Is Missional The Same As Gospel?

Missional thinking is the latest “must do” in the world of the church.

What is missional thinking? In simplest terms, it changes the way we measure success in the church — moving away from “how many people attend and how much money do they give?” and moving towards “how many people are we sending into the community to be the church by living lives of mercy, grace, and blessing?”

Now: there’s much to say on behalf of missional thinking. After all, Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance has been on my “Books I Like” section for several weeks now.

I’m especially moved by the way McNeal ties the church’s identity back to the call of Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 — blessed in order to bless. So missional thinking encourages church leaders to think long and loud about how their congregations can “bless” their communities.

The tacit assumption behind this strategic shift is that if churches and Christians bless enough people through simple goodness, niceness, and kindness . . . well, those same people will want to know about the Christ who sends us.

And I’m about 40% sold on that thinking.

Because, as always, it’s interesting to note what the bible DOESN’T say.

In I Corinthians 15:3-5, for example, it doesn’t say:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: be nice. Be a blessing. Be involved.

It does say:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . .

And II Timothy 4:2 doesn’t say:

Be a blessing. Be nice. Be involved in season and out of season.

It does say:

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage . . .

Lost in missional thinking is the inherent offensiveness of the Gospel. The Gospel is bad news about people before it is good news about God. Or, as Frederick Buechner says, the Gospel convinces people of the tragedy of their lives before it offers them the comedy of grace.

We’re not offend people with our personalities, our politics, or our demeanor. But the simple proclamation of the Gospel is bound to alienate some and anger others.

Yet — sooner rather than later, as I’m recently learning — the role of the church is to communicate with clarity and conviction truths that I Corinthians 15 spells out: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

So: will the missional blessing of our communities give us more opportunities to proclaim that Gospel?

Or will the missional blessing of our communities somehow dull us into believing that people will be saved from their “lostness” by our “niceness”?