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potential problems with missional

I’ve been reading the missional posts from the synchroblog and processing through it all. At its best, missional is the life we are called by Christ to live. The underlying theologies and understandings of Jesus’ teachings are beautiful and simultaneously extremely challenging…just like the Christian life should be. Living a life of incarnation, redemptive life and crucifixion with Christ is filled with joy and sorrow, healing and pain, death and resurrection. It is rich and nuanced in every sense.

But like everything from God, it has to be understood by human minds and expressed through human lives and because of that, it needs to be held humbly with an open hand.

There are a few things that keep nagging at me and I’m wondering if others see what I see so I thought I’d flesh out a couple things here.

I (and apparently many many others) LOVED Erika’s post. It was beautifully challenging and poignant. At the same time, it stirred some caution in me, something that Andrew said keeps ringing in my ears and it’s also come up in conversation in our faith community. This is how Andrew put it.

4. It [missional] suffers from a compulsive activism, as if God was a workaholic who constantly drives on his team and never rests from his labours.

This is a vibe I get every once in awhile from various posts on missional and realized recently that I can sound this way too, because I often feel this way. I often hear something like this (this is what I hear, not what is being said). “If you poor schmucks think you can just have church on Sunday you’re WRONG. Have you slept in the gutter with the homeless today? What about getting your drug addict neighbor into treatment? Did you let that runaway stay in your home and take your kids’ piggy banks on the way out? WHY NOT?! You’re not a REAL Christian are you?! What?! You live in the ‘burbs?! What kind of lukewarm loser are you?! Are you saying you actually drink lattes, you know you could donate that money to help save child slave prostitutes or donate it to the One Campaign.”

I genuinely believe there is a risk from, as Andrew says, “compulsive activism”. And a side risk from this is compassion overload…I think it’s possible to care too little by caring too much. I also think it’s possible to confuse missional with “doing more stuff”. Yes, living a mission shaped faith can be challenging. For most Christians, esp. those who came of age in a church that emphasized a more “evangelism” faith, being missional does not just happen, it takes some effort. But at the same time, we need to be careful that we’re not creating a new form of legalism or works-based faith.

Andrew expressed another concern of mine putting it this way.

5. It lacks an immediate connection with worship which might be the flip side and a necessary balance.

It would be a tragedy if a missional paradigm shift caused people to forget about God. Sabbath and setting aside time to gather in sacramental community to worship the One always needs to be central. I strongly believe we need a push away from the “performed” Sunday service that usually does more to drain the people than glorify God but that doesn’t mean we should abandon the gathering completely. After all, as a Christ follower, I still believe in the need for the breath of God to infuse our lives.

There is no doubt that I’d rather live a flawed mission shaped faith than a perfectly expressed “other way” but I would foolish to hold on so tightly to missional that I never examine its expressions.

Technorati Tags: church, mission, missional, critique


  1. Erika Haub — July 2, 2008 #


    I was totally struck by Andrew’s comment as well concerning the compulsive activism. I can recall writing a blog post a few months back where I reflected on whether or not I would truly be welcome in the “missional” club because I felt like I was needy and, especially with three little ones born so quickly together, required a more balanced life. So, while my post indeed used the language of death and crucifixion, for me that has meant a lot of small deaths that have not necessarily rehabilitated every addict in my midst. I am so glad for you beginning a discussion of this and I look forward to hearing others weigh in…

  2. Lisa — July 2, 2008 #

    I’m really glad you wrote about this. I think as part of the “emergent” thing, we probably have a lot of thinking to do about what Sabbath is (I get the drift that we are learning very much what it isn’t these days — like it’s not a dog&pony show, but it’s not just sit-on-yer-ass day either). Sabbath seems to be so central to what God’s plan for the world is about. I have to say I barely understand it at all.

  3. sonja — July 2, 2008 #

    Ah … compassion fatigue … missional burnout … and the fear of not doing “enough.” Because we never will do “enough.” The poor will always be with us … so I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps we need to focus the balance somewhere in the book of James. Somewhere there is a balance between faith and works. Because we do not earn our salvation, nor do we earn our peace nor can our works earn someone the redemption of another … yet in many cases that is the appearance of what is being done. But the Sabbath is tied up in the idea of Jubilee and in worship and somehow those are all intertwined … there is a very deep magic there that must be understood. I think we must sit very, very still for more than a few minutes to fully grasp it.

  4. Jamie Arpin-Ricci — July 3, 2008 #

    Hey Mak,

    I wrote almost an identical post three times this week, but deleted it every time. I share your concern, especially in my own very full life. I know so many incredible Christians who beat themselves up daily for not doing enough, which is a sad, unneeded practice.

    And yet I still struggle with this, because I think that this impulse is growing out of a realization of just how many Christians are NOT doing enough. This doesn’t justify swinging to the opposite extreme, but it does make for a challenge. While I know MANY people (as I said, myself being one of them) who need to heed this caution, I also know that too many others will use this as an excuse NOT to ask the hard questions, but rather justify their inaction instead.

    So I struggle with this. Your reminder is critical, but I worry still that others will use it as an excuse.


  5. Mak — July 3, 2008 #

    I hear ya jamie, but just like the legalism of my past, we have to be careful not to impose a new legalism. The legalism of my past suggested that if we told people it was ok to drink a little they’d drink too much (alcohol) so they banned alcohol. This is a legalism of fear, not freedom. And while I completely share your concern, I have to be VERY VERY CAREFUL not to fall into that.

    I will continue to challenge the overly comfortable, consumeristic, individualistic, greedy, selfish american attitudes for sure… but I need to try to be gracious and generous with that as well lest I become a new pharisee.

  6. Mak — July 3, 2008 #

    I agree sonja, it IS mystical/magical

  7. Mak — July 3, 2008 #

    lisa - I don’t “get” sabbath either, and I know I need to

  8. Mak — July 3, 2008 #

    erika - thank you for chiming in, I appreciate that you heard my words in the way they were intended… I didn’t want to take away from what you said for all of it is completely true

  9. Jamie Arpin-Ricci — July 3, 2008 #

    Very true, Mak. Thanks. So where does prophetic challenge end and legalism begin? Genuine question.


  10. Mak — July 3, 2008 #

    I think that’s a very legitimate question - explore :)

  11. Mak — July 3, 2008 #

    Something also occurred to me that I’m more concerned about missional being DEFINED by a legalistic rubric - Since this synchroblog was about what missional is, or how it’s defined. Challenging one another to live out the crucifixion AS WELL AS the incarnation is important, so I’m not necessarily as worried about that necessarily.

  12. Raffi Shahinian — July 3, 2008 #

    I posted a Top 10 list of emergent/missional/post-evangelical sound bites from the last few weeks. Thought you might be interested.

    Grace and Peace,
    Raffi Shahinian
    Parables of a Prodigal World

  13. david — July 3, 2008 #

    hey mak,
    i actually was thinking through the exact same things last week too. posted a bit on it

  14. david — July 3, 2008 #

    sorry.. here is the link if you or anyone are interested..
    i too have a desire for us to re-imagine sabbath as an integral piece of god’s plan for creation.

  15. Mark R — July 3, 2008 #

    I think a few Bloggers are saying - stop, pause, breath, reflect - continue ….Great post!!!!

  16. grace — July 4, 2008 #

    Thanks for bringing this up. I’ve been thinking along these lines also. Like Jamie, I have started writing draft posts, but my thoughts are still scattered.

    I posted about missional churches having mission as their central purpose and the question came up whether there can/should be any other purpose. In addition to having mission as the central purpose, they should also provide support and encouragement for the missional expression of individuals.

    This would include aspects of spiritual formation and worship which may not necessarily have an appearance of outward focus but may be equally important to the missional development of the people involved.

    I believe, as you said in your last paragraph, that as we to learn to find an outward expression of mission, we also learn how to gather in ways that increase our spiritual depth, maturity, and capacity for mission.

  17. Pingback - The Tension With Being Missional &laquo Missional Church Network — July 7, 2008 #

    [...] this line of discussion here is a very good post over at Swinging From the Vine titled “Potential Problems with Missional” where Makeesha offers a corrective on the risk of ”compulsive [...]

  18. michael — July 18, 2008 #

    are you kidding? yes there is urgency in the gospel and that doesn’t negate rest, but you can’t remove urgency.

    i think there is still too much confusion on missional and i don’t like using that word because everyone comes to their own conclusion.

    does scripture call us to live on mission? yes
    does that include worship and spiritual encouragement? yes

    living on mission doesn’t necessarily mean i stop buying latte’s or move our of the burbs. it means where ever i live and where ever i go, it is with the urgency of the gospel.

    to say i am going to be on guard against living on mission because it might lead to legalism is convenient. legalism is constantly attacking us and we must continually examine our hearts and motivation to avoid legalism, not just avoid living on mission.

    i don’t think the question we should ask is, “am i living sacrificially enough?” who could ever do that? we must ask, “who has god called me to?” then, am i going to allow comfort to stop me from pursuing that calling.

    something to think about. im going to go take a nap :)

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