Missional is a popular word today. It implies that in our evangelism, we do more than simply throw the gospel at someone. Instead we look at our culture as if we were on the mission field and ask what we can do to connect with that culture and reach those around us. Missional evangelism does just that. Thinking missionally helps you see that all places are mission fields and that all believers are missionaries. It will also challenge you to reach out to different cultures, ages, and those with broken lives. Finally, it will encourage you to start at the beginning—by getting to know unbelievers.
What exactly does missional evangelism mean? Does it mean moving from beyond the four walls of the church and reaching into a disadvantaged neighborhood to work for renewal? Does it mean living in the same zip code as the people we are trying to reach so we can truly be a missional community? Does it mean deepening already existing relationships with co-workers? Does it mean deliberately changing my patterns of life to bring me into contact with non-Christians on their own turf?
Tim Keller helps to answer this question by observing that the standard pattern of evangelism in the New Testament centered around the household. But the word household in New Testament times was much broader than we tend to think of it.
In the Bible, evangelism does not happen primarily through programs. It happens naturally through one’s relationship with the household which included not just your family, but also fairly close-knit colleagues, kin, friends, and neighborhood. Tim Keller suggest that the biblical term for household applies to at least five relationship networks: your kin network (family and relatives), your neighborhood, (those who live near you geographically), your colleagues (co-workers or co-students), your affinity network (people with a shared special interest) and your friends (those from the other four networks with whom you develop a close relationship).
The relative strengths or weakness of these five networks varies based on your context. But what it means to live missionally is to have authentic friendship with people in these networks. If Jesus is truly important to you, and if you have real friendships with people, then Jesus is going to come up sooner or later in the natural course of sharing life.
Bishop Joseph Johnson in his lecture on “Beyond Maintenance to Mission” describes the present day dilemma of the modern church as “dancing with dinosaurs.” For many years, the traditional church enjoyed the privilege as being the center piece of the community. People came to church because it was the right thing to do. That is no longer true, so the church must reach out to the unchurched in deliberate ways. Bishop Johnson suggest returning to the missionary model of evangelism, which focuses on salvation, outreach and mission.
Every believer has been called to be a missional evangelist in their personal world.
Look around and believe that the Spirit of God is hovering over your neighborhood, workplace or school. Some are defeated in their witnessing efforts before they start because they are not convinced that people near them are interested, seeking or already prepared by God. Our Lord has told us that the fields “are white already to harvest.”
Believe me, there are Spirit-prepared people near you who are seeking answers. God will lead you to these people. Ask him and see!
For further research, see Tim Keller, “Evangelism and the Steward Leader” audio. Bishop Joseph Johnson, “Beyond Maintenance to Mission”, Video 2009 Quadrennial Congress