Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from Sent: Living the Missional Nature of the Church, by Ed Stetzer. Stetzer is a featured speaker at the 2010 Exponential Conference next week in Orlando, Florida. Exponential is the largest gathering of church planters on the planet.
Some words become so much a part of our culture that they actually lose part of their original meaning. Take the word Kleenex, for example. The brand has become synonymous with just plain tissue, so much so that most people simply say, “I need a kleenex” when referring to any kind of disposable snot rag. Of course, the same thing happens in the religious subculture of Christianity.
Saved. Witness. Redemption. These church words all have deep theological significance, but somewhere along the line, they were so overused that their meanings became diluted. The same kind of thing is still happening. The word community, for example, has been used and overused, and now everybody wants community and every church is built on community, yet most people don’t really know how to explain it—let alone live it. And now we come to another word, one that is being championed by myself and others in conversations about what the church is supposed to be: missional. But this word, too, is on the endangered word list. It’s fast becoming a word people throw around without knowing exactly what it means, let alone how to live it out.
Missional is an important word because it doesn’t describe what we do as Christ-followers; it describes who we are as Christ-followers. Let me put it another way: For some years now Christians as a whole in North America have subtly developed and settled into a mentality that contradicts their very nature as the body of Christ. At its core the church gets its mission from the mission of Jesus: to seek and to save the lost. Jesus was sent by God for this purpose. So a fundamental part of the church’s DNA has to be that same kind of sending into the world for the sake of the kingdom.
By definition the church is a body of believers sent into the world. But many churches, particularly in the United States, seem to have developed a more stationary identity, requiring the world to come to them to receive the healing, redemption, and salvation promised through Christ. We have issued the call of “come to us” and planted our feet rather than promising a “we’re coming to you” proven by moving our feet.
Thankfully, winds of change are blowing. People are beginning to see, accept, and love the fact that the church, by its very nature, is sent on the same mission that propelled the Son of God into the world some 2,000 years ago. The Holy Spirit is awakening the idea in us that any church that does not affect real change in its community, country, and the world is severely neglecting its true purpose. And people are getting on board.
Let’s not allow the concept of being a missional people to become another buzzword or catch phrase on a list of church values. Let’s fight to keep its meaning. Let’s struggle to understand and live out its definition. And let’s do all we can to keep the main thing the main thing. As followers of Jesus, we are sent. And by His grace, I pray that we would come into a more complete understanding of what it means to live as sent people.