What is a Missional Life? – Part 1


I remember my wife describing evangelism and mission when she was at university. Megan said it was something done (an activity), usually involving a survey about Christianity, with the hope of inviting people to a Christian event. She didn’t really want to be part of it, and in the years that followed she didn’t see herself as being particularly evangelistic. Now she says, “If evangelism is looking to share the love of God with people in ways that help them know the hope I have in God, well, that’s something I love to do.” A dramatic shift took place. Megan no longer understands evangelism and mission as an event but an invitation for her life to be part of God’s missional purpose.

I asked some followers of Jesus who have years of experience people understand what it means to have a missional life. Here’s what they said…

People often associate evangelism and mission with specific events. How would you help followers of Jesus understand that all of life is missional?

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J.R. Rozko

Two insights come immediately to mind in response to this question.

Stephen Neill famously quipped, “If everything is mission, then nothing is mission.” I think that’s important to remember when we begin turning the corner from mission and evangelism as “event” to mission and evangelism as “all of life.”

The second insight comes from Lesslie Newbigin who, in speaking about the church’s relationship to mission, referenced the difference between dimension and intention. “Because the Church is the mission there is a missionary dimension of everything that the Church does. But not everything the Church does has a missionary intention. And unless there is in the life of the Church a point of concentration for the missionary intention, the missionary dimension which is proper to the whole life of the Church will be lost.” (One Body, One Gospel, One World: The Christian Mission Today, 43).

In that respect, I think we’re wise to say that while, as followers of Jesus (the Sent One!), all of life has a missionary dimension to it, not all of life has a missionary intention to it. To be personal, this means that in all my thinking and doing I am regularly asking, “How is this an expression of my participation in God’s mission?” I’ve found that to be a revealing and life-giving (and altering!) question. However, I also ask, “How, specifically, is God leading me to cross boundaries and barriers in order to incarnationally share the love and good news of Jesus with others?” It’s in this way – remembering the relationship between dimension and intention, that I believe we best see all of life as missional.

JR Rozko is a co-director at Missio Alliance where he seeks to help develop missional awareness and intentions among leaders of the Western Church. JR’s work involves creating ways that help church leaders partner in the mission of God.

Rhys Bezzant

It is interesting that the New Testament never tells us as individuals to do personal evangelism. Nor does the New Testament give us instructions about how to organise evangelistic events. But everywhere it is assumed that our words, our deeds, our attitudes and our aspirations must reflect God in the world, to be holy as he is holy, and in our life as Christians to be a foretaste of heaven as the aroma of life. It is not that it is wrong to organise events to proclaim the Gospel, but without relationships of integrity and trust it is difficult to get friends to attend those events in the first place. Mission is about sending, and all of my life is sent.

Rhys Bezzant is Dean of Missional Leadership and Lecturer in Christian Thought in Ridley College in Melbourne. He leads the Jonathan Edwards Center for Australia and lectures in Church History, Theology and Christian Worship.

Dhati Lewis

Before we begin to talk about the activities of a disciple maker, we have to start by recognizing that it begins with our identity. God has made us His children and He has made us His ambassadors. It’s who we are. Identity drives our activity. Our activities as disciple makers flow out of our identity. I don’t stop being a dad when I go to work. I’m a father. It’s a part of my identity. And it doesn’t change because of my surroundings. The same is true for us as believers. We are ambassadors. We are witnesses. We are reconcilers commissioned with the ministry of reconciliation. This identity doesn’t stop just because you got home from your mission trip. In fact, your new identity in Christ transforms your activities in every area of life. Christ did not save you so you could go out and do the work of a witness. He saved you to be a witness.

Dhati is the Lead Pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is passionate about disciple-making in the local church and is committed to raising up indigenous urban practitioners to encourage, equip, and empower them to make disciples in the city. Dhati is also the author of Among Wolves: Disciple-Making in the City.

Karen Wilk

Surprisingly, Jesus never said that evangelism was about getting people to come to church, running an outreach event or program, or even—handing out a track! He said, love your neighbour. What if bearing witness is simply about keeping the greatest commandment? What if we all just learned to be good neighbours? – I think we would discover God at work in us, and out ahead of us and, that we would become more of whom the Triune One has already called and made us to be as His followers filled with the Spirit.

Practising neighbour love is an invitation to participate in God’s mission as ordinary persons living ordinary lives in ordinary neighbourhoods with an extraordinary God at work within and around us. And this is our calling: Making disciples (according to the great commission) is about ‘teaching’ (not just by telling but by doing and being) others to obey His commandments. And what does Jesus command? Love God and love your neighbour (the person right next door). This is the greatest, most important and royal law, that fulfils them all (Matt. 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:28, 37; Romans 13:18-20, Gal.5:14, James 2:8). Furthermore, Jesus said that we will know and love Him, when we keep His commands (John 14:15,21,23,15:10; 1 John 2:3-5a, 5:3; 2 John 6). I wonder if we might come to understand that all of life is missional when we learn to love our actual neighbours, enter into the everyday life of our neighbourhoods, and thereby join God in what the Spirit is already doing there. Evangelism is not an event, it’s all that we are, say and do as we live into our identity as His Sent Ones and bear witness to the Kingdom of God come near– right where we live.

Karen Wilk is on a ‘Go Local’ Catalyzer with Resonate Global Mission as well as a National Team Member of Forge Canada’s Missional Training Network. She is also a neighbour, wife, mom, and pastor of N.E.W. (Neighbourhood Engagement Workers’) Community. Along with preaching and teaching in numerous places, Karen has written a number of books and was included in the Bridgeway Foundation’s list of “100 fantastic Canadian Christian women leaders”.

J. R. Woodward

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.””
(John 20: 19-23 NIV)

The disciples have locked themselves up behind closed doors. They are fleeing the world in fear instead of engaging the world in faith, hope and love.

We can be like the disciples, living isolated lives because of our fear of violence, the stranger or the future.

How did Jesus respond to the disciples hiding in fear? How did Jesus respond to those who pretended not to know him, who had run away when he was facing his most difficult moment in life?

Did he say, “Why did you desert me? Where were you? Why are you hiding in fear now? No. He didn’t say that.

He stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” He breathed new life into his disciples saying “Shalom be with you” and they rejoiced.

In our moments of fear and shame, Jesus kisses us with these words, “Peace be with you. Shalom be with you.” But he doesn’t leave it at that.

After breathing life into them, he sends them out to breathe new life into the world, to bring forgiveness to the world. After showing them his pierced hands and feet he says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Having faith in Jesus is personal, but not private. Jesus is looking for a spirit-filled church to be his gift to the world. He wants us to be gifts to each other, and bearers of justice, forgiveness and grace to the world in our everyday lives.

The concept of peace, of shalom, is not about an event or special gathering. Shalom is the way in which the prophets talked about a day when all things would be made right again. Those things that have become corrupt and polluted would be re-made in such a way that it would take our breath away.

Through imagery and story, the prophets painted a picture of how things are supposed to be. People would no longer be looked on as tools and property in the hands of the powerful, but as people made in the very image of God. People would not try to build their own kingdoms in which they rule in their own way, but would gladly be a part of the kingdom of God, letting God be God, so that peace would prevail in the world.

The prophets pictured a world in which the environment that was originally created good would become freed from the curse. They spoke of a place in which people would genuinely love each other. This is the idea of shalom.

When we understand that Jesus’ ministry was not just about changing us personally, but changing the entire social and cosmic reality, that his ministry was about announcing and initiating the kingdom of God, then mission and evangelism cannot be reduced to special events, but must relate to everyday life.

God’s future is when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord (Rev. 11:5). And until that time, in the words of Lesslie Newbigin, the church is to be a sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s coming kingdom.

We are to be witnesses to God’s kingdom, joining him in bringing a greater sense of beauty, justice, reconciliation, mercy and healing to the networks and neighborhoods to which God has sent us. And as we join God in this greater mission, we have the opportunity to invite others to become reconciled with God and join the revolution.

Can you see how following Jesus involves all of our lives?

JR Woodward is a church planter, missiologist, activist and blogger. He was a co-founder of the Ecclesia Network and Missio Alliance, and currently serves as the National Director of the V3 Movement, a missional church planting movement in North America. JR is the author of Creating a Missional Culture and The Church as Movement.

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