On Wednesday of this week I’ll be offering a workshop at the Renovaré conference in San Antonio. The theme of this conference is: The Jesus Way: Recovering the Lost Content of Discipleship. Conference headliners include Eugene Peterson, Max Lucado, Emilie Griffin, John Ortberg, Dallas Willard, and Richard Foster. I’m honored to be included on the undercard as one of dozens of workshop leaders.
I’m participating in a “track” of the conference sponsored by the Presbyterian Global Fellowship. This track is called “Transformational and Missional: The Jesus Way for Church Life and Leadership.” Other track presenters will be Todd Hunter, Rich Kannwischer, Will Mancini, and Dallas Willard. My workshop will focus on biblical texts that inform our understanding of the relationship between missional and formational aspects of Christian discipleship.
Yes, I realize I might have lost some of you with this lingo. The words “missional” and “formational” are not exactly found on the lips of most folks, even faithful church members. So let me explain what I am planning to talk about on Wednesday before I summarize some of my conclusions here. (You don’t even have to visit San Antonio in the middle of a heat wave to get the main points of my workshop!) (Photo: The Jesus Way logo, from Eugene Peterson’s book, The Jesus Way)
Missional: “Missional” is an adjective that I first heard in the 1990s. Since then it has gained in popularity. In fact, “missional” runs the risk of becoming faddish, and therefore way overused. Plus, the more folks use it, the more it can lose its precise meaning. Some time ago I wrote a whole blog series on the topic: “The Mission of God and the Missional Church.” You’ll find a thorough discussion of the meaning of “missional” there. For now, I’ll simply say that “missional” is an adjective used to describe the church as a participant in the mission of God. The missional church exists, not primarily for itself, but for God and for others. The word “missional” comes from the Latin word missio that means for “having been sent.” The missional church is not only a church that sends or supports missionaries who are sent to distant places to do the work of God. Rather, the missional church sees itself as God’s missionary wherever it is located. The missional church understands itself as having been “sent” by God to do his work right where it is.
One among many biblical texts that defines the missional character of the church is the so-called Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Formational: “Formational” is an adjective that is related to the notion of “spiritual formation” or “Christian formation.” Formational activities would be those that help us to grow as Christians, not only in our knowledge of the faith, but primarily in our Christ-likeness. Biblical passages that point to the process of formation would include:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son [proorisen summorphous tes eikonos tou huiou autou], in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. (Romans 8:29)
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed [metamorphousthe] by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you [mechris hou morphothe Christos en humin]. (Galatians 4:19)
You may have noticed that each of these verses contains a word from the Greek root morph-. God has destined us to be conformed [summorphous] to the image of his Son. We are to be transformed [metamorphousthe] by the renewing of our minds. Christ is to be formed in us [morphothe]. In Greek, the word morphe means “form.” It can refer to the external shape of something, but also to its essential character. It has this sense when used in the New Testament to describe the basic nature of something. Morphe itself shows up in Philippians 2:6-7 in reference to Christ:
who, though he was in the form [morphe] of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form [morphe] of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form. . . .
Missional and Formational?
In my Renovaré workshop, I’m dealing with the relationship between misional and formational in Christian churches as well as in the lives of individual believers. If a church sees itself as missional (sent by God to share in his mission), in what sense might it also be formational (helping people to become more like Christ)? If a church is focused on spiritual formation, how might this impact its missional consciousness?
At first glance, it seems as if missional and formational are apples and oranges. One has to do with the outward effort of a Christian community. The other has to do with the inward transformation of individuals. There are surely many churches that focus on one or the other, without incorporating both emphases. This suggests other questions. Should a church be both missional and formational, or can it choose one or the other? Is it possible for a church to be truly missional and not be formational? Or truly formational and not be missional? How might missional and formational emphases complement each other?
My approach in my workshop, and in this blog series, will be to examine specific biblical texts that deal with missional and/or formational aspects of the Christian life. My expect that we’ll be able to see, not only that missional and formational go hand in hand, but also how they depend up and fulfill each other. A church that is truly what a church should be will, in my opinion, but both missional and formational. Moreover, it will see itself as essentially missional and formational, whether or not it uses these particular terms.
As always, I’m interested in your input here, through comments or through email. How do you see the connection between missional and formational? How have you experienced this connection (or lack thereof) in your church experience?