Using Community: Another Expression of Missional Suspicion

In theology, "Missional" has become something of a buzzword in many circles. Missional theology has become its own category, or subcategory, within the discipline of theological reflection. I'm not sure everyone who uses the term is actually talking about the same thing, but the basic premise is that theology itself is essentially ecclesiological and should be done through the lens (or with the presupposition) of God's continuing mission in the world and the invitation for the church to participate in that work and to find its definition and identity in the participation. Work, Mission, witness - all of these are presupposed as definitive for the church's identity in the world. As Emmil Brunner put it, "The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning." And as my professor, Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean writes,
"Every church is called to be a 'missional church.' The fact that we have turned the word 'mission' into an adjective testifies to the American church's frayed ecclesiology. A nonmissional church is not a church in the first place, but in a culture largely devoid of a theological vocabulary, this language has become necessary to remind us that the church exists not for ourselves, but for the world" (Almost Christian, 89-90)
As good as this all sounds (and it does sound good), I don't find it easy to accept and I don't think it's not without its problems. I haven't sorted it all out, but the statement, "...the church exists not for ourselves...," has become more difficult for me to understand, I can even say it's disturbing on some levels. How, after all, can the church exist for anyone if it does not exist for itself? I ask this question from the perspective of pastoral care. If what matters, in the end, is the world outside and not the people in the church, then will not the gathering itself be compromised? Will we not simply resort to using the community?

Point of clarification: I think I'm actually in the "missional" camp. I'm on board with seeing the church, defining the church, according to its participation in the mission of God in the world. This is actually the ground on which I'm standing, this is where I'm coming from... but I can feel the ground shifting.

It's not that missional is bad... but when the mission of God in which the church participates becomes about something out there, some goal to be accomplished, something other than the sharing of persons with other persons in shared humanity, then I am suspicious that it's not the mission of God at all. The church has to be about itself, it has to exist for itself... the church has to create space in the gathered community for people to be people together, for humanity to matter, and for the sharing of humanity to be important in and of itself. It cannot afford to "use" the community to accomplish something external. In short, the church can't be about mission if it's not foremost about the people in the community. People have to come before mission... then and only then will the church be appropriately and incarnationally missional in the way of Jesus Christ. I'm sure that missional theology, at its best, gets this. But for me, the gap between existing for the world and affirming the humanity of the gathered community is not so seamless and it has become a cause for my own suspicions of missional approaches to eccesiology and pastoral theology.

I think Christopher Heuertz says it better than I could:

Church is people being people together... yes, it's ultimately about Jesus Christ, but as such it surely isn't anything less than people being people together - finding the affirmation of humanity in Jesus Christ who redeems us through sharing in our situation and in our humanity. By the logic of incarnation, mission is about relationships... not for the sake of something else, but for the sake of the people in them...