Missional Church is Hard. So is Being a Martian...
How do we live life "on mission" the way Jesus and the Apostles did? How do we recapture the spirit of the Incarnation in the manner we present Jesus to the world? How do we become fully integrated into our local community instead of feeling like aliens from a distant planet?
I suspect this isn’t the case in some other parts of the United States, but here on the West Coast, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly in Sonoma County, being a Christian (the committed kind, not just a Sunday pew-warmer) often feels like being a Martian. We’re aliens from another planet, trying to pose as Humans in order to fool the local populace. But once the natives hang around us too long and our Martian-ness starts to peep out, whoa…time for the freak out!
There are two ways to grapple with this conundrum. Some people get so comfortable pretending to be Martians-that-look-like-Humans that nobody can tell they’re anything but regular Humans. Other people set aside times to go act overtly Martian and speak Martian-ese to passerbys in the public square. They might even find a few people interested in hearing this strange language from another planet, but most people are simply going to get scared and run away.
But is there a third way? YES! The buzzword-du-jour in the forward-thinking wing of Christianity (I know, I know, it’s hard to imagine but yes, there really is one!) is Missional. How do we grow to be a Missional Church? How do we live life “on mission” the way Jesus and the Apostles did? How do we recapture the spirit of the Incarnation in the manner we present Jesus to the world?
In other words, is there a way to tell folks “Yep, I’m a Martian all right. But don’t be afraid! We come in peace, we mean you no harm!” and then actually talk about Martian things in Human-ese so that mere mortals can understand them? Is there a way for our Martian-ness to intrigue people rather than scare them off? Can we really be Martians in a Human world and develop deep friendships and lasting connections?
Those are noble aspirations, to be sure, and they echo many of the more successful evangelism efforts we see in traditional church circles. But I still see a problem. This whole line of thinking presupposes that, at the end of the day, we really are aliens, no matter how hard we try to befriend the natives.
Is this even true? Are we really Martians, so to speak? Or have Christians gone way overboard on the concept that we’re all simply “sojourners in a foreign land” and Earth is not our home?
Like so many things related to the deeper Christian life, I suspect the some of the answers to these questions lie less in what we say and do and more in how we live day by day. The real mission we need to embark upon is cultivating an authentic experience of God, one that transcends mere religious devotion or ceremony.
The Word of God, Jesus Christ, is still incarnate today, in you and I – those who are in Him.
If you believe this, how does that begin to change your posture toward the “Presence of God?”
The more you receive your Oneness in Christ, and submit to Live from His Life, the more you will notice, and feel disconnected from statements that would indicate any separation from God.
“Lord, we invite Your Presence.”
“We just want Your Presence.”
“The Presence of the Lord was really strong tonight.”
These, and others like them, are heard in prayers, worship songs and in the speech of Christians.
While there is certainly nothing harmful or wrong with these, they nevertheless reveal a lack of seeing the reality of the depths of the Lord’s Life. They make the Lord’s Presence something to be achieved or worked for. They make God’s Presence something “up there,” or otherwise not here, and therefore to be invited, conjured, called, waited for, etc. They make the Lord’s Presence an occasion to be experienced more than a Life-reality to be One with.
Chase goes on to state:
The epic Psalm 139 captures this beautifully when it cries:
“O where can I flee from Your Presence?” (Psalm 139:7)
He is everywhere. All the time. And He has never stopped calling “Where are you?” after His Beloved.
But even David didn’t quite have the whole picture, the rest of the Beautiful Story. He saw before His time that God was indeed what Isaiah would call, Immanuel, God with us. But when Immanuel Himself, Jesus Christ, became a Life-giving Spirit, He moved into a realm beyond that of with us, into a reality of God in us. Now, when the Lord calls for us, He calls from within. He beckons our eyes of faith re-opened, to see what already is.
God with us. God in us. God through us.
If that’s true, and I think it is, then maybe we’ve been getting it all wrong. We’re not aliens from another planet. We’re humans after all. And we don’t need to travel to a far-off world to find our Maker. He’s already traveled here. He’s already taken up residence…not in a temple or in a capital but here…in our very beings. We carry the presence of God with us, everywhere we go.
That definitely sounds to me to be more exciting, and more rewarding, than simply pretending to be Human all the time or—worse—frightening poor folk with scary displays of Martian-ness.
And that’s the core of learning what it means to be Missional. We don’t need to bring people to church, bring people to Jesus. We are the Church. And, in a sense, we are Jesus.
It’s an epic responsibility. Steward it wisely.