Pop Culture Missiology and the Romanticism of Missional Living (Part 2 of 2)

As to what I meant in the first post concerning the “gritty, ancient ordinariness of missional living.” I will tackle this with two answers, a “bible-answer” and some reflections from my personal journey. “Bible answer” first.

V&A_-_Raphael,_The_Death_of_Ananias_(1515)_thumb[6]I think you could go back to Luke-Acts and catch a glimpse of the ancient ordinariness of missional living. Jesus taught daily in gatherings, specifically the Temple (Luke 4:15; 19:47; 21:37) and so did the disciples (Acts 4:42-44; 5:42). Jesus fellowshipped with the poor (Luke 7:21-23; 12:33) and so did the disciples (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 6:1; 9:36). Jesus embraced table fellowship (Luke 7:34-50; 9:16; 22:19; 24:30) and so did the disciples (Luke 10:7; Acts 2:46; 20:7). Jesus proclaimed the kingdom and went about doing good (Luke 4:41-43; Acts 10:38) and so did the disciples (Acts 8:12-13).

This brief sketch highlights the practice of presence through word and deed; proclamation and demonstration. Consequently, missional living is a way of being in the world that necessarily translates into a different way of doing life in the world. Central to this particular way of being and doing is gracious hospitality. After all, our church fathers and mothers seemed to choose gracious hospitality as their way of being in the world. They were faithful to the pursuit of hospitality and welcoming one another as Christ had welcomed them.

226438_1652925454789_1586631795_31219270_7154124_nNow for some examples from my own journey. I believe that practicing the ancient ordinariness of missional living begins by learning to see one’s self as a gracious host in all relationships at all times. More practically speaking, it is about offering your undivided presence with anyone at anytime in any way to listen and serve. It can look like meals, coffee breaks, grill outs, parties, helping the old lady across the street, cutting her grass–serving folks right where they are because you’re an ambassador of a different new age breaking-in. If you are me, it looks like asking your introverted wife to bake her scrumptious chocolate chess pies for your neighbors (she is an introvert) while you deliver them (I am less introverted). It looks like visiting your neighbor’s father in the hospital after hearing he fell. It looks something like getting others in your faith community involved in preparing meals for your pregnant co-worker so you can take them to her the next day. It looks like finding out what your co-worker’s favorite snacks are and surprising them anonymously at their cubicle. It might look like you and your missional community getting together to replant a neighbor’s garden that died with her husband. Either way, the ordinariness of missional living is both gritty and simple. It is hard, but not complicated.

The ancient ordinariness of missional living also looks like maintaining a posture of listening and less talking. It looks like coming together in your faith community to ask and discern questions like, “who might God be calling me/us to love” and “who might God be calling to love me/us?” It looks like believing that no one is lost on God and that He is faithfully at work in His world.

I would suggest that the ancient ordinariness of missional living can be described most succinctly by rooting one’s self in a beloved community committed to do the hard work of living into the “one another” texts of Scripture. Self-giving love, gracious hospitality, forgiveness, reconciliation, humble confession, honesty, encouragement and hope become the guiding values of a life lived together in Jesus’ name. Even when the days are long you still choose to show up wherever your community gathers. Even when everyone’s kiddos are buck-freaking wild, including your own, you press on together. When your brother in Christ believes something completely off the kingdom wall, you learn to love him in honest humility and fix your eyes on the common life you share, not the differences you bear. Yes, the gritty ancient ordinariness of missional living will often look like wrestling together, sometimes with one another, about what it means to be citizens of a kingdom that is breaking-in while living among other competing kingdoms and doing so in such a way that God’s kingdom becomes tangible to all in, through and among you.

imageThen who knows, the ancient ordinariness of missional living might grow into looking like a group of you stepping down into the woods, befriending a homeless man and together walking with him from homelessness to self-sustainability. It might grow to look like 20 intellectually disabled men and women recently asked by a few other churches to not come back finally finding a home with your church family.

None of this is sexy. It is all messy. It is gritty. It is real. It is hard, but not complicated. It is simple. Because of God’s grace it is possible. It aligns with the missional impulses of the ancient faith from which we were born. After all, we did not invent the mission of God nor can we manufacture it. We are only participants who have discovered life with a holy trinitarian God and it changes how we live. No longer are we focused on self-assertive independence, rather we embrace self-giving love in and through beloved community in the gritty ordinariness of every day life.

About Fred

I am a follower of Jesus, the husband to Alison Glenn, daddy to my little man Ian. I am a son, brother, friend, bi-vocational pastor of Williamsburg Christian Church, ethnographer, activist and justice seeker, founder and president of 3e Restoration Inc, adjunct professor at Regent University, and mission specialist of church renewal with Mission Alive. I received my B.S. in Ministry/Bible at Amridge University and my Masters of Religious Education in Missional Leadership (MREML) from Rochester College. I am currently working toward my Doctorate of Ministry in Contextual Theology at Northern Seminary.
This entry was posted in Christian living, Church, Social Justice, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Pop Culture Missiology and the Romanticism of Missional Living (Part 2 of 2)

  1. Well said, in both posts. Reminds me of St. Theresa “Little Way” which flies in the face of the American lust for the next big thing. The problem is not that missional-living is so mysterious or requires rare skills, but that it isn’t about me and doesn’t promise me attention, glory, or tangible trophies. It requires I love people and be available to them when I want to avoid the full weight of loving my neighbor. I’d rather squirm out of it by asking “Who is my neighbor?” and settling for a reduced level of faithfulness that fits in my schedule. Thanks for blowing that up for me for a while until I can get my mental defense reconstructed.

  2. J Bailey says:

    I have avidly avoided using terms like missional because it has a connotation that can alienate people because those who consider themselves living missionally do so in a narrowly defined way. As someone who has committed their life to serving marginalized and oppressed people groups I could easily define my lifestyle as missional. However, a narrow vision of what missional living is hinders seeing the broadened beauty of what it means to live a life on a mission committed to loving God and others well.

    There seems to be little common ground between those who are radical and those who are ordinary. There is a misguided yet subtle rhetoric in church culture that ministry is the highest order of following Jesus and everyone else is a commoner. My conscious used to be a space where I thought that all people should be radical in their pursuits. That we should all be in some sort of ministry as it is narrowly defined. That was shattered over time when I realized that there is not a higher level of ministry and a lower level of ministry. One is not greater than another. And our greatest mistake is constantly overlooking that to live a missional life means simply to pursue the mission Jesus commanded us to embark upon. We don’t all need to move into certain neighborhoods or become a pastor to wholeheartedly serve God. We need to simply make what we do intentioanl.

    I have friends that look down on what they do because they are in business and therefore can’t make as much difference as me. I cry BS on that one every single time. Rob Bell puts it perfectly in his talk Poets, Prophets, and Preachers when he describes business in it’s essence as biblical and an original concept born out of relationship with God. Business is the ordering of things, naming them, structuring them, and making them work. It’s a beautiful movement of multiple parts. Just like sex is meant to be beautiful but has been turned into entitlement and control, so has the Godly ordering of things been turned into power and greed. Churches should be to commune and encourage one another but we treat them like a mission field. My friends in the world of business have incredible opportunities to graciously share the gospel in word and, more importantly, action.

    Not sure if my rambling was on topic, but this is what came to mind.

    • Fred says:

      I agree bro. It is the chasm between the “radical” and “ordinary” that needs to be done away with. I am afraid that our penchant toward the heroic with all of our grand stories of redemption is what often causes people to think, “I can never do that. I can never be missional.” Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and deeply appreciate the grand stories. They exist. Both you and I in our particular spheres of life have seen these. But I wished we would tell the daily stories. I am not sure folks would read them but it would be nice to tell them. Or better yet, I wished would frame missional living in such a way that the business man or woman would know they can live a good story by loving their neighbor/co-worker in meaningful, tangible ways. And they can do so by learning to live with God attentively in community, develop listening practices, and embrace a lifestyle of gracious hospitality where they intentionally aim to simply be present with others. This is a good place to start because when God moves or prompts, they will know and join Him there. In my view, this is what it means to embrace missional living and to participate with God in His work in His world.

  3. You are on to something in these two posts. There is a major strain that pushes the radical language and I think you observe a key problem. The way of radical mission easily misses the gritty, messy stuff of the everyday. The Christian story, however, brings us back to the ordinary. Each week we gather around a table and break bread and drink wine. Communion reminds us that the Christian life begins as we eat and drink at the table of the Lord.

    And this ordinary practice sends us into the world to act accordingly. Hospitality and real presence are the activity of mission. This might not sound like much but they are the participation in the mission of God. As you say, mission might be more, but it begins as we notice that work of God in the most ordinary of places.

    • Fred says:

      Good word, bro. I really appreciate your reference to Eucharist. As Dr. Love has said, central to our christian worship is a table. It is there we are reminded that the ordinary is where God is found. Yet I am reminded that carrying the eucharistic practice and posture–gracious hospitality–into our neighborhoods and networks becomes an extra-ordinary practice, one powerful enough to subvert and reorient social norms. For me this is the power of the gritty ancient ordinariness of our faith.

  4. David Meek says:

    Well said, Fred. “Missional community” and “intentional community” are often used interchangeably. Perhaps it is just semantics, but I think I prefer the intentional term because it implies that you have cognitively thought through what discipleship looks like in your ordinary context. It reminds me of the exercise in Smith’s Good and Beautiful Life that asks the reader to write out his or her vision of the Good and Beautiful Life. I think what we’ve learned over the last year in our context is that step 1 of a Good and Beautiful Life is to fall out of love with the in-vogue notion that life together is necessarily trendy/sexy/esteemed/postmodern/glamorous. Step 2 is to do the small things well–not also the small things but especially the small things. If I learned one thing from Brink, it’s that Christ-followers who plant these small seeds of the Kingdom are the people who really “get it” (it being the Gospel.) We can all join a flash in the pan trend, but I think missional living really begin when we can part ways with our vainglory and fascination with being part of something grand and earth-shattering.

    I do think that intentional hospitality is at the heart of costly discipleship. Though it’s not glamorous, it is pretty radical, and I feel pretty strongly that the Gospel demands it. I’m not even talking about having the poor in your home. Just having time and space in your life to–as you said–be present to offer and receive hospitality is super inconvenient in our individualistic culture. It is always worth it, but not something that comes naturally in my day to day life. I do wish we could raise the bar of expectation of one another in this regard.

    • Fred says:

      Good word bro. Thank you for posting. Mentioning Brink, you are right. And if he modeled anything extraordinarily well it was gracious hospitality. No wonder he left his mark among so many.

      I really enjoyed Smiths trilogy of books.

      I think gracious hospitality is key. It is central to the incarnation and to gospel itself. This is, perhaps, where many of us must become more intentional. The recovery of this ancient way of life can lead us not only to our neighbor’s home or our co-worker’s cubicle, but into the woods with those living in homelessness, and so on. Of course to live as one who embraces the other is to move to a category of “extraordinary” as far as our current cultures go. The loving of one’s neighbor therefore becomes a peculiar and radical practice given today’s social impulses. We have great proximity but little neighborliness. The practice of listening and presence flowing from a posture of gracious hospitality can move us from proximity to neighborliness. Good words bro. Press on.

  5. Clifton Bell says:

    Good stuff. This is meaningful to us working stiff, family guys who can only spend a small fraction of our time in church-organized mission activities, but spend a lot of time with co-workers, family, and in our neighborhoods. It also helps break down the artificial barrier between church and the rest of life.

    • Fred says:

      Clifton, thanks for sharing on the blog. I think you are on to something when you use the term “artificial” barriers. Our need to be heroic, or at least our fascination with it, often detracts us from developing rhythms in life that lead us more deeply into God’s mission.

  6. Jason Thornton says:

    I appreciate what you said about missional living being “gritty” and “ordinary” as opposed to sexy. But I think that’s precisely what makes it alien to American Christianity. At least two things, in my opinion, hinder the average American Christ follower from the “gritty” and the “ordinary.” One: it requires time. It requires slowing down, which is a huge culture shift for many. I think it is necessary and would be good, but it requires a very definite shift. We have to slow down enough to be able to actually speak to our neighbors and co-workers without rushing to the next thing in our lives. We have to get to know them and have them into our homes and get past the akwardness that it requires to get to know them well. Second, I think missional living is hindered by us being event-driven. We’ll do things that we can check off of our list. We’ll serve the homeless if it just requires a night or an afternoon or working at the soup kitchen because it’s really a small time investment. But missional living isn’t that way. It literally requires that I shift the way that I live so that I can make huge investments of time and energy listening and loving people in my neighborhood and networks.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Good thoughts. The question of Christian expression will always be in front of us (and should be) because theology happens in the places where we’re working out that question. Its in those places/moments that we attempt to name what God might be up to and what we’re going to do in response.

    I tend to have 10 questions on my mind for every 1 answer I can give. I’m not seeking to substitute the anxiety of “right doing” with “right thinking”, but perhaps we need good questions to help us be ‘missional’ everywhere. Questions make room for others to answer, and make room for us to listen.

    Nevertheless, there is no margin without a center; no powerless without the powerful. Our location has significance. So, I guess that “what we’re asking” matters as much as “who were asking”. What you said about missional as a way of being in the world resonates with me. Gotta make sure I let people bring things to my cubicle as well so that I’m not always on the giving end of the equation. I’ve sometimes found the most live giving, beautiful, moments I’ve shared with people come when reciprocity happens. When we’re at one another’s mercy and the lines between the margin and the center get redrawn around a table.

Join the conversation, but please be gracious.

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