s not easy…(2) But we have to speak about the truth of the gospel lovingly, graciously and understandably. We have address people’s objections and listen to their concerns patiently as well. Speaking and living out the gospel means we use every means possible (as long as it doesn’t contradict Scripture) so that people can hear the message of Jesus and see the relevance of the gospel in their lives.
It’s living in that tension of being sent into the world, but not finding our identity from it. It’s living with wisdom and courage simultaneously. It’s being innocent (Matthew 10:16), but not naïve. It’s listening to the world, but listening first to God’s Word. It’s being prepared to be hated or ridiculed by the world, but know your hope and joy is in Jesus, so you can love it anyway. Are you living in that tension? If you don’t feel a tension in your life about this, something’s wrong. Do you love Jesus and His Word? How are you getting to know your culture? Are you entering the world with wisdom and courage? Do you love others as Christ loved you? Are you speaking and living out the gospel to people around you? That’s what being a missional theologian is all about.
[Listen to the sermon that this article was based upon HERE]