Toward a Missional SBC, Part 2

[Caveat: Figuring that I would be questioned/challenged thus, “So Timmy, what are you doing to be a missional Christian or advance the cause of a missional SBC? You blog, so what? And you’re a Calvinist! I thought you guys didn’t do evangelism.” That’s what yesterday’s post was hoping to address at least in part. Now to my conclusion . . .]

Ed Stetzer has stated in numerous conferences that the leading issues facing Southern Baptists deal with missiology and ecclesiology. I happen to agree with him, although theological error and heresy is always around. Questions like, “How does the church relate to the culture?” and “What ways of doing evangelism will reach the next generation?” and “What constitutes a church?” will continue to be hot button topics in the years to come. Let me briefly mention some things to consider as we look for a promising future and greater emphasis on being Great Commission Christians.

There are two polarizing camps which we need to be careful to avoid. The first is the camp of liberalism. Liberalism has historically embraced a naive, postmillennial position where Christianity is subsumed in the culture as their over-realized eschatology forces them to think with an unbalanced emphasis on the immanence of the kingdom of God. The most popular form of contemporary liberalism can be found in the Emergent organization (not to be confused with the emerging church movement, although Emergent is the liberal end of it) who espouse a postmodern epistemology and want to revise and reconstruct orthodox Christian belief. On the other hand, there is the camp of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism has historically embraced a dispensational premillennialist stance advocating a rejection of the culture as entirely worldly. The tend to have an over-reactive, negative view of culture with an under-realized eschatology that leads them to an unbalanced emphasis on the transcendence of the kingdom of God. I believe that both these camps are dangerous to the future of the SBC. The former emphasizes orthopraxy over against orthodoxy; the latter emphasizes orthodoxy over orthopraxy; the former has uncritical acceptance (radical continuity) of the postmodern culture in which we live; the latter has an uncritical rejection (radical discontinuity) of the postmodern world in which we live. Unfortunately, in recent years, what we have seen is these two camps feuding with one another, neither producing converts, and neither championing the cause of the mission of Christ.

Yet there is another stance that Southern Baptist can, and I would argue, should take. It is the camp I call being missional. Those who seek to be missional live with the “already”/”not yet” tension of the reign of Christ and work with the continuity/discontinuity relationship of the church with the culture. They are forced to have a critical appraisal of the culture in which they live, separating themselves from the other camps aforementioned. They recognized that there are aspects of culture that Christians can relate to that is not inherently sinful, creating avenues of meaningful relationships and conversation. They also recognize that there are aspects of culture that is antithetical to Christian faith and practice that must be countered with the way and truth of Jesus Christ. Finally, there are aspects of culture that is broken, whether society on a macro level or families and individuals on a micro level, that must be redeemed. Missional Christians, therefore, must be a counter-cultural community of Christians whose presence in the world can be seen and felt beyond the walls of their church building.

The majority of Southern Baptists live in the South–a place where the culture has for a long time been influenced with Christianity. The result of having been raised in a Christianized culture is that we have quickly come to assume the culture without realizing that the gap between the church and the lost world has been widening with our eyes wide shut. As our culture becomes increasingly secular under the influences of postmodernism and pluralism, Christians are finding themselves father and farther away from any significant impact in their world and at the same time becoming increasingly irrelevant. We have fenced-in yards, gated communities, and alarm systems to keep out any unwelcomed guests from entering our world; consequently, we have never lived so close and the same time been so far away from the world we are called to reach.

What we find in Scripture is a pattern of sending where God the Father sends the Son into the world (a title Jesus gives himself some 40 times in the gospel of John alone), God the Son sends the Holy Spirit after His resurrection and ascension, and followers of Christ are sent into the world in the same manner the Father has sent the Son into the world. This “sent” lifestyle is reorienting of one’s life around the mission and message of Jesus Christ whereby we subordinate all other things for the supremacy of Christ and our desire to see others satisfied in Him. Far too many churches have taken this glorious gospel and put it on the shelf. Far too many Christians have been told that the gospel was necessary for you to believe and be saved, but now you are to mature into other truths of the Christian faith. The single greatest challenge for Southern Baptists to embrace the missional life is to recover the gospel in our churches and have it become normative in our lives. Our churches, Sunday School classes, and preaching should be shaped and driven by the gospel. Our families, encouraged to have family worship and devotions, are to preach the gospel to one another regularly. All of us together must make the gospel “a matter of first importance” so that we can honestly say, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:23).

When Jesus prayed for us, He prayed that we would not be taken out of the world. He also prayed that we would not be “of the world” either. Yet is it not apparent that we have come to the place that we are “of the world” and not “in the world”? This time of the year annual church profiles (ACPs) come out, indicating that over half our denomination don’t are enough to come to church on Sunday. There is a higher divorce rate among Southern Baptists than non-Christians. Christians are increasingly becoming enslaved to the American dream while accumulated insurmountable debt by treasuring the things of this world. We are quickly coming to the point in our lives that no one would have an idea that we were Christians were it not for marketable products of our Christian subculture.

So here’s the challenge before us today. We must deal with the worldliness in the church, meaning we must recover the practice of church discipline and regenerate church membership. If the church is the Bride of Christ (and she is), then we must care about the corporate sanctification of the covenant community in which we belong, and hold ourselves accountable to a pursuit of holiness that resembles one who is running a race so that they may win. But secondly, we must get in the world. I know this sounds controversial, but Jesus did it. He dwelt among us (John 1:14, literally “tabernacled among us”). He was known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners, reclining at their dinner tables and enjoying their company in their homes. He “must needs” go to Samaria to reach the Samaritans. In his Incarnation, Jesus came to our neighborhood, wept over the death of our loved ones, held our children, helped the needy, and even experienced our temptations. He told us to prepare a banqueting table and a feast where the invited guests were not our family and friends, but the lame, blind, deaf, and mute, because that’s what those who believe in the resurrection do. He also told us that we should visit those in prison, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and care for the widows and orphans, for in as much as we do it unto the least of these, we have done it unto Him. And he told us that these were not just mere suggestions or good five minute devotions to tip our time and energies towards, for not every one who says “Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven,” but rather he who does the will of the Father who is in heaven.

Brothers and sisters, there was a time where we were a people marked by a mission. We were a society of “sent” people. This is our Baptist Identity. It is not an identity that hides in the fundamentalistic ghettos nor is it a watering down of the gospel and redefining our mission as anything less than the total transformation of individuals, families, and societies through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ gave us an example that we might follow in his footsteps. If we would follow his lead, we would find ourselves saying things we thought we didn’t have the courage of saying, going places where the people were “not like us,” and having such an overwhelming burden and compassion for our world that we cry out, “Here am I, Lord. Send me!” And in that battlecry, there will be the sound of people marching in step, all on mission, where the Church is the Church and Christ is the King.

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7 Comments on “Toward a Missional SBC, Part 2”

  1. johnMark Says:

    Timmy,

    I think there is an unanswered question that would help people understand more clearly what you are talking about. That question is “What does a missional SBC look like?” What does it look like as played out throughout the congregation? What changes now and what’s next?

    Right now, I believe, we hear about giving money to missions, building projects, etc. and that we are “building this or that to the glory of God” and it’s “His plan” and “God is doing great things” through this church and projects X,Y, Z. I scratch my head and think “What are all of these great things?” We get More comfortable buildings and all but so what?

    What I am getting at is that right now on a local level I don’t see much difference between a nice club that meets on Sunday and the church. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but I can’t think of anything to make the point with right now. For example, when I go to lunch with a business associate we talk about business. At my last weekend drill we talked about our battalion, training, etc. When I go to lunch with other church members after church we certainly don’t talk bible, theology or evangelism and that’s ashame. It’s partly me fault, I admit. I only talk theology and evangelism when I’m with a certain set of theology geek friends.

    My idea of missional is like the witnessing story at UPS you shared or your evangelism at college. I hope that the local church members can get energized and encourage each other to do those types of things. When we see a good movie on Saturday we go back to work or where ever on Monday and can’t wait to talk about it. We don’t talk about worship with the same enthusiasm, do we? How boring…I go to commune with GOD! C’mon, we can do better!

    Sorry, this has been dragging me down for a while and I am preaching to myself too.

    So, what do missional look like lived out?

    Mark


  2. Timmy,

    I happened to preach a message tonight that was similar to some of your ideas. I even quoted some of the same scriptures you mentioned.

    I’m still fleshing out the difference between being a “worldly” Christian in a negative way (and I see a lot of Chriatians who are) and one who lives in the culture and retains their convictions. I’m afraid there are some who think they are “missional” because they happen to be engaged in many activities that the world engages in. That doesn’t necessarily mean you are “missional”. That could mean you’re just doing what you like to do. If we’re to follow the example of someone like Paul it means that it may not be my personal preference to go to a certain place to be around people different from us or engadge them through sports, music ect. Being missional, as I’m preceiving it has a lot more to do with dieing to self than I hear a lot of people talk about.

    TBH


  3. Timmy,

    When you talk about being in the missional camp, I had to stop and think about that for a moment. Much of what you said in that particular paragraph is something many of us have heard or have even said ourselves. Even more, many people, when they hear this description, will nod their heads and say their “amens” at it, as well.

    The problem, as I’m sure we’ve all noticed, is that we aren’t practicing what we are preaching/hearing. And we can say that very sentence over and over until it turns into beating a dead horse. Even if we succeed at recovering the gospel, regenerate membership, and church discipline; if nothing comes of that then we have still failed.

    I am increasingly coming to think that we can’t just continue to say “this is what we need to be doing,” doing “this” all by ourselves, and then expecting everyone else to follow. We’ve got to train the saints. And therein lies the greater challenge: discipleship in the Southern Baptist Convention seems to be an utter failure. Until we can reform our discipleship practices, I am scared (yes, scared) that no amount of gospel, saved membership, and church discipline can do what actually needs to be done for an SBC church to be truly healthy and grow.

    I guess what I’m really getting at is I’m wondering “what’s next.” Say we get those three foundational things; then what? Is our “plan” half-baked or do we have all the ingredients in place?


  4. Guys,

    I apologize for taking so long to respond. Monday’s are really tough!

    JohnMark, you asked,

    “What does a missional SBC look like? What does it look like as played out throughout the congregation? What changes now and what’s next?”

    The thing about moving toward a missional SBC is that it is not like a program that you can fabricate and mass produce to every SBC churches and expect it to “work.” I think there is a long line of pastors who will testify that the Purpose Driven model didn’t deliver all that it promised.

    Each context which a church finds itself is unique. Rather than trying to make the SBC conform to some arbitrary standards, I am arguing that we develop a common posture that is expressed in Scripture in the NT church. Some contexts will be multi-ethnic and others not; some will be rural and others urban; some will be more traditional, while others will be more contemporary. The point is that a missional church knows the Scripture well and knows the culture well. What they want to do is communicate the gospel in their respective cultural contexts in a way that those we are trying to reach can understand it. Some of the reason why the lost don’t understand the gospel is because we don’t give it all to them. We have broken the gospel down in parts with six steps, five ways, four laws, three points, etc. Furthermore, they have not seen what is looks like outside a normal religious setting. How does a someone impacted the gospel of Jesus Christ live in everyday settings?

    So I would say that a missional church is one that is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ where the normative expressions of Christ-centered, mission-driven followers of Jesus have left their marks on the world they are seeking to reach. If our culture is a canvas, we should be the brush and God as the artist where he paints the gospel of the glory of Christ across the canvas of our world through our lives. Ultimately, the picture our world is to see is the infinite value and surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ our Treasure and our King.

    The changes that need to be made it to help Christians realize that they are such brushes entrusted with the gospel. This trust is weighty, for in the good news of Jesus Christ, the only hope for broken humanity can be found. We too often act as though the gospel is not relevant to our world because it has become irrelevant to us. Well, there’s much more that could be said here, so I will think about writing this some more later.


  5. Travis,

    Yeah, I think you are on to something. Some of the appeal to being missional is reactionary to those who have for a long time been in retreat. Being missional implies you are going into the culture as a missionary, meaning that you have a purpose in mind that serves as a governor in where you go, what you do, what you say, etc. To cease having the conviction that God is sending you into the world with a mission that transcends your everyday dealings is to cease being missional. It is not being “worldly” for the sake of being “worldly” but being “in the world” for the sake of rescuing others out of the world. However, the rescue is not merely a pit stop or drive by but a center and dwelling place in the heart of broken humanity and cultural influences. It is a presence that speaks of the invasion of another kingdom through the rule of another King that has rights over all things, having subjected them under his feet.


  6. Stephen,

    I’ve got a series of posts that I want to write about regarding discipleship which focuses on learning as a way of life rather than discipleship as a program or a weekly church function. To delve into this series now would be a bit premature, and I am afraid that it would create yet another really long comment by me! So all I can say for now is stay tuned as I think there will be something in the future that will speak to what you have said.


  7. […] of Church and Culture [For context of current discussion, see my posts here and here.]  Phil Ryken at Reformation 21 blog asks the […]


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