The whole idea of the missional church—being the people of a sending God—is a popular concept among many believers today, but how is it actually being practiced?
I recently received a newsletter from friends who live in an Asian country. This family has immersed themselves in the local culture in order to share their Christian faith. They embody a missional approach to Christian witness. Although I cannot give specifics of where they serve, I would like to paraphrase some of the initiatives they have pursued in this setting.
First, they call out indigenous leadership. Those who have been raised in the culture are the most effective missionaries in that culture. Recently, my friends have partnered with a seminary in the country to provide internships for students. They are mentoring these young people to become Christian witnesses and leaders.
Second, they recognize that “foreigners” (such as themselves) can be catalysts, but they should work themselves out of a job. They practice the principle “Model, Assist, Watch, and Leave.” Again, those who are naturally part of the culture learn how to be witnesses in their context and then become the primary agents of evangelism there.
Third, they believe in multiplying disciples. Those who have become believers lead others to Christ and nurture them in the Christian faith.
Fourth, they seek ways to contextualize the gospel without compromising the Christian message. This is an ongoing challenge. They point out that one group of indigenous believers has published a book with Bible stories that have been translated and illustrated in a way that communicates to the local culture. This makes the gospel more accessible to unbelievers.
Fifth, they are seeking to develop sustainable leaders. They are helping leaders learn skills and start small businesses so that they can be financially independent. This assures long term involvement and witness in a local community without external support.
If there is one theme that runs through these initiatives that theme would be investing in people. The missional church is not dependent on buildings, budgets, or organizations, although all of these can play a role in sharing the gospel. If all of the infrastructure disappeared tomorrow in the country where my friends live, the people would still be there carrying out the work of a missionary God.
So how does this apply to those of us who lead the church in North America?