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Missional, Missions-Oriented or Both?

We are living in rapidly changing times. We’ve experienced a philosophical shift—from modern worldview to postmodern and post-Christian worldview. There’s been an economic shift as well—from regional marketplace to global marketplace. And a technological shift—from a simple electronic age to one where information is gathered, disseminated and processed at the speed of light.

Another major cultural shift is the role of church in western culture, particularly in the United States. This has some people wondering if Christianity will be relevant in the new millennium.

While these statistics are discouraging, I am encouraged by a new movement to view the United States as a mission field. A rising number of churches are being planted with an emphasis on being missional—organizing the entire church around the principle of being “on mission” with God.

The outgrowth of this new awareness has been the church’s incarnational presence in local community: serving neighbors, ministering to the poor, seeking social justice—all in the name of Jesus. This has been a much-needed corrective to those churches that never take the gospel beyond the walls of their Sunday morning teaching and worship.

However, something has happened in our desire to reach our local communities: Some new missional churches have lost sight of God’s global mission.*

Last year I discussed this at length with Ed Stetzer, missiologist at Lifeway Research, who agrees. In his blog entry on the topic, he noted, “In relating God’s mission, the message increasingly includes the hurting but less frequently includes the global lost. . . . Many are focusing on being good news rather than telling good news.”

As a church planter, I can relate. After a trip to Taiwan and Vietnam last year, I began to think much more strategically and creatively about becoming missional in a missions context. Here are a few practical steps that I used, and that might help other church leaders too.

  1. Take a vision trip. If all we focus on is our local setting, we may lose perspective. I would recommend one mission trip a year for pastors and leaders. ReachGlobal has great opportunities to connect and partner with our world missionaries.
  2. Adopt a nation or people. Bob Roberts (pastor of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas) requires his new church plants to partner with or plant a church in another nation.
  3. Get involved with a cross-cultural ministry. A friend of mine started ministering to Indonesians from his church plant. A few years later, when one of his student friends returned to Indonesia, my friend’s church was able to plant a daughter church in the country because of the relationship established here in the States.
  4. Re-emphasize “Glocal.” This is a term describing the global-local connection—building awareness, at all levels of the church, of what God’s doing worldwide.

While the United States is in a major shift, the challenge for the church is to remain steady on God’s mission both here—in our neighborhoods—and abroad.

*As part of the discussion, we must also be careful not to swing the pendulum the opposite extreme. I once served at a church that celebrated God’s global mission (with annual missions conferences and adopting of people groups)—and rightly so. Yet at the same time it struggled with local church planting, reaching different ethnic groups in its community and equipping members for local missions. It must be a both-and. Both sides can be spurred to greater effectiveness by listening to each other and—more importantly—listening to the voice and heart of God.

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