Missing in Missional #1: Embracing Tension in Mission

18 Jun

Thank you for checking out this article in the “Missing in Missional” guest blog post series. Below, I have listed links to all current “Missing in Missional” posts. Thanks again to Fred Liggin, Matt Maestas, Kathy Escobar, Gibby Espinoza, Chris Lenshyn, Michelle Funderburg, and (next week’s contributor) Charles Kiser for challenging us into Christ-formed action.

MiM Introduction: Chris Chappotin

MiM Part 1: Fred Liggin

MiM Part 2: Matt Maestas

MiM Part 3: Kathy Escobar

MiM Part 4: Gibby Espinoza

MiM Part 5: Chris Lenshyn

Part 6: Michelle Funderburg

Welcome to Day #1 of the “Missing in Missional” journey. After realizing a few common connections through DFW’s Mission Alive, Fred Liggin and I began corresponding via Twitter. When I posted the “What is missing in missional?” question, he was first to respond.

Fred is Lead Minister of Williamsburg Christian Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. He has a deep love for God, His Gospel and His Kingdom way of life. Fred is also passionate about seeing God’s people learn what it means to participate in God’s mission as everyday people in everyday places who offer tangible Kingdom-expressions of love, mercy and hope in everyday ways as they develop Gospel-centered, Kingdom-shaped lives.

If you are not following Fred on Twitter, you should be. You can also connect with him at Thank you, Fred, for your thoughtful and personal contribution to this series of guest posts.

Being on mission with God is an every day thing. It happens in every day places and every day ways through God’s every day discipled-people. After all, the discipled-life is arranged by mission. It sees the world through a different lens. It doesn’t see people as projects, but rather affirms their worth as God-made beings and engages them in love, for God’s sake. The discipled-life also understands that Jesus did good for others simply because He is good, so it seeks to do the same. Better yet, the discipled-life seeks to walk with and enjoy Jesus daily while remaining on mission with Him. It is in that sense that mission happens in every day places, in every day ways through every day disciples.

So what about Sundays? What happens when God’s people gather to affirm His worth, celebrate His redemptive work, exalt His name, and consider how they might stir up one another for love and good works? Ah, that is where the rub is found in the “missional conversation.” And this is where I am beginning to think the false dichotomy is perpetuated.

For some folk, a church gathering is an event, and events, due to their seemingly impersonal nature, are not “missional.” They are “attractional” because they say “come to us and we will (fill in the blank).” I find this curious. Here is why.

In my neighborhood we have developed some dear friends. Each one of these relationships all began with a chocolate chess pie or some cup cakes baked by my wife. Seriously. The single mom next door looked like she could use a good dessert for her two teenagers, so my wife baked it and I delivered it. We did this because we care and wanted to help. But we cared because God’s Spirit within us produced fruit that moved us to care. So you could say that we care because Jesus cares first. Either way this led to a friendship that led to her coming to know Jesus which led to her joining our community of faith called Williamsburg Christian Church. Our other neighbor, a family of three generations living in one house, began similarly. Except our relationship with them began with a grill out, and now centers around dinner parties, fishing trips and outings to the park–events. Some of these events have included only our families while some have included many of our friends from the church. Through these events my dear neighbors have met some of God’s every day disciples who never view themselves as disconnected from God’s mission. My neighbors weren’t the objects of the event. Being together in God’s love was the object. Our hope was that His love would stir all of us, including them. These type of events were absent of devotionals or praise songs and involved only hamburgers, hotdogs and hospitality. But what if we had another type of event where devotionals and praise songs were present? Would that be any less “missional” given that the same people were present?

I have come to see that being on mission with God is a lifestyle that often culminates into various forms of gatherings and events, all of which are due to their function, missional. So why are we so quick to pit these “missional” activities/philosophies/churches against “attractional” activities/philosophies/churches? Perhaps it is the tension present within the form and function of these events.

No doubt an event can become event-centric and lose it’s original purpose or focus. I think this happens because when planning an event you try to give it your best. And if God is at the center of the gathering or love is its purpose, then the best effort is necessary because both God and authentic love is anything but mediocre. The struggle is found in trying to keep your original purpose or focus front and center throughout the process. Therein lies the tension. Sadly, many fail at this and lose focus and therefore become more concerned with throwing a stellar event. But does that mean that the event is the problem? I think it means that the people behind the event merely got off course. Holding true to purpose and focus while organizing a meaningful event creates this tension.

So, the missional camp notices this or experiences this and naturally seeks to resolve the tension (which was probably never viewed as such) and throws “attractional” under the church bus. Yet missional churches plan events, just like our faith community in Williamsburg. Tragically, I think we have over-reacted and in an effort to be purists missiologically and ecclesiologically, we have created a false dichotomy. We have become dangerously close to playing the part of the Pharisee by creating our own fences around what it means to be a healthy church on mission. Instead of embracing and discussing the tension in the Church’s various forms and contextual nuances, we have sought to resolve it by establishing “camps” and circumventing unhealthy dialogue. Once the tension is gone we are often left with division, cynicism, apathy or ecclesiastical self-righteousness and confused disciples on mission.

Here is my simple suggestion: embrace the tension and keep the conversation going. Remember that as a disciple you are called to make God’s Kingdom tangible in every day ways while on mission with Him in every day places. What is true for the disciple is true for groups of disciples, i.e. churches. Lets just keep the tension ever before us. This will offer us the freedom to give our best in planning God-honoring heart-stirring worship gatherings, throw bangin’ parties and other events, while still engaging people on relational levels before, during and after. I think if we were to do this, we would adequately embrace the tension found between our need to both gather and scatter, in all it’s ecclesiastical forms. And who knows, we might eventually eliminate the labels of missional and attractional and just be the Church.

Thank you for joining “Missing in Missional?”

*How are you experiencing and navigating the tensions Fred’s discussing in your ministry context?
*How is the Spirit opening opportunities to initiate and develop relationships in your ministry context?
*Where does this “gather and scatter” conversation need to go next?

Still learning,


Posted by on June 18, 2012 in Discipleship


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