My latest column at Christian Week:
I felt conflicted when I heard about a new book, Going Missional: Conversations with 13 Canadian Churches Who Have Embraced Missional Life
. I’m wary of buzzwords like missional. On the other hand, I’m eager to learn from Canadian churches, and I know and trust Karen Stiller, who wrote the book with Willard Metzger.
I’m not the only one to be wary. Stiller told me that she senses that the word missional is going out of vogue. Some of the people she interviewed in the book felt uncomfortable with the term. But missional isn’t just a fad; it is, according to Stiller, “the newest, oldest thing.” It’s the original call of the church, one that sometimes gets lost. “Terms aside,” she says, “it’s the church being the church.” It’s discerning what God is already doing, and “entering into the world we were never called to leave in the first place.”
Going Missional offers snapshots of Canadian churches from coast to coast. “It’s a truly Canadian story of what God is doing. We are different, and our needs are different.” The churches featured in the book range in size, and are representative of churches familiar to many of us. “Lots of churches could have been in it,” Stiller says. I found it refreshing to read accounts of churches similar to the one I pastor.
The stories are refreshingly understated. They’re about the church next door, not the church in the glossy magazine. The stories are about building bridges with community groups, serving the homeless, making room for sports leagues, matching used cars with people who need transportation, entering into relationship with the needy, poor, and marginalized, and more. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. The purpose of this book is not to provide a blueprint; it’s to provide inspiration.
An Anglican rector in Oshawa explains the shift in thinking necessary for a missional approach. “We are guilty of saying to the world and our communities, ‘Why can’t you just take what we offer?.” Instead, we should learn to ask, “What kind of community would we need to be so that God’s love for the world can be known? What are the relationships God wants us to develop in the community and the world so God’s justice and peace can flourish? And how can we share the story of Jesus with people who haven’t heard?”
Stiller makes it clear that this is not another version of the church growth movement. It’s not about how we can grow; it’s about how we can serve with no strings attached. As we serve, we often grow spiritually, and we always receive more than we give.
It’s also not about quick fixes. A pastor from Leaskdale, Ontario comments, “I believe that missional is sacrificial, slow, steady, long-term commitment with a whole different measure of success.”
This approach requires honesty. Many are suspicious of why churches and Christians want to serve. Stiller says that humility and openness are key. “In the end, we do have a different ultimate hope. But we are also broken. By working alongside others, we are moving to wholeness.” It’s about building relationships and increasing trust, believing that God is already at work in our communities.
I really appreciated the two concluding chapters, “The Challenges of Going Missional” and “What I Learned Along the Way.” Stiller underlines the importance of being driven toward mission through prayer and good theology, rather than simply “doing stuff” which would “seem like a step backwards into busy.” Stiller explains the costs involved, but ends on a hopeful note.
“The teaching and preaching that leads to a church slowly, painfully, awkwardly, turning itself out to face the world once again takes time – and it costs,” she writes. “Churches, especially well-established ones who have had a longer time to grow comfortable and cut-off, do not become missional overnight. But, all across Canada, it is happening.”
If you are interested in exploring what it looks like to become an outwardly focused church, you will find this book to be an encouraging snapshot of similar churches in Canada that are making a difference in their communities.
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