Who Are You A Missionary To? Why the Church Needs to be Missional Again


Last week I wrote an article entitled Changing a Culture of Sex and Promiscuity in which I dealt with the culture of sex which is rampant in Peru. We asked questions like: “How do we respond? What do we say? How can we be a part of the change?” After talking about reestablishing the culture of God, I left you with a thought: “I believe missional communities are the only way a “sojourner and exile” generation can be raised up “to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your [their] soul.” 1 Peter 2:11.” Today and tomorrow I want to explain why.

Most of my desire to learn more about missional communities stemmed from a thirst for wanting more. I was dissatisfied with the motions of, but lack of commitment to, the Christian life and it really bothered me. I am positive a lot of my dissatisfaction was a result of my own insecurities and judgement. However, there was some stuff that had nothing to do with me. For example, many times when I would go to Church, I noticed several people were more focused on doodling, staring off into space, and falling asleep than they were with the worship time or sermon. It is true, there were the few among the many, who were there experiencing the presence of God. However, based upon the actions of many of those in Church I think I would have a hard time “convincing” someone Jesus lives, especially if they have never been to Church before.

Why is that?

Let me start by being clear that I am not one of those people, who says “forget the Church.” What I have been trying to do is to reconcile in my heart, my love for the Church (It can be a road block, as I have written here), while at the same time recognizing what we may be “doing” is not quite working.

So if we look at our modern age of sociology, anthropology, and psychology, we have largely defined words such as culture, subculture, society, and community. We have created definitions and descriptions in order to explain the phenomenon we experience walking down the street, or talking to someone from another country. We begin to categorize, and explain these things to try to better understand the world as a whole, and people as individuals.

(Bear with me through the next paragraph, because you may already know what is covered, but just in case, I need to set the framework).

Culture can be loosely defined as the place where you and I learn specific human behavior. Although I don’t agree with many of his thoughts, in his book, Primitive Culture, published in 1871, English Anthropologist Edward B. Tylor said that culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Great definition. Within our culture we have little pocket cultures called subcultures that define us more individually. So, society (large context) and community (more specific context) is where those cultures and subcultures express themselves and interact.

Now, you may ask, “What does this have to do with the Church and a missional community?” Everything.

Within our cultures, subcultures, societies, and communities we find our identity. For those that don’t believe in Jesus, they find their identity in other places, like their sports team, family, country, district, or gang. However, for those, who believe in Christ, and who He says He is, we must recognize that all those “things” which give us our identity, must be submissive first to the culture of God.

What is the culture of God? That is a good question to ask yourself. Have you thought about this before?

My definition of God’s culture is Mark 12:29-31 and Matthew 28:18-20. How I should think, believe, create, act, treat, do, etc, can be encompassed in those six verses. Those six verses are a result of a Perfect Sacrifice, Grace, and Love. In fact, so much so that we are required to respond because God’s culture requires obedience. These are commandments and not suggestions.

As I was thinking and praying through the different “nonbelievers” that God puts on my heart, I realized that currently many of the “churches” out there won’t change anything in the person that “needs” the change. Why? Well, the institution is not structured or set up to do that. (Obviously God does the changing in a person, but I am talking about the community with which most Christians identify, the Church).

In fact I do not believe the church, as an institution, was ever intended to be the complete change mechanism or tool for the change of a person into becoming a Christian. Church was designed to uplift and encourage the believer, not evangelize to the nonbelievers. Take some time and look throughout Acts. When the believers fellowshipped before God, together, it was to encourage one another in unity so in that way they could go out to the broken and needy surrounding them. Furthermore, they did all of this in the context of communal living.

Complete obedience to God’s culture is described in missional community circles as, “up, in, and out.” Here is how Mike Breen, a guy actually doing and writing about missional communities, describes it, “the group [the community] balances its energies between an upward movement towards God, an inward movement toward the MC [missional community] as a place of identity, and an outward movement to represent Christ to their mission context. (“Launching Missional Communities – a Field Guide”)

When I read statements like that, I can’t help but feel my heart leap in my chest. This is exactly what a Body is supposed to be and do. Sure, churches that do Bible studies, community groups, soup kitchens, Awana, Upwards, women’s events, and men’s events, (to name a few things) get part way there. We even have reports that trend all of these percentages and issues in the Church. Yet if all these things give someone the opportunity to live in partial obedience, isn’t that most likely what will happen? If it gives people an opportunity to go in the bubble and keep on living an ordinary life, is it really serving God’s purpose? Remember, I am not talking about the fringes in our congregations, I am addressing the average. I can find you plenty of people, who love Jesus and are serving in all capacities. Unfortunately, I can show you many more, who aren’t even interested. I most certainly used to be one of them.

My goal here is not to convict you or convince you that you and your Church are doing something wrong. My hope is that the idea of a missional community might redefine your idea of what the Church was originally designed to be. It is not to assimilate little cookie cutter Christians, that clap on the off beat. It is to tell the world about Jesus Christ.

That means going out. That means MAKING DISCIPLES. That means people are going to get baptized.

Shaun Wissmann is a missionary in Peru along with his wife. Be sure to check out their website Called to Peru. To stay up-to-date on all things THEOLOGY21, give our Facebook page a ganter here.

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  • I have a question: I must say it sounds like you have read much of the Resurgence material, are you more inclined to use the word “missional” because you have read what they have written/spoke on or is it something that you truly feel convicted about? Just curious is all. By they way, I truly appreciate everyone who rights for theology21 site. By the way read a book called “Total Church:” A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community” by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.

  • Hey Shawn! (Good name!)

    Sorry it took so long to write back. I actually have not read very much Resurgence material at all. I have read one book on Church Leadership, and another book about M. Driscoll’s church growth. I would say that the whole idea of a missional community to me came more with Shane Claiborne. When he wrote his book, “missional community” was actually called “new monasticism.” Same principles, different vocabulary.

    Also, thanks for your question, and graciously calling my bluff. Is this guy serious or is he regurgitating everything he is reading?

    To answer your question, I am convicted of it. My wife and I are trying to live it. The only reason I am even using “missional community” is because it is a bubble phrase that is going around the Christian circle. I also think it is the easiest way to express the idea that I am trying to express. I do believe that my definition might be different than most, but we are still using similar platforms when we speak.

    Concerning the Re: books, I personally love a great deal of Mars Hills teachings. I love them, respect them, and I KNOW that God is doing a great deal through them. In many ways I wish their Doctrines book was in Spanish, so I could pass a few out to various leaders that we meet along the trail.

    However, they are largely writing in a Church context from what I understand. More specifically a mega-church context. I don’t envision a mega-church in my ministry. That is not me saying that there is something wrong with a mega-church. I am saying I am not personally called to plant one. In many ways they explain the phenomenon they are experiencing in their churches as community, and it might be. I think that this will be defined by replication of leaders, very communal living, and most importantly true disciples. I would have to go and find out. One thing I appreciate from anything I have seen in their writings, is the attitude of making sure that the audience is listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance in their ministry.

    I personally believe I am called to go house to house, playing video games, eating food, connecting, and in those seeds discipleship begins to happen. Not only do we dedicate time to teaching the Bible, we dedicate time into praying, serving, communicating, confronting, listening, and LIVING together. The definition of community.

    I try to describe it like the most recent Incredible Hulk movie. If you have seen it, there is a part when they look at the Hulk blood cells under the microscope. When it gets aggravated it multiples like crazy, and then blows up and out. That is what I envision, and am working towards in a community aspect. Not in. Out.

    We are not nearly close to getting it right, but we are trying to make strides in it. We are about making disciples, and we are learning about how to do that everyday. The most difficult thing in that, is are those disciples “getting it,” and are they getting it enough to replicate it?

    I’ve gone on a rabbit trail haven’t I? Well, hopefully, this will help, along with my article tomorrow. Blessings.


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