Note that its entitled "a" missional theology...not "the" missional theology. What I attempted to describe are some basic understandings of functioning as God's community of ambassadors to all creation. There is plenty of room here for the different denominational distinctions and doctrines - I didn't even try to get in to all the finer points of systematic theology here. So, if you think that something I added is wrong, please feel free to open dialog. If you think I left something out...I did. Add it and serve faithfully.
If you aren't interested in reading 3500 words over three posts, you can listen to nearly the identical thing at missionalmonks.com - the "music" player is in the left hand column - its just under 30 mins including the intro (shorter than most of my sermons...). Whether you read or listen, I'd love your feedback.
Towards a Missional Theology
And so, because we are not God and in too many ways we are not like God, we are called to discipleship in the way of Jesus - which teaches us, conforms us, transforms us not into gods...but more fully into our humanity, which was created in the image of God. Discipleship is more than just Christian education. Learning what the Bible says is a fundamental aspect of our life...but merely knowing Scripture does not make you a disciple any more than knowing the menu at a fancy restaurant makes you a chef.
This may sound obvious, but experience suggests that it might not be. I was raised in a culture that seemed to equate bible knowledge with being a good Christian. We seemed to think that if we could just raise the level of biblical literacy then all our problems would be solved. I began to suspect this wasn’t the case as I got to know some pretty nasty individuals who could quote whole books of the Bible.
Discipleship should certainly include a familiarity and love for Scripture, but it must go beyond that. Discipleship is about committing our lives - every aspect of our lives - to learning the way of the one we follow. Like an apprentice to a master we learn the way of our teacher not just so that we’ll know what they know, but so that we can do what they do.
Becoming a disciple carries a recognition that we are not a master, but what kind of apprentice would attach themselves to a master if they never had any intention of taking on the master’s trade? That isn’t a disciple. That’s a groupie.
So being a disciple will entail regular excursions into the realm where our master is at work. We’ll be uncomfortable at first, but we keep pressing on. Periodically we withdraw to process, rest and prepare for our next adventure. But these periods of rest should follow and precede engagement, they shouldn’t exist to simulate or worse, replace, them.
I love the TV show Scrubs...no apologies, I love that show. There is an episode that guest stars Dick Van Dyke as an extremely well-loved older doctor. There is a point in the show where it becomes apparent that he simply hasn’t kept up with the advancements in medicine through the years. His practice was stagnant and because of that it actually put a patient in danger.
There is a great need for practice. I don’t mean practice in the way that the Dallas Cowboys really need to practice more during the week. But practice in the way a doctor practices medicine. As Scrubs reminds us, we need ongoing practice in our practice, continuing ed credits as my teacher friends are familiar with.
In addition to our need for discipleship, we who are not God and are thus finite and imperfect, need a set of spiritual practices that keep us grounded in a rhythm of connection to God and the world. This spiritual formation goes hand in hand with discipleship.
Spiritual formation has been very important to me for a long time. I absolutely love opportunities to help others learn and embrace practices that can have a lifelong impact on their spiritual health. BUT I’d be a big fat liar if I pretended that my deep interest in spiritual formation didn’t come, at least somewhat, from my own need for formation. I have a theory that for many of us, the things in faith that we are most drawn to often come not from a place of abundance but a place of poverty. I love prayer and meditating on scripture, but I am so prone to stumble through my life dealing with whatever is right in front of me. With all honesty I will admit that without serious intentionality - and usually unless I have friends helping me - I will go days, even weeks without any significant time spent in prayer or reading scripture outside of preparing to help someone else.
But I can say with a tremendous degree of confidence that you can trace many of my highs and lows spiritually by tracking how intentional I was about cultivating spiritual practices at that time.
Christians throughout the ages have referred to an intentional plan or rhythm of spiritual formation as a Rule of Life. Whether you call it that or not, if you are not God, a Rule of Life is an important aspect of faith that many of us are missing out on. I’ve only recently come to realize the value of developing a communal Rule in addition to a personal one. I can’t say that we’re models of this, but some of us in Christ Journey have experienced the benefit of ordering our life in connection with others; joining one another in a rhythm of prayer, scripture reading, service to others and shared meals. Not all of our spiritual formation looks that “spiritual” on the outside. I’ve found that committing myself to a place - such as my favorite booth at Denny’s - on a regular basis has opened up unbelievable doors for my own spiritual formation - in addition to placing me in the midst of God’s work in others’ lives.
Because we are not God. Because we’ve seen the master at work as we’ve engaged in discipleship. Because we’ve reflected on God’s greatness in the midst of our spiritual formation. Because we’ve opened our eyes, just a little, to see what God is doing all around us, the other natural response is worship.
Some say worship is where we go to get recharged as Christians. Sure that is sometimes the case. But worship is not about me getting my batteries charged - in fact, if we follow Jesus’ example, our batteries will be charged as we do God’s will...as we follow our master into his workshop and join him in his craft. Worship, properly understood, is where we respond the charging we’ve received. It is where we share stories of the master at work with one another, where we debrief by telling the tales of a God who is not like us, but has invited us into community nonetheless. Worship is where we shout with joy for the great things we’ve witnessed, weep together over the brokenness that has yet to be healed and approach God on behalf that brokenness.
This doesn’t only take place in a “worship gathering” - though I’ve come to appreciate those times so much more as I’ve slowly learned that they aren’t about the worship style, location or presentation.
Worship takes place anytime we are moved to respond to God - in praise, thanksgiving or lament.
It is important that we remember we are not God. It is important that we commit ourselves to discipleship, spiritual formation and worship BECAUSE we are not God. However, if we only recall how we are not like God, we miss out on the greatness of what we are created to be.
to be continued...