Missional or Nonsense?


Santa-Fe-shops-New-MexicoI am reading a book on missional living among non-Christians (pre-Christians, not-yet-Christ followers, insert your favorite phrase here) in a post-Christian world. The challenge is that the author is describing a very specific subset of the population at large. One source he quotes as evidence of how the post-Christian world thinks is a poster he saw in a coffee shop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. If you know anything about Sante Fe it is on the bleeding edge of the twilight zone. Legalizing pot in Sante Fe would be like legalizing gambling in New Jersey, that train left the station a long time ago. That’s not to say that we can’t learn from posters in Santa Fe or from the author’s experience in large, mid-western city. The danger is extrapolating what he experiences in his culture to the culture you minister in.

I lived this first hand in the 1990s when I pastored a small church in rural Texas. I went to a Willow Creek conference and heard Bill Hybels talk about Unchurched Harry and Mary. I thought I’d found the Rosetta Stone for reaching seekers in my little neck of the woods. It turned out that Unchurched Bubba had very little in common with Unchurched Harry. The idea of understanding the mindset of the culture around me is essential, overlaying that mindset on other regions and cultures makes no sense.

I lived in three very distinct cultures during the past three years. (Insert “Can’t keep a job” joke here). I lived for 14 years in South Carolina where we used to say there are no unchurched people there are only former Baptists. (Another joke: Do you know the difference between a Southern Baptist and a Lutheran? A Lutheran will say hi to you in the liquor store.) There are a lot of people far from God in South Carolina, but it is not a post-Christian or post-attractional culture. There isn’t really a need to throw everything out and start over in the Bible Belt.

I lived in Southern California for a year and experienced a culture completely different from the Bible Belt. People there aren’t hostile to the Gospel, they just don’t have time to think about it. They work 70+ hours a week to pay the mortgage, the payment on the Benz and the plastic surgeon. On the weekends they have the beach, the mountains and the desert to attend to. They aren’t thinking about feeding the homeless and social justice, they are thinking about refinancing.

Now I live in Denver. Almost no one goes to church in Denver. They aren’t against it, they just aren’t interested. They moved here to ski, bike or climb mountains. They work to afford a season pass, a new bike or the doctor bills to patch them up when they fall. Pastors here describe “seekers” as “happily lost”. Missional without mountains in Denver is meaningless. (I learned alliteration when I worked at Saddleback)

The point is your community, your neighborhood, your block is completely different from mine. Deep conversations about the meaning of life, community transformation and saving the planet may lead to amazing opportunities to share the Gospel in your context. Or not. Missional should never be translated as a specific mindset or way of interacting. Paul described the true missional mindset when he said he became all things to all people so that by all means he could save some.

So read books, go to conferences, learn from brilliant leaders, but interpret everything you hear through the lens of what you know about the people in your neck of the woods. Don’t feel intimidated into throwing out everything because “the world has changed”, but don’t drag what worked when you lived “there” with you and expect it to work when you move “here”. Remember, we live in a post “there” world.

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