Re-Imagining Missional Distinctives

Recently I have been considering again what it means to be a ‘missionary community’, and I have been pondering what ‘values’ we would hold dear, and to be honest I get very weary of those ‘discovering our values’ exercises because inevitably we discover that we value the Bible, prayer, relationships etc. Its all no brainer type of stuff and we didn’t need to spend a day (or a year) pondering it.

Because of this I have come to appreciate the concept of distinctives quite a bit more. I think we can all agree that we value the Bible & prayer & loving one another and evangelism and blah blah blah… (if we don’t then we’re in the wrong game) but perhaps we need to ponder what is it that is actually unique about the community that God has called us to be?

As I ponder this I like to frame it in non-biblical words and from the perspective of a member of our local community looking on who isn’t a Christian but who gets what we are about. I thought I’d take a post to reflect on some of the distinctives that I would want to characterise any community of people that I am involved with. So have a read and see what you resonate with and what jars with you.

These are in no particular order…

generosity – I’d love for the people in our neighbourhood to be aware that this is a community who splash their money and time and relationships around with great liberality. In such a self focused society I believe that personal and corporate generosity can function as a prophetic statement about what the kingdom of God is like. And who would ever knock a church for being obscenely generous?!

earthiness – It’d be great if those who come near feel a sense of these being ordinary people who sometimes get life right and sometimes stuff it up, but who do it with Jesus in the midst. When church people start to give off airs of superiority most Aussies will simply walk away. Again I’d ask, who would ever knock a church for being a ‘society of sinners’ where other likeminded strugglers are more than welcome. Everyone knows we aren’t as squeaky clean as sometimes gets made out so let’s be honest with that and maybe we might drop the hypocrite flag a bit lower.

fun – seriously! I realise this may depend on your defintion of ‘fun’, but surely a community where people laugh a lot and enjoy being together has to be one that others would want to be part of? The dour and drab countenance that seems to characterise some church gatherings on a Sunday morning must surely communicate something of the God we worship… I want to be with people who know how to enjoy themselves and can party well (and I say that an introverted non-party animal!)

intelligent – ok by this I am meaning a community where there is the ability to reflect deeply on the issues that face us as missionaries in the west and not simply fall in line with the next fad, nor adhere to a mindless fundamentalism because this is all we have known. Inevitably this means being a curious and questioning community, safe in our relationship with Christ, confident enough to admit that we don’t know it all but courageous enough to consider other viewpoints.

adventurous – people who get the whiff a challenge and rise to it rather than people who simply see the ‘danger’ and wish to play it safe. Having been both in communities that have played it safe and communities that have ‘given it a go’ I never want to go back to the dullness and predictability of that kind of environment.

willing to get involved – its easy to do ministry from a distance, but to be willing to get involved in people’s lives and to have them in your home, to put yourself out and not farm someone out to a designated ‘committee’ is a big committment. But surely if anyone is going to sense real genuine love from us then it will be largely because we didn’t stand at a distance and yell instructions, but because we got down and dirty and involved in the good the bad and the ugly of life and walked the path come what may.

Of course I realise these probably typify my own preferences and are something of a reflection of my own personality, but then that’s how it is with leadership isn’t it? Who you are always comes thru. I don’t think there is any avoiding that, but being in a team does help avoid a church simply becoming an unhealthy extension of one person’s personality.

So if you imagine a community that you would dearly love to be part of, which of the above words resonate with you, which would you delete and which of your own would you add?

I’d love to hear!

9 thoughts on “Re-Imagining Missional Distinctives

  1. hamo,

    i think you’ve nailed it… for me at least! the thing i noted about all of those distinctives was that you can always work on being more of each of them… i.e. more generous, more earthy (normal!), more willing…. with balance of course.

    and i think there are cycles… with our community we’ve sometimes thought,”okay maybe we’re having a bit too much fun and not enough balance with intelligence/generosity etc…” that way we can always keep ourselves in check.

  2. Yep nice thoughts Hammo.

    What I’d add is, when you come up with a list of distinctives

    ::do you let the community shape them or the leader/leaders?

    Often I think the distinctives are more of a wish list of the leader/leaders, than the true distinctiveness of a community.

    A true snapshot would also include a few undesirable distinctives as well.

  3. Hi fellas

    interesting thought Scott…

    i guess none of us would like to list our undesirables even if they exist! So perhaps it is more aspirational than actual at times?

    I would hope a community would be part of shaping these distinctives, but I imagine the leaders will be primarily responsible for setting the culture.

    I imagine there are plenty more distinctives that others would prefer to have.

    If I were John Piper I imagine my list would be quite different. I don’t mean that disparagingly at all. I just imagine Piper and I are quite different kinds of people so chances are we would hope to see some different things.

    I do think its important that weare able to express distinctives that are congruent with scripture but don’t necessarily require a proof text!

  4. I think a church will always take on the distinctives of its leader – and that is a good thing. I’ve often seen a huge disconnect between the values a church espouses and the actual reality. Sometimes the reality is much more appealing. Why is it that you hardly ever see ‘fun’ or ‘not a place for non-thinking wimps’ on values listings?

    I don’t want open the 7 churches box, but there is a sense that individuals are responsible for their theology – a church isn’t an entity.

  5. That sounds pretty much like my kind of dream Christian community. ‘Earthiness’ and ‘Fun’ grip me big time while the ‘Adventurous’ scares me a little – but that can be a good thing. I’d love to be part of a community where I could be completely HONEST and not feel condemned. A team of encouragers on the Journey with eyes set firmly on the goal’til Kingdom come.

  6. I’m with Kylie. Adventure is fine but then there are those within the midst who are just plain pushy and mistake the fear/caution of others for laziness.

    On the honesty track, I would love somewhere where you don’t have to wear a ‘church mask’ and the conversation is deeper than what the weather is like (one of my gripes coming from being in a church full of farmers!)

  7. hello Hamo

    agreed in principle with all your distinctives, took up your thought train and made a quick list of top of my head as to what distinctives i feel the the christian community/church should display and the following came up – peaceful, loving, accepting, healing, passionate, refuge – often people need refuge from the storm and there is nothing like coming into a community that accepts you, listins to you, accepts you, loves you – refreshing in a plastic consumer driven dog eats dog world

    also thought about Galatians – the fruit of the Spirit = love, joy, peace (from God to us), patience, kindness, goodness (from God through us to others), faithfulness, gentleness and self control (God working in us to make us Christlike)

    we are called to bear fruit, however this does not mean that we do not take the battle to the enemy…Jesus said “the gates of hell will not prevail against his church” (matthew 16 vs 18)- we bear His fruit, we fight His battle = adventure!!

    ok, i am rambling now 🙂


  8. I liked em all! They all inspire me, the difficult bit though is the ideal is often hard to find/create.

    I guess if we aspire to aspects of these distinctives wherever possible, we’ll at least be on the right track.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *