In the first chapter of his book Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), Darrel Guder states that there is a crisis in the North American church today resulting from the exiting of modernity into a pluralistic, privatized, and individualistic religion that seems to be leading to lower church attendance, loss of genuine spirituality, and widespread confusion about the message of Jesus Christ — as well as, I would say, growing biblical and theological illiteracy among believers (please check out www.spu.edu/cbte).
Taking Guder’s premise to be true, we can’t ignore his conclusion that the solution to this crisis will not be found in method or problem solving. Since the problems are spiritual and theological in nature, a hard look into the nature of the Church’s being will need to take place.
One of those looks into the Church is whether the Church is a place or a people. Guder says that we typically think of the Church as a “place where certain things happen.” This is illustrated when we speak of “going to church,” or “attending church,” or “belonging to a church.”
These statements all make the building in which we worship the central place for “church” to take place. What Guder argues is that we should move away from the Church as place and redefine the Church as community, a gathered people, a sent people, brought together by a common calling.
If we who make up the Church understand ourselves as a sent people, as a missional people, a missional Church, we will challenge today’s norm that promotes an individual-centered church experience.
Being a missional people requires that we be on mission together, with God at the center of who we are as a people. This is how we understand how we fit in with the Missio Dei, or sent of God.
In a broad stroke, if God’s mission is to redeem all people, all places, all creation, then, as a missional Church, our mission is to engage and participate with that mission at all costs. At all costs!
What Gifts Will We Bring?
The way we understand what it means to engage the mission of God as a missional Church is found for us back in Psalm 72:10:
“May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.”
In Luke 2, we see that shepherds brought gifts to the Savior, the King of kings, in their rightful service to him. It may seem insignificant that these were only shepherds, but wasn’t David only a shepherd when the prophet Samuel came to anoint him as king?
Therefore, the significance of the shepherds has been elevated, understanding that the lowest among us have become the greatest — kings even — and the greatest have come to bring gifts to the King. The shepherds are like the kings of Sheba who bring gifts to the king of Psalm 72.
So the question is this: what gift will we, as shepherds of the Mission of God, bring the King? What gift will we bring to Jesus Christ that will honor him both as the Lord who gives us remission of sins and as the Lord who has anointed us as partners in his mission?
I submit to you that it is this: that we present ourselves as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) — sacrifices of broken and contrite hearts (Psalm 51:17) that pour out before him any impediments that prevent us from committing ourselves to the Mission of God, that prevent us from becoming the Missional Church. This sacrifice Jesus will not despise — Jesus will in fact rejoice in creating in us a clean heart and renewing in us a right spirit that will align with his will for a Missional Church in this world.
- Raoul Perez