The entire conversation in the Evangelical Christian world has shifted to engaging ourselves with the larger culture missionally. Even the Rob Bell dust up over the issue of the existence of hell has missionality as a foundation because he is trying to figure out how to discuss difficult issues with people who do not find our doctrines palatable. We are now living in a post-Christian culture in the West and much of what was once taken for granted has faded away. There is no longer a Christian or even a cultural consensus in the West and everyone is trying to feel their way through the resulting confusion.
Enter Southern Baptists. Just about every blog, conference, and denominational leader is focusing on being missional. That is the buzzword of the day. Guys who didn't know what the word meant 4 or 5 years ago use it exclusively now. It is on the tip of everyone's tongue and the concept is being pushed at every level. SBC leaders like Ed Stetzer have popularized the term and everyone is getting in on it. The Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) was adopted recently (was that last year? It seems longer ago) and the SBC is supposedly realigning according to a "missional" focus. But, like Inigo Montoya famously said to Vezzini, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
The true definition of "missional" has to do with "sentness." There is a recognition that God is both the sending God and the sent God. The Missio Dei (Mission of God) has to do with His very character and essence, not just an activity. God doesn't add on "missional." It is who He is. The Father "sent" the Son. The Son was "sent." The Incarnation itself declares the missional essence of God. The Father and Son "sent" the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit empowers and sends us out into the world as ambassadors of Christ, representatives of another Kingdom in a world that is false. This all happened before the foundation of the earth was laid, by the way. Christopher Wright, in his excellent treatise, The Mission of God, states that instead of the Bible giving us a biblical basis for missions, it is better to see that there is a missional basis for the Bible, for the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost (Luke 19:10).
But, is that what we are seeing in the Southern Baptist world? Are we living as sent people? Are we capable of it as Southern Baptists? Of course, it is possible, but the overarching perspective that we maintain continues to be a defense of the status quo, "us vs. them" positioning, church growth strategies, constant calls for more money, the exalting of celebrity pastors and megachurch expansion, and the building of our religious enterprises. "Missional" does not equal church growth or denominational growth. They are not the same thing. One implies that we leave what is comfortable and live with open hands among the heathen. The other implies that we try to build our institutions larger and make them more secure. One implies risk and loss while the other implies safety, security, and more influence. The Way of Jesus seems conspicuously absent from what our Southern Baptist leaders are calling us to. Calling for more expository preaching in our churches (while a great approach to communicating biblical truth) does not equal missionality. Having a missions program in our churches that sends people out on short-term mission trips is not being missional, necessarily. Those are good things, but they do not encapsulate the full range of living as sent people.
To "live sent" means that we are letting go of the need for safety and security and money and large crowds around us to reinforce our lifestyles. It means that we are willing to engage those who disagree with us and we are living life in relational terms with people different from us so that the life of God can flow through us to them. Our posture in the world changes from "insiders" who sit opposed to people who do not know God to those who might come alongside those alienated from God and actually identify with them and join our lives to theirs. This is what Jesus did in the Incarnation.
I wonder if Southern Baptists are capable of this? I wonder if our theology and historical experience allows us to live in any way other than as religious people defending our way of life in the world? Are we confident enough in God and His Kingdom that we can take His life everywhere we go, even if we are not reinforced by money, power, crowds, and programs and systems? I'm asking. I have come to the conclusion that just talking about being missional does not make one missional and I'm wondering if the whole way that we see things might be an impediment to us actually joining God in His work and actual essence in the world.
Maybe the issue that holds us back is bigger than us just not being "sold out" enough. Maybe there are fundamental structural problems with how we see theology and the world. More on this later.