God is missional. His mission is to redeem the cosmos and a people for his own possession. But what does it mean for us to be "missional?" We have seen that Jesus sends us just as he was sent, so what is our mission? Entire books and conferences are dedicated to this very concept, so please consider my thoughts here a simple summary of the ideas. As God's agent of redemption in the world, the church is the means by which God accomplishes a central aspect of his mission. Like our Savior we are sent to live among a people who do not know God so that they might see his kingdom and enter in. Our mission is to proclaim this kingdom as Jesus did because that becomes the very gateway through which people find the kingdom. (Proclaiming the kingdom is more than explaining the "Romans Road," and will be dealt with in the next post.)
As I see it, a missional church must therefore be at least 3 things:
The church must live as a sent people, not a only sending people. While we will always be sending others into the farther reaches of the world to take the Gospel of grace, we must also live as a sent people to the communities God has planted our churches in. We should stop allegorizing Acts 1:8 so that (in my case) Elburn, IL is my "Jerusalem," the Chicago suburbs is my "Judea," the state is my "Samaria," and other countries are my "uttermost parts of the earth." From Jesus' perspective, Elburn, IL is in the uttermost parts of the earth. He has sent us, his people, to this culture/context to preach, demonstrate and invite people to enter the kingdom of God. To simply think of ourselves as established, and being the senders of others, robs us of the missional imperative to join God in his mission to the people who live and work in our neighborhoods. This means more than being evangelistic, and knowing our theology.
We must live, work, play and minister redemptively in our culture. The well-intentioned tendency of Christians in America to withdraw from culture has only weakened our effectiveness in communicating Jesus to the people we want to reach out to. Culture is not bad, but merely the combination of customs, values, rituals, beliefs, art, food, and institutions among a specific people. Much of our culture and sub-cultures is good, but needs to find its full meaning in God. And of course much of it is corrupt and needs to be transformed by the power of the Gospel as demonstrated in the community of faith. Either way, the Gospel is seen as something authentic and life changing only in the context of a particular culture. It must be seen, experienced, and understood in comparison or contrast to what they know. This requires involvement in people's lives and the culture we are a part of whenever possible. We cannot strip the kingdom of God down to a few principles that are merely applied to an individual's private life. It is much larger than that.
We and the Gospel must be incarnated where we are. What I mean is that churches will, and should, look different in each cultural context. A church in the inner-city will look different from those in the rural counties. In some cases they will address the same issues with the Gospel, but in many others the Gospel will bring about redemption in different ways to different issues. Instead of relying on one-size-fits-all programs and church models, it is necessary to allow the kingdom of God to present itself to the community through the church in ways needed by that culture. This is not an abandonment of truth, doctrinal standards, or biblical ecclesiology. It is the church moving forward with all of that to become what God intends us to be in each new place.
The "missional church" is almost a redundant expression. The people of God are inherently a sent people. It is who we are, and that gives birth to what we do. We just tend to forget this.
For further, and better, reading on the missional church check out some of Tim Keller's stuff linked below: