Burned Out on the “Missional Movement”

Posted: February 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

Last year I gave Gabe Lyons’ book The Next Christians (Doubleday 2010) a somewhat mixed review.  Lyons is a gifted writer and there is much to commend in his works but I didn’t appreciate it at the time because I was (and am) burned out on “missional” books.

By “missional” I mean the push for Christians to act as missionaries in our own setting.  Too many churches assume that Americans know the Gospel and it is only a matter of getting them into a church to re-connect.  So, mission (i.e., living among those ignorant of the Gospel, establishing a relationship with them and then sharing the Gospel with them), is something done overseas by those financially supported by the church.  Leaders in the 1990’s began to warn the church that we could no longer assume that America is a “Christian nation” in the sense that everyone knows the Gospel and it is just a matter of reminding them but that we are now a mission field.  In order to be good missionaries, we need to study the culture, go into the culture, establish relationships with those outside the Body of Christ and then share the Gospel with them.

The push by leaders like Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball and Francis Chan, just to name a few, led to a publishing and conference frenzy.  Books like “They Love Jesus but Not the Church” and “The Radical Reformission” flew off bookshelves and ignited the blogosphere. 

I was a young seminarian in the 1990’s who embraced the movement with passion.  Later, I became a missional church planter with a congregation with an average age of 24 who felt compelled to constantly be “relevant.”  I have consumed a steady diet of missional books, blogs, videos, podcasts and conferences for more than 10 years and, frankly, I am sick of it all.  This year I have consciously avoided the blogospheres rantings about this week’s “must read” or “must listen” and turned instead to classics like J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity & Liberalism and Carl F.H. Henry’s 6-volume God, Revelation and Authority

My long stay at the missional movements media buffet has left me a bit jaded.  There is, after all, only so many ways you can argue that the church needs to quit being religious consumers and take our King’s Great Commission seriously.  Yet, it is easy to forget that not everyone has been spent years wrestling with these issues.  After helping launch our church’s Free Seminary (where more than 20 largely twentysomethings have signed up for hour-long systematic theology classes) it has become clear to me how many are just now coming to these issues. 

So, in the midst of my cynicism I was too harsh on Gabe Lyons’ book.  For those such as the college students and young professionals who attend Revolution’s Free Seminary or praying about moving into the local neighborhoods that are infested with drugs and prostitution as three of our church’s members have done already, The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons will be a blessing.  

Lyons call for Christians to avoid the inevitable temptation to withdraw from the culture and criticize it from the outside and instead commit ourselves to working inside of the culture as Christ’s “restorative agents.”  Lyons gift for prose will help drive the point home to many Christians who are just now joining the decade old missional movement and I recommend it. 

Sometimes missional leaders need to take a step back, breathe deeply and remind themselves of the mindset of those around them.  I certainly needed to!

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Comments
  1. Heather Cordasco says:

    Matt,
    As usual, refreshingly honest!

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