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Twelve Marks of a Missional Church

Missional? Is that a Real Word?

A church that is not missional is not really a church. A church exists by mission as the sun exists by burning. When the sun loses its burn it ceases to be the sun. When a church loses its mission, it ceases to be a church. Missional is an adjective describing all of the activities of the church body as they are brought under the mission of God (missio dei) to bring salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “The world has hated them [My followers] because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You [God] should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one…As You [God] sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:14-16, 18; emphasis added).

A missional church understands it has been sent into an irreligious world to proclaim the Gospel of Redemption that is made possible by the Son’s sacrifice for our sins and the Father’s love for us. Every believer is sent into the world by God just as Jesus was sent into the world.

To respond to this calling is to be missional. To neglect it is to disregard the mission of God and to cease being the kind of church that is following Jesus.

Definition of the Missional Church
The mission of the church is to be found in the mission of God. God, who is always doing “a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19), calls the church to enthusiastically participate in God’s mission in the world (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8) — a world that has radically changed in North American in the last 50 years.
• The church in every generation is called to bring the good news of the kingdom into a spiritual encounter with the aspirations and challenges of the culture where it resides. We are on a mission from God.
• To engage today’s world with the good news requires the formation of a disciple community—the church of Jesus Christ— to be a visible representation, witness and instrument of the sovereign rule of God in every aspect of our lives.
• In many churches this may require a new vision, new ways of thinking, and new patterns of behavior (Matt. 9:16-17).
• A missional church responds to the changes in culture, the leadings of the Spirit, and the needs of the world as it attempts to follow Christ’s mission (Luke 19:10).
• Since Christianity is a minority voice in the postmodern culture, the church must adopt an approach to ministry learned from the foreign missionaries who communicate and relate in understandable ways to the godless inhabitants in their respective cultures (1 Cor. 9:22).

America was birthed in a Christian-Dominated foundation. It was marked by a general belief in the Bible and an acceptance of God. Church was a regular and integral part of the community and the family. The church was able to exist and flourish with little resistance.

Modernity is the enlightenment-humanist rejection of tradition and authority in favor of reason and natural science. It marked the shift of priorities in America where the church was accepted but not embraced. People had an understanding of God’s commands and standards and the evangelical church called them to obey God’s Word.

Postmodernism isn’t easily defined, but some of the characteristics of a postmodern society seem to be an emphasis on personal experience over facts, disbelief in one overarching world view, and a preference for story, symbols, and tradition over logic, reason, and the scientific model. The church must then adapt its ways to become missionaries to a pagan culture. The darker the culture, the brighter the light of the church needs to become. That light needs to emanate from all of its participants—essentially becoming individual lights leading the way to the Light of the world instead of one institutional beacon originating from the church.

Houston, We have a Problem
When the Apollo 13 space shuttle experienced major difficulties 200,000 miles from earth, Mission Control in Houston, Texas had to abort their plans and find a way to get the astronauts home safely. Suddenly, the emphasis changed from the flight to the moon to the fight for the men. They refused to let any of the men die even if they had to improvise.
In much the same way, the original plan in 1950’s to have a nice, comfortable church has shifted emphasis. Our focus is no longer on the institution but on the individuals who are forever lost unless we adjust our plans on how we are going to reach them.
We are not losing those men (women, children, teens, singles, unwed moms, etc.). We are not going to allow a single man, woman or child to miss out on the joy of being with Jesus for all eternity. That’s the mission we have. Anything less and we are just playing the kid’s game of dress up. To accomplish this mission re quires all the innovation we have, a great deal of sacrifice, and all of our collective efforts to fulfill. But we have one mission in life while we are waiting for Christ to return: to seek and to save [through Christ] those who are lost (Luke 19:10).
Matthew 28:18-20, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Emphasis added).

We have all been sent by God to go into our own cities and communities as missionaries who are culturally entrenched and personally involved. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”( John 20:21b.).
Francis Schaeffer understood this. He saw Christianity not as a private religion, but as a God-centered viewpoint that affects all of life. He wrote, “As Christians we are not only to know the right world view… but consciously to act upon that world view so as to influence society in all its parts and facets across the whole spectrum of life, as much as we can to the extent of our individual and collective ability” (How Should We Then Live, p. 256).
Our culture is now way beyond the days of Christian dominance—when the church was the center of the community and Christianity was the only respected religious affiliation. We have emerged with enlightenment through modernity when thoughts and ideas were changing but still attached to Judeo-Christian values and beliefs. Our society may not have obeyed God’s word but they believed it was God’s Word. We are now in the nebulous age of postmodernity where our culture (not the sub-culture of Christians) questions every belief and action and denies the validity of any truth. Postmodernity’s offspring will be mysticism and spirituality (but not Christianity) outside the walls of a church.
Houston, we have a problem…and the church must find new ways to bring its stranded space riders home. We are NOT losing any people to the pagan culture and philosophy. The church is still the plan of God to bring glory to Himself. But He is not referring to the bricks and mortar kind of church, but rather, the bride of Christ adorned in beauty and cleansed from any blemish ready to receive her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, when the two shall become one.
The culture around us sees the church rather, as a blow-up doll bride. We have all been sent by God to go into our own city and communities as missionaries who are culturally entrenched and personally involved. We must incarnate Christ’s life in order to impact this culture that is pagan in every way.
The church exists to proclaim the gospel in a relational way to the lost by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Mission Impossible
The mission that Christ has given to His disciples is to witness throughout the whole world (Acts 1:8). Imagine the setting. He told this to 120 people assembled in the upper room—His core group. He told them to witness to the entire world. Even with Internet, this is an impossible task. To the 120 people, they must have thought He had gone crazy to even suggest it. They were waiting for the punch line especially since He used a superlative, “to the ends of the earth.” That is like saying, “I love the whole world.” You can’t even spell some of their countries’ names, much less love them. You don’t really mean that. It is impossible.
If I told you that I wanted us to witness to everyone in America, you would think I was nuts. It can’t be done. I recently read about the largest church in America. It has over 25,000 attendees. They are going to lease the Compaq Center where the Houston Rockets used to play and seat 18,000 people in one service. The pastor wants to reach “100,000 people each week [who] can participate in a multitude of services and opportunities.” I don’t know how the church is even growing. The pastor reminds me of Mr. Rogers on valium. They are on an impossible mission, it seems.
But Jesus was serious. He wanted us to become a movement of people who would eventually impact the entire world with the message that Jesus is alive and sacrificed to give us eternal life by grace through faith.
So how is the mission possible?

Mission Possible
The mission is possible because we are not dependent upon our own power, ingenuity, creativity, genius, or resources. We are dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus didn’t ask us to be theologians; He asked us to be witnesses. I have seen eyewitnesses who couldn’t spell gingivitis (but were seriously afflicted) that were listened to attentively because they saw something and told about it (especially in Roswell, New Mexico).
The Greek word translated witnesses in Acts 1:8 is martures (the origination of the English word martyr). In the early church so many people died for their faith that the word meaning witness came to mean martyr.

The Spirit Wants the World for Christ
Christ could say that we would be witnesses to the ends of the earth because that is what the Spirit wants. He wants it more than we do.

The Spirit Uses Mankind to Witness for Christ
YOU shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon YOU; and YOU shall be witnesses to Me (emphasis added).

The Spirit Gives Power for World-Wide Witness
Luke 24:49 says what every church should say: “Stay put until you are filled.” We can’t be effective without the Holy Spirit, although we desperately try. When we act in faith to speak, serve and testify of Christ, He will give us a filling (Acts 4:8, 31; 13:9). The power of the Spirit is unleashed when we put our confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit and not in our own methodology.

When Jesus Visits Our Churches
The missional church expresses its faith in authentic, intimate, personal and relational service for the mission of Christ.
Jesus speaks to the Apostle John in Revelation chapters 2-3 to specifically address the seven churches in Asia. Jesus wants the churches to know that He is the one that searches the hearts and minds, and will repay each church according to their deeds (Rev 2:23).
If Jesus came into the church today, what would He say? And how would we respond? When He offered rebuke for the error of their ways, He asked the churches to listen and then to repent. Can a church become so arrogant that they would continue with business as usual?

Institutional Church
The Institutional Church is illustrated by the Churches of Pergamos and Thyatira (Rev. 2:12-29). The institutional church is unintentional about its mission to share Christ and unnatural in its absence of a witness.
Pergamos (Rev. 2:12-17) was the religious center of the province of Asia with pagan temples, prostitution and academic idolatry. They became heretical by allowing false doctrine and sinful conduct to become prevalent in their church.
Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29) was located in the Roman province of Asia and had become a liberal church because it tolerated sin (especially sexual) and false prophets. They did good deeds, had persevered and had a growing ministry but were about to be punished for their unfaithfulness.

Evangelical Church
The Evangelical church is illustrated by the Churches of Ephesus and Laodicea (Rev. 2:1-7; 3:14-21). The evangelical church is intentional about sharing Christ but in an unnatural way (programmatically).
Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7) was a large city church that had become habitual in their beliefs and unloving in their relationships. They had served faithfully and had endured sound doctrine but they left their first love. They were more in love with their ministry than they were in love with God and with people. Jesus recommended that they repent or He would close their doors.
Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-21) was a proud and wealthy city whose church had become lukewarm about their pursuit of God. Jesus had nothing nice to say about this church but warned them to repent of their smug, self-sustaining approach to the church and to the Christian life.

Missional Church
The missional church is illustrated by the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia (Rev. 2:8-11; 3:7-13). The missional church is both intentional about sharing Christ and natural. The expressions of our witness are born in relationships.
Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11) was an important port city in Asia. It was the center for Emperor Worship that led them to be the persecuted church. Jesus praised them for their spiritual richness in spite of being financially poor and for their works of faith in spite of being persecuted. He had nothing negative to say about this church and asked them to continue being faithful until death. A church that is faithful to the mission of Christ will be persecuted!
Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13) was a wealthy trade center in Asia and remained faithful as a church. They worked hard for God, endured hardship, were slandered and remained patient. Jesus praised them for keeping His word and proclaiming His name and promised to protect them from trials and to demonstrate His love to them. A church that proclaims Jesus and His Word as being preeminent will face trials from the evil doers of Satan.

Dead Church
One other church was mentioned in the letter to the seven churches but is not listed on the three types of churches chart because it was already dead. Some churches are considered dead by Jesus (not by their lack of success) because they are completely without mission. Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6) was a highly immoral community that was infested with pagan worship and was considered by Jesus to be a dead church. They had experienced some success on a worldly scale and thus did not know they were already dead. Nevertheless, they had some among their body who had remained unspotted from their degradation and would be rewarded by God. They must repent immediately or be obliterated as a church. Jesus notices those who are faithful to Him even if their church is not.

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