A lot of people are talking about missional, asking what the term means and how ministry can be missional. The discussion is widely diverse. Those who are progressive and those who are orthodox or evangelical have differing opinions. I often think about this in terms of conversations that started almost twenty years ago in what at the time was called “cult ministry.”
It was that conversation that changed, for many of us, the name cult ministry to “ministry to New Religions. That is because the conversation was about not only keeping boundaries in the Church, keeping out false teaching, but it was also about winning members of the various new groups to Jesus Christ. It is hard to introduce a person to Jesus Christ when you have just stated they belong to a cult.
But as can be expected the various sides in the debate took a wide range of views. And those in ministry were faced with complex issues; it is always like that. There is a progressive side in the debate. They are the people who are usually religious studies researchers, teachers and journalist combined with an unhelpful view of who Jesus Christ is. They often become detractors to those engaged in ministry.
They believe one should only write about what people believe from a sociological or cultural anthropological view.
But there is a part of their activity that is very helpful to those engaged in ministry. That is they provide studies of various groups that help the Christian understand what the New Religions believe. And much more than that they often provide statistical and even psychological information which helps those in ministry understand why people become involved in some groups.
Yet because of unbelief or pluralism they also engage in their own kind of error.
On the other end of this spectrum are those who would only write about false teaching. They didn’t and don’t major on how to lead the lost to Jesus Christ. And generally they don’t write or participate in any activity that is evangelistic.
Some are very concerned to both evangelize and help others understand error. A friend and his wife in the past have held neighborhood book studies where they were often the only Christians. At the same time he runs a wonderful ministry Apologia Report. Boundary keeping, evangelism and missional thinking are not exclusive terms.
I see the progressives in the Church talking about missional in terms of social justice activity and since many progressives, not all, are pluralist they are probably not interested in seeing others come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I believe they would like others to see Jesus as a good man, someone to model, to have him lifted up as important, but they would not evangelize. (I realize this is not true of all.)
On the other hand are those who are orthodox and evangelical and are involved in the renewal of the Church. Most of these people, including myself, want to see others come to Jesus Christ, they are praying for conversion in the Church but they are also standing against the errors engulfing the Church. And then there are the missional groups whose main concern is finding ways for the Church to participle in mission in our culture. They really want to do mission. They mostly want to find ways to tell others about Jesus Christ.
Generally both progressive and orthodox understand that Christian calling includes helping the needy and the oppressed. But if the progressive, but missional minded, consider mission only social justice, and the orthodox and evangelical consider missional reaching out to the lost with the good news of forgiveness through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there will be conflict. There has to be conflict. There should be conflict. Jesus Christ is the defining term here. How he is viewed will determine what missional means.
So, as I have said in another place both the orthodox missional groups and the orthodox renewal groups need to have both Christian apology (defending the truth) and evangelism (speaking to the lost) in their heart and at their core. One may major more on one aspect or another but in such trying times both missional ministry and renewal ministry are needed.