Monday, August 30, 2010

What on Earth is a Missional Church?

The word, "missional" has been in circulation within the ecclesiastical world for at least thirty years. However, the meaning of this word has been so diversified that for years that I hardly even consider using it. The churches that I pastor or advise are known more as 'Attractional' churches rather then 'Missional' churches.

From August 26 to 27, 2010 I attended the Missional Church Conference organized by NECF at Wisma Eagles, FGT, KL. Dr. Paul Alexander, the Principal of Mattersey Hall, UK, was the keynote speaker with the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Senator Datuk Seri Idris Jala as the guest speaker. The missionay theme was being expounded during those two days. There were workshops conducted by facilitators who were deemed to be missional in their ministry approach.

The term, "missional" is getting clearer to me... even as I now reflect on what I had learned during the conference. First and foremost, the missional theology is based upon the incarnating God who sent His Son to this world to save us. Thus a Missional Church is more than a sending church. It is a Sent Church and so it has to be distinguished from an Attractional Church. The latter has to do with attracting people to the church, making the church the focus of the mission. A missional approach makes the unsaved world as the focus.

Having said that, we must also note that a missional church is not to be confused with the emerging church. The emerging church movement seeks to contextualize its message to meet the needs of the postmodern world. Even though, the missional church does that, it is not a primary feature of its identity.

Neither is the missional church similar to Rick Warren's concept of the seeker-sensitive church. Warren's idea of church growth is still basically of the attractional model. There is nothing wrong with the attractional model but it is limited if it is the only evangelistic approach used by the church. The danger in a solely attractional approach is that the ministry depends very much on the clergy. Today, we can see that some churches are growing to a humongous size because of the attractive quality of their pastors and preachers. The personality-based church will easily fall apart once the 'star' is removed.

The missional church is also not a model merely advocating social justice. The pitfalls of the Liberation Theology of Latin America reveal the weakness of any extreme social movement. Engaging poverty and being the champion of the oppressed is only a portion of the missional approach. However, the part is not the whole and so this must never be confused with the full Gospel.

Mission is no longer a program of the Church but it is the Church itself. Based upon the understanding that we are the "Sent People", we do not just send a couple of missionaries to the mission fields but the whole church is being sent to the world. By having a paradigm shift in our missiology, our churches can be transformed into "incarnational" communities that model themselves after the incarnational mission of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The missional church goes to the world and does not expect the world to come to it. This is the distinction that makes the missional church different from the attractional church. However, being an attractional church pastor for many years and looking at many fast-growing attractional churches in Asia and around the world I do not believe that the attractional model has completely lost its effectiveness.

Instead of the 'either-or' approach, we should consider 'both-and' approach. The missional church can include the attractional approach too. This means that both laity and clergy are working hand-in-hand to reach out to the pre-Christian world. The missional-cum-attractional model is both a church-based mission and a believer-based mission. This means that the church provides the leadership, training and motivation for the believers to carry the mission of God to the Seven Mountains. Most believers do not go to the world by their own volition. They need leadership, direction and organization. The clergy provides these and monitor the development of every missional activity. This involves both Reaching Out and Going Out! Thus the Church does not only have a Mission but the Mission has the Church.

The next step for those of us who pastor attractional churches is to make the transition. The theology has to become practical.  It is a process that needs much prayers and planning. And that, I will definitely do - so as to bring the missional concept to the churches that I advise and help in pastoring.

Rev Albert Kang
Pastoral Advisor
High Praise Church

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