By Mark D. Roberts –
When I first heard the theme of The Fellowship Community’s 2017 National Gathering – “Deep and Wide: Making Missional Disciples” – I said to myself, “Excellent. Just what we need. Right on.”
But, as I’ve reflected on this theme, I’ve worried a bit about the word “missional.” This word as a description of the church and its disciples goes back many decades, but was popularized in the 1990s by a group known as the Gospel and Culture Network. Darrell Guder, a PC(USA) professor and one of the leaders of the Network, edited the excellent and influential book, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. In this book, Guder and his fellow writers offer a compelling, biblically-inspired vision of the church sent by God into the world to do God’s kingdom work.
Over time, it seemed that Guder and his colleagues succeeded in popularizing the term “missional,” yet the theological clarity which they had shown in Missional Church and other key writings was not well preserved. In fact, a few years ago when I was visiting Guder at Princeton Seminary, he lamented to me that people today use “missional” for just about anything the church does or wants to do.
“Missional” had lost its edge, Guder feared, especially its biblical distinctiveness.
I believe Guder was right. “Missional” seems sometimes to mean both everything and nothing. But I’m not ready to abandon the word. More importantly, I’m not ready or willing to abandon the crucial theology it encapsulates. I still believe that the church should be essentially missional and that the missional church should indeed make missional disciples. But our understanding of mission must be shaped by the biblical story of God’s mission and the biblical call to the church and its disciples to be missional in all we do.
If we’re going to be truly missional, therefore, we need to discover, grapple with, embrace, and be transformed by the biblical sense of “missional.”
We need to see, celebrate, and participate in the mission of God. We need to hear and respond faithfully to our calling to be missional people, people sent by God to share in his mission in the world. Our individual lives, our leadership, and our churches must be shaped by the missional vision of Scripture if, indeed, we are to make missional disciples.
There are many different ways to get into the biblical discussion of mission. You can start from almost any place in Scripture, including the prophets of the Old Testament or the kingdom proclamation of Jesus. But I have found that one of the most engaging and fruitful starting points for a missional conversation is the New Testament Letter to the Ephesians. As I spent the last five years writing a commentary on Ephesians, now part of the Story of God series published by Zondervan, I was impressed again and again by how much the whole of this letter is shaped by the mission of God. Moreover, our life as believers should be profoundly shaped by this mission, as should be our life together as the church, the body of Christ.
I look forward to being the Bible teacher at the National Gathering, leading us in a deep dive into Ephesians, so that we might grasp the awesome depth and breadth of God’s mission, as well as the compelling mission to which God has called us, both individually and together.
If you want to begin reflecting on what Ephesians has to offer, you may consider three crucial verses, the “tens” of chapters 1, 2, and 3. “[This is mystery of God’s will] to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (1:10). “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:10). “[God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (3:10).