Missional Disciple

Several recent posts by Mike Breen (MikeBreen.wordpress.com) point to the possible issues with the missional church movement. I think he is accurate in his assessment that the missional movement–if it continues as it is–will fail. As a United Methodist, I cannot help but reflect that his concern for the current missional movement is what actually came to pass in the Methodist movement.

The Methodist movement came out of a desire to reach people who were not being reached by the traditional church. And, while there is lots we could say about the movement, maybe the simplest way to to summarize it is to say that it was about “holiness of heart and life.”

What does “holiness of heart and life mean”? To put it into my own words (and to share how I have experienced it in living out my faith) seeking to live this way is about bringing an awareness to my everyday choices and experiences so that they can be used by God to mold me more into the image and likeness of Jesus.

So daily reflection on how I am living and the choices I am making are key. For example….Do I schedule too much in my day and neglect prayer? Or do I “forget” to reach out and care for someone I know is in need of help? I find an honest examination of my choices illumines how the Holy Spirit is seeking to mold me and how well (and poorly) I am surrendering to his work in me. For me the best map I have used to help me do this is the learning circle.

I think John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, looked do a similar thing with his focus on what he called “works of piety” (spiritual practices) and “works of mercy” (acts towards other). These were the daily ways average people let the Spirit mold them into who God was calling them to become. Living this way was key to the power and strength of the Methodist movement. But somehow, once Methodism changed from a movement to a denomination, we lost our way.

My first experience with the United Methodist Church started when I was 25 years old. I was a college student at Long Beach State and after being sent an article by my father about the United Methodist Church, I visited the first church in the yellow pages: Belmont Heights UMC (Long Beach, CA). There I found a mostly senior church of good hearted people. One of the first things that struck me about them was how active they were! They were active in raising money for foreign missions (though their women’s group) and (more locally) in making weekly meals for the Meals on Wheels program. They had the holiness of life down, that was obvious to me, even as an outsider.

But what about the holiness of heart? They were good people, loving people. But as an outsider, as someone who had no connections to the community, there was a lack of grounding to the good they did. While they did start a bible study during the years I attended, there was a real gap in biblical grounding, especially for someone like me who needed that foundation.

Let me say more on this. For I believe that many at Belmont Heights would have said they did what they did because of their faith in Christ and their desire to live the way of Jesus. But to someone new, someone younger, someone without that background, there was little obvious connection. Today, this might even be more of an issue.

In addition, the Christian life is meant to be lived in a rhythm. We are to be filled and to fill, we are to receive and to give. We give from being filled by and resting in God. That connection with God that transforms and heals (and many people seek out the faith because they are seeking healing and help) moves us toward the missional life. Without that strong connection with God, I find people are too self-center to care much about others in need.

Mike Breen’s posts focus on the importance of discipleship and mission–or to put it in traditional methodist terms, “heart and life” – this movement needs BOTH/AND. I really like his down to earth illustration about the importance of both when he says that not having mission is like ordering a cheeseburger without the burger and not having discipleship is like ordering a cheeseburger without the cheese. Both are needed.

As a United Methodist pastor I have watched people be drawn to mission, to helping and serving others, but in my own journey I have discovered that without worship that connects me with the divine, without daily prayer and bible study I am rootless. With them the Christ within me strengthens me to deal with the often overwhelming need and lack of resources I have found in both local church ministry and the world.

I love the focus on being missional, it is part of my DNA as a United Methodist, but without connecting with discipleship, today’s missional churches will find themselves as empty and lifeless as many UMC find themselves today.