Back on May 4, 2009, Jonathan Brink wrote an insightful post on the missional-attractional debate. In it, he concludes that both processes are part of a holistic overall movement exemplified by Jesus in his earthly ministry.
Jesus began by inviting people inward. He attracted people to Himself. And then for three years Jesus did all of the speaking, invited his disciples to participate in only a few of the outward elements, and he modeled for them what they were to do. He focused on a small group of people. But then and only after THREE YEARS Jesus sent them OUT, which is more missional. He avoided the leadership trap and released them. Their responsibility was the Great Commission, or to go and make more disciples.
I learned about this post when my co-conspirator, Prib, sent me the link, suggesting it provides insight needed in our current ministry transformation. I agree fully. Cogitating on Jonathan Brink’s ideas and the state of our ministry, I began to wonder what we ought to focus on during this early stage.
As we relax on the couches, refreshing beverage in one hand, Bible in the other, and truth-seeking dialogue tangentizing among us, what is the point? As we gather around the table, fresh bread and olive oil-balsamic in the middle, good Italian fare for all, and good friends all ’round, what is the point? Why does this small band gather?
We gather to learn engagement. Gathering over Word and bread, we learn to think biblically and theologically, developing a core of increasingly committed brothers and sisters. Here we figure out what God’s truth looks like in life, the mental, physical, and emotional. What makes the difference between engagement and stagnation? Intention. Are we intending to grow our knowledge and deepen our skill so that we might more adequately image Christ in the world?
We gather to learn passion. Too often we assume passion will fall upon us like a deep emotion triggered by sight or aroma. But passion is not an emotion; passion is a mental and volitional decision, made more intense by emotion. Learning to think biblically, theologically, and honestly begins to uncover the values that hinder a decision to be passionate. Putting flesh on our biblical and theological thinking–meaning, doing God’s work with our bodies–trains our flesh in God’s ways. Doing this together, in the presence of holy provocation (Heb 10:23-25), results in the love and good works that accompany true passion.
We gather to make space for growth. Three sets of skills make space for growth. First, biblical and theological thinking develops the deep communal roots that anchor and nurture a growing community. Much of this work occurs before any growth is apparent. In the early days, it must be kept in mind that the roots exist to nurture and support the stem, leaves, and fruit; the roots do not exist for themselves. Still, both parts are required and we dare not neglect the roots.
Second, embodied communal practices strengthen and make explicit our relational connections. All those in Christ are necessarily connected. Living out God’s truth together in ordinary life displays these connections before us and the world. This display of authentic love is the best evidence of our trust in and commitment to Christ (John 13:34-35).
Third, intentional communal formation makes space for the development of the go-skills required for growth. Go-skills are not learned best in a three-week evangelism course; they are best learned as we encourage and correct one another in order that all may increase Spirit-leakage and bold proclamation. Spirit-leakage occurs when our openness and submission to God’s work in our hearts begins to leak out in our lives. Bold proclamation occurs when our love for Jesus finally over powers our fear of looking foolish or being persecuted and pours forth in our words.
So, our small band of brothers and sisters, head out on an adventure we do not yet understand. In the coming weeks, we take our first few halting steps, learning to listen and respond to the Spirit and one another, growing deep roots, deciding to be passionate, and making space for growth.