Written by Todd Mangum
Friday, 26 October 2012 00:00
Recently, a group of traditional, original-language-program students submitted to me four questions they said were questions they commonly had and heard among their student colleagues. I thought it might be good to share the questions — and my answers — with you.
Q. What real, practical difference is made by a “missional approach” in actual on-the-ground ministry?
A. Several practical implications come immediately to mind: first, a missional approach recognizes that “the Gospel” is about following Jesus, not just believing things about Jesus. It’s the mission of Jesus that is most important to Jesus; with discipleship being about mission, and joining Jesus on task. Becoming a follower of Jesus brings great benefit, of course, in the life to come certainly and in this life, too — with persecution — as Jesus told us (Mark 10:29-31). But we follow Jesus because He is Lord and King, not just for the benefits we gain.
Embracing a missional approach helps relieve unnecessary tensions between fellow Christians. A missional approach helps us sort mountains from molehills. We can join together with fellow children of God in the mission of God, even debating age-old theological questions or points of dispute — but while on mission together, not sealed off from one another in schismatic cul-de-sacs.
A missional approach re-elevates the central concerns of God’s heart to their proper place of prominence: issues of mercy, justice, and kindness (again, as seen in both Old Testament and New Testament: cf. Micah 6:8 and Matthew 23:23). This realignment ends up potentially refocusing the entire Gospel and biblical message — in a more biblical and Jesus-faithful way.
Too often, in North American Christianity (and other expressions of Christianity around the world), the gospel is portrayed as an easy way to escape from the mess of this world and gain an eternal place in glory, no strings attached and no obligation or effort required on the believer’s part. This framing, intended to accentuate the greatness of Christ’s accomplishments for us (which are indeed great and true!) end up inadvertently creating lazy Christians who, already deeply ensconced in a consumerist culture, make Jesus and God just another set of convenience-providing appliances designed to make the person’s existence happier and more comfortable. A missional approach exposes this self-centered distortion of the gospel for what it is.
Likewise, a missional approach helps frame the gospel for what it is, too: it is God rescuing the world, but not in an escapist or consumerist kind of way — but through the hard work, incrementally and progressively fulfilled, of reconciliation and restoration. Reconciliation and restoration are at the heart of the gospel, not just ancillary by-products. Reconciliation with people close to you that have hurt you; restoration of the broken systems of justice; overcoming barriers of hatred, animosity, or just simple difference with people unlike you — in class, race, ethnicity, culture — these are all rightly recognized as being at the heart of Christ’s mission, the core of the Gospel in a missional approach.
We have found that the practical implications of the “missional turn” are not only vast and wide, but real and regular. Missional Christians find that the mission of Jesus soon permeates most every interaction and most every objective pursued in life every day. No wonder Paul says that the “end goal” is “to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5)! It doesn’t get more practical than that.
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.