So, I’m testing the theory. This summer, I’m trying to enter into as many conversations I can where church people don’t really go. We might like to go there and get their people to come to our church, but that’s not my motive. I’m not interested in growing the membership. I’m interested in how Christians live out their faith missionally. Or maybe without the buzzword. I’m asking the same question each time: what are the spiritual needs in this place? I’m trying really hard not to ask how we can help because right now I’m interested in the stories. I’m trying to understand where God is moving in this place at this time.
Last year, the Olympia Presbytery asked our churches to read a book. And I tried. Really I did. Especially after one of my very sage and extremely well-read church members bought me a copy of Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, Why it Matters, How to Become One. But, I hated it. So it sat on my shelf half-read for the better part of a year until I decided to pick it up again when I started to get excited about this missional transformation thing they keep talking about around here in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
According to Roxburgh and Boren, missional is “an invitation for people to consider a new way of being church.” That sounds like anything remotely related to church right now. We’re trying to figure out some new way of doing the same old thing and there are thousands upon thousands of buzzwords that try to define what that thing is. Missional is just another one of those silly words that pretentious pastors say to each other and then nod earnestly. But, buzzwords don’t make a leader.
This still isn’t saying much to me. And perhaps this is why I gave up reading this book last year. I was frustrated by this thing that was trying to define itself by what it is not. It’s not mission trips or some new outreach program. It’s not a label to describe a new model for church growth or some newfangled way to reconfigure the way our church’s staff, building or government works. Great. What the heck is it then? Roxburgh and Boren describe it as a river where one wades in to find a way to flow with the current so that it’s more like a way of being. And it’s this that interests me about being missional. Because we need to figure out what it looks like to be ourselves. We need our own way of being that isn’t caught up in buzzwords but in the ways that we engage the world. It’s why I asked the church to read David Kinnaman’s unChristian this July in our Summer Reads. Because we bump into these attitudes all of the time and it’s easy to dismiss them or argue with them or insist, “Oh, but we’re not like that.” But, maybe we’re wrong. Maybe they (those outsiders out there) know us better than we know ourselves. Right?