Sunday, February 3, 2013

Missional and Discipleship Hug it Out

Soon after our Christian worldview was unhinged, the word "missional" started getting loads of airplay. It quickly became one of those "cool" church words and I've gotta say, I throw it around myself. The problem with any idea or focus is that it really needs to be defined. But never fear! The English language always has a solution.

Now it's years later, my doctor reminds me that I'm pushing forty, my husband's beard is entirely gray, and we're living in the city. Times have changed. "Missional" is still mostly hip, but us Christians are as fickle as anyone, and we're ready for a new thing, or at least a new word. People are starting to throw stones at poor ol' "missional".

Consider this my fight for an almost-underdog.

I recently read an interesting post on the interplay between the missional movement and discipleship. The author, Mike Breen, asserts that the missional movement will fail because of a mass abandonment of discipleship among missional churches/leaders/people.

The comments are worth reading, at least the top third (they get a bit redundant before long), but honestly, there was so much churchy smart talk that it became difficult to wade through. That right there is so much of our problem. We talk too much, too smart. We say things only we understand and we secretly love that feeling. We talk and talk and talk - to each other. We stay home and we talk. We go to church and impress each other with our yikkity-yakness.

I'm over it.

I can't say that we ever sat down to really formulate a philosophy of "missional" living, or the precise ratio of missional:discipleship we would employ.

I hesitate to even say that I'm living missionally, and I wouldn't dare brag about making disciples.

All I know is, we knew we had to go, so we went. We knew that for us, it was increasingly improbable that we would ever wrap our arms around anyone remotely unlike us. We were fenced in by a bunch of us'es, so we had to go. Somewhere. Anywhere.

Now we're home and our family has grown. We help with small things and with big things that look small to us.

My discipleship strategy has involved very few words. I tell our new people frequently that I'm praying for them. I talk to them about my life in the exact way I would talk to you - my faith is a natural part of it. Out the gates, I don't invite them to church. I don't point out their sin. I don't tell them their life would be better with Jesus.

I do tell them, when I know I'm supposed to, that God loves them and created them with a purpose. I tell them that I love them. I tell them I'm proud of them. I make my flaws and my humanity evident to them and I tell them that God rescued me, that He saved me from the brink of ruin.

That's all I do.

Mike Breen might say it's all wrong. You might nod your head with him.

And you know what? I'm open to the idea myself.

But all I really know is love.

Is that a bad thing?

All I know is that God is love.  I know he's fierce and powerful and that He holds every one of us in his hand. I can't do any of that other stuff, but I can do the love. Not as well as Him, not as perfectly or completely, but it's within my jurisdiction to like and love them.

In drop-jawed amazement, I watch Him compel them, in part through my humble, broken, infant love. He does the big work.

When I was a little girl, someone asked me how many people I had saved. He said he had saved six, but his dad was up somewhere in the twenties. I knew it was bogus and I was still wearing velcro tennis shoes and plastic bird barrettes.

I am positive that Mike Breen defined "discipleship" as more than "saving" someone. I'm not trying to overstate his point or misconstrue what he said. But from where I sit, we're talking about two sides of the same coin. I feel sort of, "Duh."

Without God drawing me into His heart for the poor and the marginalized, I wouldn't see it as mandatory to go to them. Without going to the hardish places with Him, I'd be content to continue snacking on the status quo of my old life and my tired faith.

My discipleship has become my first concern. Nothing else happens without it.

Then, I wait expectantly for the girl to ask me at out of left-field at midnight if we can start a "one-on-one Bible study". I answer the text on December 12th about whether we'll all live to see tomorrow and I bawl my eyes out while she's swept straight into the heart of the Father who finds her utterly irresistible and lovely.

I don't want to hear much more about what's being done wrong in this "movement". (Unless it's unbiblical, then that's obviously a different story.) I'm tired of the straw men line-up, where people too tired or too scared to act start pointing fingers and outlining reasons to keep staying home and studying. (Again, I'm not talking about Mike Breen here...his post is just what got my wheels turning.)

We can call it whatever we want. Whatever name we give it, it will keep being messy and complicated. It will continue to draw skeptics and critics. We'll make mistakes, and we'll make them again, but at the end of the day we'll face-plant on the pillow begging for the truth of God's love to penetrate our hearts. We'll do our best in all of our jacked up humanity to reflect some of that game-changing love onto the ones around us who need it most. And when God starts to correct their vision, we'll cry and celebrate and limp along snail-slow with them while they're introduced to something brand spanking new.

That, to me, is discipleship. It's alive and well in this "movement". It's more necessary than ever.


While we're on the topic, I always love what this guy has to say about the missional movement. He tells the truth with much grace and an absence of churchy hullabaloo.


  1. Oh girl, you're speaking my language. I am wrestling, this fine Sunday, once again with my feelings about church. not enough to even put it down on paper...but enough that it sits below the surface poking at me and wanting my attention.

    somehow I fear we're doing it all wrong.

  2. If you wrote a book, I would read it...LOVE every single word.

    "We talk too much, too smart. We say things only we understand and we secretly love that feeling." - yes, yes, and yes. I'm guilty - as I've been a church girl my whole dang life...and I'm so over it! Let's just be real - let's love real - let's give real - and let's just get over our 'holy talk'.

  3. Personally the word "relevant" is driving me nuts...overused to the max.
    Oh! And the phrase, "let's unpack this". Let's quit talking and planning and go love somebody where they are. Too many organized meetings takin' up time.

  4. i agree with ashley, i would read. :)

    it IS all about love. that's not a bad thing. :) it's the only thing (know ya know). i figured out earlier this year, i mean it finally sunk in (duh)...if we really truly grasped this verse: "love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind soul & strength & your neighbor as yourself," we wouldn't need anything else. the rest would follow. i will never love Him as much as He loves me, but i have seen first hand what happens when one asks God to help them love Him more and i never want to go back.

    keep on loving friend. keep on "being" & allowing God's light to shine through you in whatever mysterious ways He directs.

  5. I have never heard the word missional before . I go to church every Sunday, volunteer in the kids church and have been in bible studies for years. I did live overseas for 4 of the past 6.5 years so perhaps that is why? Anyhoo. Thanks for the encouragement to just love.

    xo ellie

  6. Amazing! Our pastor was talking about this very topic today...and the fact the too many of us are "auditing" our faith and we will not take this seriously until we knock it off and get in there and do the work of loving His people-ALL of them!

  7. I had a newly-repentant-turned-to-Jesus-from-drugs friend tell me once that she could never know all the stuff I know about the bible. She told me with critical attitude of herself while simultaneously putting me on a pedestal. I replied, "Lacy. You know what I see when I see you? You know this much (using fingers to indicate an inch) about the bible and you obey "this much" (using the same measurement) of it. I know this much (hands stretched out) and I obey this much (using my fingers again). That means you obey our Jesus better than I do and its to my shame for me to know THIS MUCH about him and to not love him all the more for my life to reflect it." To me mission is discipleship, and discipleship is teaching to obey.(Matt 28:18-20) If labels are removed and I can't define myself with anything but my actions, who would others say my allegiance is to? That I give my days for? The one that governs me? So you're right...MY discipleship is key. If I let my obedience rise to the level to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, I will be on mission, I will be discipling, I'll be obeying.
    Keep on loving those people!

  8. God is love and love is God. I don't know the jargon, but I do know that we are told to serve in the way that He calls, words are not enough. "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me."
    You inspire me.

  9. The difference between the guy who was keeping track of how many people "he" had saved & you is right there at the end - "And when God starts to correct their vision..." It's not about me. God doesn't need me. Goodness, I make things so much more difficult than they need to be! But He allows us to be apart of His work anyway. We don't save anyone, that's all God. He just lets us be there to "cry and celebrate and limp along snail-slow with them while they're introduced to something brand spanking new."

  10. Than you for educating me! I have never heard missional before.

  11. This may ruffle a few feathers, but I believe we are not necessarily called to do the saving. That is God's piece of the puzzle. He uses us and our reflection of His love and grace and mercy to soften hearts and minds and then He does the saving. I know I certainly can't save and redeem but I can show someone how my life has changed since I finally gave it all to God.

    1. This is exactly what I'm saying. (Consider my feathers unruffled.) :)

    2. My feathers actually feel smoothed by that! You have said it as I see/feel it.

    3. I LOVE the people around here!! Just had to chime in. :)

  12. The Gospel is love, so I do think it's important to share the words of it, too. We can love people so much and still never tell them about redemption. But I do get what you're saying.

    1. I hear you, Girl. I just think we sometimes put the cart before the horse. Back in the day, I used to sort of give Robert heck about not going to church. Looking back now, I'm lucky I didn't lose him then... because the truth is, why would he go to church when he hated God??? I think sometimes inviting to church or talking Jesusy to someone who isn't ready for it is the "easy" response, because it's what we're used to. Learning to just live with them in their junk and wait for the Holy Spirit to do His work can be exhausting and frustrating! (I'm not speaking directly to "you" here...just thinking out loud some more.) xo

  13. Talking too much and too smart...I loved this entire paragraph, and the rest of the post. We love our church, but it has tendency towards being a 'smart' church. I've been praying and praying some more about how to start actually doing the work instead of just talking about it. My husband and I are in the midst of some big changes to our budget and lifestyle...posts like yours are encouraging...they remind me that we're not alone. Sometimes I struggle with the choices we feel pulled towards and the standards in the local American church. That being said, even in our sin and brokenness as the 'church', I am thankful for a God who is big enough to use us even in our brokenness and inadequacy. And I pray for the Lord to continue to do HIS miraculous work of changing and growing me.

  14. check out the book, LIVE SENT, by Jason Dukes. I think you'll appreciate.

  15. "My discipleship has become my first concern. Nothing else happens without it."

    So simply true. When our relationship with Christ and our love for others is our focus, it's more than enough to keep us occupied and too busy to encourage finger-pointing or criticisms. Excellent post. Thank you.

    Deb Weaver

  16. Cha-Ching!

    "The Lord's Portion Is His People" Deut 32 (i think!)...words on the screen behind the worship music at church.

    My husband and I are seeking God on this as well, asking Him to open our eyes, and watching amazed as real life unfolds around us!

    Love you!

  17. I hate to be a total "yes" man. (Not really) But I guess I just am!

    I'd never heard of these 2 terms being actual "movements" (I am NOT giggling right now) or theologies or anything until I read about them here on your blog. And I never, ever considered you to be implying that the 2 could be exclusive. I do not feel "off the hook" in that regard, in either direction!

    I did understand what the author of the first article was saying...but I'm thinking there must be more to his story than just what I've been introduced to as "missional". He must have some kind of negative reference? But the dangerous thing to me about finding fault with all the movements (not to say that author is - he seems to be trying to stress the importance of doing both) is that if a believer is already scared to reach out or lazy (who, me?) or whatever, you can find an article online that discredits a particular movement that maybe you felt drawn to and then you can justify going back to doing nothing. Does that make sense? You can find an anti-missional article and breathe a sigh of relief, "I knew they were all weirdos! Let's go back to us 4, no more!"

    I say all of this without any superiority...I struggle daily with, well, everything. But I do believe in growing and learning and testing and holding on to the good. And having a good movement can be a blessing for the body.

    Wait. What?


    1. Yo, Abs. Thanks for your comment. Delightful per usual!

      The thing about the author is that he's currently marketing a book about the importance of discipleship...and "missional" is a big "thing" right now, so maybe it makes sense to tie the two together? I agree, he's really saying that both are important. I guess the part that tripped me up was the title of his post, stating that missional "will" fail, and also there's still the confusion I have with believing that this could possibly be a real issue. It's so hard for me to believe that anyone truly delving into the heart of mission can/would abandon discipleship??? Who knows.

      I think Mike Breen really "gets" it, but his article could have one wondering. He seemed to throw the baby out with the bath-water, a little. (LOVE that analogy, and I don't know why!)

      Anywho... Thanks for weighing in.

      Again, this is Mike. Not Mike Breen. The other Mike.
      Now I've just confused everyone.

      It's not you, it's me.

    2. Ahh, I see the book now. I totally agree that his post's title and general tone is off-putting, especially to people like me. I generally feel off-put by anti-movement movements like that. I find them to be divisive and time-wastey. I just wanted to make sure that if he should link back to this post, I wouldn't be receiving any hate mail, because I just do not need that kind of stress right now. Ha! I really do get what he's saying.

      I'm reminded of the story of when Jesus delivered the man from a legion of demons, and He immediately sent him back to his home to tell them how much the Lord had done for him. WITHOUT proper discipleship training, if you ask me! That Jesus.

      You're so money, FPFG. (RIP MSM, I'm very truly yours forever.)

    3. *title and tone ARE off-putting.


      I'll stop now. (Maybe.)

  18. Keep on FPFG. You are living it and so your writing is ultra authentic. Thank you and make sure your voice is heard. We're listening.

  19. "We talk and talk and talk - to each other." You've hit the nail on the head as to why so many people don't understand, nor care to know, Christianity.
    I also want to say that you are not just affecting people in your "real" world like Robert. You are reaching people "out here" too. Thank you.

  20. Amen, sister! Reading about it, writing about it, thinking about much different than actually DOING IT. Now that I am putting myself out there, I have so much admiration for those who try to follow what the Holy Spirit directs. It is HARD and so often, we are learning, HEARTBREAKING. But it is also the most rewarding thing ever! I feel inadequate every time, but so blessed.

  21. We love because He first loved us. And that love is what will draw them to Him - and He uses the likes of us, the imperfect, as a conduit to be that love in the flesh. Us believers, with our Christian lingo and seats upon high horses have a way of complicating the simple don't we?

  22. Nailed it. And in case you haven't been 100% sure... you're creating many disciples here. You got me good girlfriend. You live it. I'm with Becky, don't believe it's for me to "save," and not always into "the word." Show me and I believe. Say it and I wait n see... You shine with God's LOVE! You are such a blessing in my life and I hope that I can "pay it forward" in some small way to those in my community.
    ps- I often *try* to comment on your posts from my phone but it's TOO smart for me n always wants to use wrong email/identity. Love 'em all!

  23. YES! I am going to memorize a few of the above paragraphs, if that's ok, and recite them as answer to the frequent blank-stare-2nd-question "but...where do you go on Sunday mornings?" we get in trying to explain how "Church" looks in our life right now. It would be a LOT shorter than my rambling answer, which my husband says I now have down to 45 minutes and/or three offered-drink-refills.

  24. Long, looooong time reader, first time commenter.
    I have been attending church for my entire life and have never heard the term "missional" . I do see evidence of it at our church though.
    I enjoy your posts and your words cause me to think a lot about what I am doing, or not doing. Thank you for so thoughtfully expressing your thoughts.
    I am probably older than most of your readers and in a different stage of life, but I do feel that lately God has been repeatedly showing me that He has different plans from the ones I have always known. It makes me ponder.

  25. You said it. And you live it. Bam. Great, great post!! I know I say that about all of your posts! I really, really love this conversation, though. As Christians it should be constantly on our mind: Love and missions and making love our mission. (and not getting too caught up in the jargon of it all that we forget to just do it)

  26. here's what i really like about you....
    you seem to have a passion for missional living and discipleship without judging other believers for not doing it the same way you are.

    i really appreciate that about your heart.

  27. You are a huge inspiration, Shannon. Thanks for being strong enough to make your life a bit transparent for others to see. For proving your faith through actions and not words. Living for others and not yourself. You're a great example of true discipleship and that's what entices and draws people to their Creator. I'm so encouraged by your words. Thanks for doing what you're called to do.

  28. I just love you. I have to be honest and say I haven't commented or been here in awhile and I've missed you! Your words slammed into my heart in just the right way tonight. I have been struggling with balancing the "serving, doing" and justing letting Love Himself pour more love into me. Because if I don't let Jesus pour into me, then I can't pour into others and it's all for naught, right? I'm sure I sound right silly now and I'm not making much sense. (It's been a pretty big deal all in my head lately) Anyway, thanks for your encouraging words. For just being you. :) And your kitchen is so lovely!

  29. Since so many of my IRL dear friends are your IRL dear friends, I feel like we should be as well. Found you through them and stumbled on this post. LOVE every word. As someone whose family/extended family's desire has long term generational plan, I'm all about being very intentional, purposeful,
    "missional" or whatever we want to call it, but this your words - so spot on. Yep, it's so easy to get a "plan" on paper and then wait and study and ponder. Because honestly, that's the easy part. The visionary dream weaving is the fun part. It's the down and out, give of your time, love them where they are at, no matter what time of day that is the hard part. And unfortunately, where I struggle. Daily, I lay it at His feet. You, have nailed such a beautiful heart attitude in this post, and now I see why my dear friends, all rave about you. Can't wait to read more. :)