Missional Suspicion: Getting Our Humanity Right...

This post is sorta off-the-cuff, so bear with me...

I think it's safe to say that I've become somewhat suspicious, in recent days, of "missional" theological language. Missional theology is a discipline, the definition of which I'm still not sure I've got nailed down... even though I took a class on the subject last semester from one of the leading scholars on the subject. But in its basic form, it's a way of engaging theological reflection with particular attention to the questions surrounding the church's mission. It seeks to engage theology from the assumption that God has called the church to a mission and the objective of discerning and embodying that mission. According to Scot McKnight, “missional spirituality is an attentive and active engagement of embodied love for God and neighbor expressed from the inside out” (Jesus Creed, 72).

If you're wondering what on earth there is to be suspicious of, you're probably in a good spot. It's not popular to be suspicious of missional language and, at its best, there's nothing to be suspicious of. The Church does have a mission. Jesus has invited us to engage in God's ministry in the world. And it is important to conceive of the church and of God's revelation according to the presupposition of this invitation. The alternative---namely, an inward-focused church and a theology oriented toward purely abstract and individual notions of salvation---is certainly less desirable.

But my suspicion is that we can sometimes put the cart before the horse.

I fear that we will focus on the mission to which the church is called and forget the humanity to which we're invited. In Christ, we are invited to see the dignity of our humanity---our unadulterated and un-moralized humanity---because in Christ, God has met us with grace in our most human moments. Grace defines us and draws us to the church, not according to what we do or how effective we are at meeting God's objectives, but according to who we are before we do a thing (I think this is a Sabbath principle)---created in the image of God and graced by God through God's presence with us in the crucified Christ.

I don't necessarily want to implicate Andrew Root in my suspicion, but in his newest book, he writes, "...relationships of persons encountering persons are the very way that we encounter Jesus Christ" (The Relational Pastor, 19). Ministry, and therefore mission, is essentially humans being human together. This definition is likely to bother a traditional "missional" theologian... 'what about the application of the gospel to the situation!?' 'What about the mission!?' 'Won't the church just become a social club!?'

The gospel is not a concept "out there" which we can "apply" to a situation. The gospel springs up within the human situation and in human relationships---it's the good news that humans can be human together because Christ has healed their humanity. And what's so wrong with a "social club"? Because Christ is present in human relationships, there's something profound about people coming together to relate "socially" with one another when it's done in honesty and vulnerability. There's a deep spiritual content, a religious quality, to a social club in which Christ is present, where people are free to actually share themselves---not some false version of themselves or some image of themselves which obscures their genuine struggles and sorrow, but. We are free from the pressure of having to perform according to some identity other than our human identity which is graced by God in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the greatest enemy of the church is not spiritual laziness, missional indifference, or soteriological reductionism. Perhaps it's dishonesty---the inability of people to actually share themselves with others. The church should be the people who, more authentically than ever, can be vulnerable and honest with each other in their humanity through Jesus Christ and with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Our mission should be the mission of liberating people from the pressures of having to conceal themselves.

When we are able to see the church as humans being human together, then and only then will we be able to get the mission right. Once we understand and share who we are in the grace of Sabbath, when we are not busy with the work of our mission, then and only then will we be able to engage in the work of sharing with others the good news of God's grace and the foretaste of God's kingdom. It is only in our humanity that we can embody God's mission.