Is Missional “The New Legalism?”

There’s a post from World Magazine making the rounds in Christian circles by Anthony Bradley entitled, “The New Legalism.” He wrote it in response to a tweet he sent out that said:

“Being a ‘radical,’ ‘missional’ Christian is slowly becoming the ‘new legalism.’ We need more ordinary God and people lovers (Matt 22:36-40).”

 He goes on to decry the people that call for Christians to live missional lives and to walk in a radical Christianity. He makes a case that it comes from Millenials disdaining the suburbs they were raised in and the narcissistic world we live in now where everyone is special and needs to do grand things for God in order to be fully walking as Jesus walked.

I saw it posted by Mike Duran and Jaime the Very Worst Missionary, both mentioning it as an interesting read. It is a thought-provoking piece, but I think it is a flawed premise that misleads by focusing on a few points in exclusion to the whole context.

There are some areas where I agree with Anthony. I came of age in Christianity in the Charismatic/Third Wave movement of the 80s and 90s. Well-meaning preachers would call us the Joshua Generation (Psalm 24) and proclaim how we would do great things. Prophecies were made (it was Charismatic after all) and I was encouraged that I could be a leader/teacher/missionary and so on. I believed I had a call to missions, and I did two stints with Youth With A Mission in their Discipleship Training School and School of Biblical Studies.

Something happened in Bible school. God told me to get a skill. I went into medicine, thinking it could open doors for the mission field. Except…I got married. Now, I married my best friend who had also been in missions, and she taught school which would be another great tent-making opportunity. Except…we started having kids. And I had school loans. We bought a house.

All of a sudden I was settled down into a suburban life. I went to church on Sundays, tried to establish my career, coached kids in soccer, and wondered when I would get into missions, my real call.

This is where I agree with Anthony. In the Charismatic stream I came from, greatness was the promise we were told God had for us. I could see myself traveling and teaching, ministering in different countries. There was some narcissism there. Prophets never seemed to say, “You’re going to live a boring life in the town you grew up in.” There was always more suggested.

The problem was that basic commitment to serve the Lord in whatever way He called us. I was always willing to do whatever, or at least that’s what I said. Still, I had my idea what that meant, and I struggled when things didn’t go that way. If I had a heart for missions, why was I still in the U.S.?

Then last year things were turned upside down in our lives.

We found ourselves in a like-minded group that didn’t have expectations of going to a regular church and doing the “typical Sunday things.” We asked God what we could do. He gave us the Outreach Saga, where we met locally in the midst of a low-income housing area and worked with people that felt on the outside of church.

In the midst of this upheaval I’ve started following people like Neil Cole, Alan Hirsch, Francis Chan, and David Platt, people associated with groups like the Verge Conference. Verge talks a lot about missional, radical Christianity. And Anthony wonders if too much pressure is being placed on young Christians, teens and college students, to do something extraordinary in their lives. If they don’t do certain things, they aren’t being the best Christians they can.

Anthony creates a straw man argument here. Yes, if leaders are telling people that you can only live for God if you do a certain set of things, it is a form of legalism just like the Pharisees. The problem with this is that it is an extreme and not the norm, as far as my perspective goes. I think Anthony has a particular theological slant against David Platt as evidenced by his review of Platt’s book. I don’t know all of Platt’s teachings, so there may be more here than I realize.

However, Anthony’s article makes it sound like every Christian is being told by the missional/radical movement should move to the inner city, do social justice and artistic work, and give up worldly possessions to proclaim the gospel.

You know what. Why not?

I think it comes down to being obedient to what God calls you to do. If it is to work in a successful law firm and make money so you can support other ministries and causes, that is great. If it is to volunteer your law skills to help victims of trafficking, great.

Anthony seems to be asking for a corrective. Americans are very into themselves, and I know that some of the theology and teaching/prophecy from my early years tickled my ears more than spoke of true discipleship. But doesn’t the church in America need awakening?

I have many friends that give up so much for the sake of the gospel. I have other friends that love God but segment their lives and don’t live in the fullness I believe God has for them. They travel out of town to a large, fancier church with a gifted teacher as the pastor to worship and get fed…and that’s it. I know they go there so it can be no muss, no fuss. They don’t have to get involved with the church, because it is large and they are anonymous. They don’t have to get in the midst of people’s messy lives if they don’t want to.

I fear this is a large segment of American Christianity. Thus I believe a call to discover missional living, where people are intentional in all they do in order to be used for the Kingdom, is sorely needed. I see the need for Christians to be called to “radical” Christianity. The issue is that it shouldn’t be radical in the first place – it should be common-place of a disciple of Christ.

The intro to Anthony’s article states:

Is Paul’s urging to live quietly, mind your own affairs, and work with your hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11) only for losers? Do you feel that you’re wasting your gifts if you “settle” into an ordinary job, get married early and start a family, or live in a small town or suburb?

I did struggle with this for a time. I knew God was an extraordinary God, and I wondered if I was missing out. I was faithful serving in my local church, and walked with Him the best I could. Slowly I realized there are seasons of testing or training, and there are seasons of adventure. I knew in my head that we are all missionaries wherever we are, but now I am living it in my heart as I work among the people at the housing complex. I don’t have to travel or speak to large groups. I am allowing God to use me to target a small, specific group of people, and it is right where I am supposed to be. I don’t worry about not fulfilling my call, because I know I am now.
God can use us in so many ways. But “living quietly” in the above verse also must be alongside “take up my cross and follow Me.”
I’m glad I read the article. It sharpened my thinking in this arena. But I disagree with the premise that a missional or radical emphasis is inherently legalistic. My blog is called Spoiled For The Ordinary. We may live an “ordinary” life. But our God is anything but ordinary, and I believe all Christians would do well to see the crazy love He gives us and then go and do likewise. 
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Soccer or Football

I was talking to a friend this weekend who passed on an observation from someone else.

“Church can be like football or like soccer.”

This piqued my curiosity. I am a sports fan after all. I love to watch American football, but I enjoy playing soccer more.

A football game is equipment and support heavy. All the helmets and pads. Several referees. A special kind of field with marks every ten yards. To do it right, it takes a lot of effort and resources.

Soccer can be the essence of simplicity. You need a ball and two spots for goals. That’s it.

 The laws of soccer are actually very few, compared with the myriad of penalties and rules for what is acceptable in football. Try explaining to a football novice the difference between running into a kicker vs. roughing the kicker, or pass interference, or illegal formation. The wide receiver covered the tight end? What is that?

Of course kids can play a simple game of football in a park, and soccer can be done with huge stadiums and use a lot more resources. Still, the analogy holds: football is generally a lot of work to actually get to the game, while soccer can be done with a minimal of requirements.

When it comes to church, doing our Outreach Saga has convinced me that doing things simply like the soccer match is a valid way of meeting together as the body of Christ. I recognize that the big football game of Sunday morning church has its place and can do things we can’t do in our small group. However, I think both can be used to meet the needs of people around us.

Are we willing to do something small and simple to reach people, instead of always going for bigger and showier?

For now, God’s given me a soccer ball. I’m willing to play the game He’s put in front of me.

What do you think of the analogy? Does it ring true, or do you have a concern about it? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

A Different Season

Life is interesting, and you never know when you’re going to hit a curve in the road.

Through a series of strange and unusual events, my family and some dear friends have found ourselves not associated with any organized church. My wife and I had been in a situation where we were between churches before, but we left a church that was getting off in theology and practice and it took us a while to find our last church home. This circumstance is different though.

The cool thing is God is using this circumstance to allow us to experiment and try doing church or the Christian life a new way. The friends that are with us are all mature believers, who have walked with us for a while. We know each other well and have been through the normal ups and downs of church life together. We’ve had a heart to reach out to our community for a while, and have done some things to reach out in the past.

Now that we’re not tied to an organized church and don’t have to hold to a certain set of expectations, we’ve been praying and decided to use this season, however long it may be, to try something different. Perhaps it is radical. Maybe it is more of what we should be doing all along.

Our little group is going to spend Sunday mornings trying to reach out to people who aren’t in church. We’re going to meet in a neighborhood park, invite the people around, and have a time of sharing Jesus with whomever comes. We’re trying to make it relatable with stories and testimonies and just spending time with them. If it is relationship building we want to do that, but if it is straight evangelism we’ll do that. Ultimately, we’re going to try to do whatever the Lord speaks to us about doing.

We have friends watching out for us, so we’re not being lone rangers. We are taking time together to study the Word, pray, and worship as we’re lead. We may not have much worldly success, but we realize you don’t change the world, or change your city, without taking risks.

We’re not mad at church and we bless all our friends who serve faithfully there. It seems at this time that the Lord has something else for us.

If you are so inclined, I would certainly appreciate your prayers. Our group (working on a name!) wants to see Jesus lifted up in our community, and we’re trying to be willing to whatever comes up in front of us. If you have questions, let me know and I’d be glad to answer them the best I can. As this seems to fit the theme of “Mission Monday” rather well, I’ll post about our adventures from time to time.

For now, it is a new day!

A Different Season

Life is interesting, and you never know when you’re going to hit a curve in the road.

Through a series of strange and unusual events, my family and some dear friends have found ourselves not associated with any organized church. My wife and I had been in a situation where we were between churches before, but we left a church that was getting off in theology and practice and it took us a while to find our last church home. This circumstance is different though.

The cool thing is God is using this circumstance to allow us to experiment and try doing church or the Christian life a new way. The friends that are with us are all mature believers, who have walked with us for a while. We know each other well and have been through the normal ups and downs of church life together. We’ve had a heart to reach out to our community for a while, and have done some things to reach out in the past.

Now that we’re not tied to an organized church and don’t have to hold to a certain set of expectations, we’ve been praying and decided to use this season, however long it may be, to try something different. Perhaps it is radical. Maybe it is more of what we should be doing all along.

Our little group is going to spend Sunday mornings trying to reach out to people who aren’t in church. We’re going to meet in a neighborhood park, invite the people around, and have a time of sharing Jesus with whomever comes. We’re trying to make it relatable with stories and testimonies and just spending time with them. If it is relationship building we want to do that, but if it is straight evangelism we’ll do that. Ultimately, we’re going to try to do whatever the Lord speaks to us about doing.

We have friends watching out for us, so we’re not being lone rangers. We are taking time together to study the Word, pray, and worship as we’re lead. We may not have much worldly success, but we realize you don’t change the world, or change your city, without taking risks.

We’re not mad at church and we bless all our friends who serve faithfully there. It seems at this time that the Lord has something else for us.

If you are so inclined, I would certainly appreciate your prayers. Our group (working on a name!) wants to see Jesus lifted up in our community, and we’re trying to be willing to whatever comes up in front of us. If you have questions, let me know and I’d be glad to answer them the best I can. As this seems to fit the theme of “Mission Monday” rather well, I’ll post about our adventures from time to time.

For now, it is a new day!