As mentioned in my last post, when we look at the process by which Jesus made disciples it’s very clear that for Jesus discipleship and mission go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. And just like there are barriers that get in the way of us making disciples, I believe there are also barriers that get in the way of us being on mission. These barriers, however, are primarily due to wrong thinking and misconceptions about mission. While there are more than three, I have listed three misconceptions here:
1. It’s only for the extremists or the professionals: Often we hear stories about people who have made significant decisions and life changes in order to be on mission for the Kingdom of God. People like Katie Davis, Shane Claiborne or James Barnett. Or we encounter full-time vocational overseas missionaries who raise their own support and live in third world countries. Often times we see, meet and hear stories about these people and think….. “There is no way I could be on mission for Jesus and do that.”
2. Too busy, Too old, etc…: Right on the heels of misconception #1 often comes misconception #2, “I’m too busy and have too many kids. I’m too old and have way too demanding of a job. There is no way that I could make any significant change in my life at this point in my life.” We then think, “Once my kids get a little older or move out of the house… Once life slows down a little… Once I retire… Once I ________ … Or we say the opposite, Only if… “Only if I had a little more time. Only if I was ten years younger. Only if I didn’t have so much responsibility.”
3. We pigeon-hole missions: And once you put together misconception #1 with misconception #2, misconception #3 becomes apparent… We pigeon-hole mission work to trips & tracks. We think that in order to do mission work you have to go on a trip of some kind. And if you happen to travel overseas and raise a few thousand dollars to get there, some how that work is more significant. Or, we think that we have to get out on the street to knock on doors and pass out tracks persuading people to “accept Christ.”
Or even be like this guy.
The result of these misconceptions is that people either throw up their hands or they throw in the towel. They think, “It’s too hard, too daunting and too awkward.” But what if it didn’t have to be. I’m not suggesting that being on mission is easy or simple, but I do think there is a way to re-imagine mission in such a way that makes the call of Jesus to be His witness (Acts 1:8) more tangible.
It all starts with a few shifts in thinking.
1. Supporting to Being: I think for most people, when we look at the work of the “extremist or professional” there is a sincere thought that the work they are doing is worth while. And even though people don’t think they can do that work themselves, they are happy to pay for or “support” that work being done. While it’s important to help fund the work of God all over the world, I think sometimes we need an increased missional imagination to see the work of God happening right under our noses. We need to see our places of work and leisure, the local park and local coffee shop all as mission fields. And who better to reach the people in those places than you, the one who goes there all the time. When we shift our thinking from simply supporting missionaries to being missionaries in our local context we begin to see that mission happens 24/7 no matter where we are.
2. Attractional to Incarnational: For far to long the church has operated with the mentality, “if we build it, they will come.” If we can create an inviting atmosphere with friendly people, great music, relevant teaching and allow people to stay anonymous, they will come. The attractional model of ministry hinges on bringing people through the doors of our church so we can minister to them on our turf. But all throughout scripture you see Jesus going to the crowds. You see Jesus hanging out with the “sinners” in their environments. You see the apostles going to the lame and the sick in order to heal them. They go into the homes of gentiles rather than expect gentiles to come to them. They go to where the people are.
3. Programs to Process: Hand in hand with the attractional model of mission usually comes programs. And programs aren’t bad, not all attractional stuff is bad either. But often times attractional and program driven ministry hinges on resources and results. In order to pull off an attractional program it takes a lot of time, money, people and organization. And on the back-end, we look for certain results to emerge; a certain number of people who have shown up to make this thing worthwhile, a certain number of people having made decisions, a certain amount of money given so we can do it all over again. When we solely rely on attractional programs, mission stops when the resources are gone and we aren’t getting the results we wanted. However, a process paradigm doesn’t hinge on resources and results, but rather on relationships and networks. Without the hindrance of raising funds and coordinating logistics, we can spend more time investing in and building relationships with people in the context of where they live.
I do realize that I am just scratching the surface and in writing this I don’t mean to pretend that I have it all figured out. Nor do I want to project that I am living the model missional lifestyle… I’m still struggling to meet some of the people who live a few doors down. But I do believe that the current paradigms and models by which many churches still operate is worth re-thinking & re-imaginging. I guess in all of this my hope is that missional isn’t just some trendy church buzz word, but that we can actually be the hands and feet of Jesus to those we rub shoulders with every day.
What shifts in your thinking have you seen take place?