Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Missions as Adjective Rather Than Verb

In October of 2004 I was able to participate in a short-term mission trip to Australia. This great country has seen the decline of the Christian church to such extremes that it is rivaled perhaps only by the situation in the United Kingdom. In response to their changing cultural situation there has been continued growth in various expressions of alternative spiritualities, including the New Spiritualities, Neopaganism, and Wicca. During this missions trip I had the opportunity to meet with a number of cutting-edge missional thinkers and practitioners, including Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost. Alan and Michael are the co-authors of the book The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (Hendrickson/Strand, 2003). I began reading the book while I was in Australia, and finished it after my return to the States. The book complimented my previous reading in the area of missions and I enjoyed it immensely.

Last week I was looking at various Blogs and found one from a self-described "professional practitioner of youth ministry", Dixon Kinser, who listed Frost and Hirsch's book on his Blog as a book he had recently read. The influence of missional thinking was apparent in this youth pastor's comments on a short-term missions trip he took with youth in San Francisco, California. I'd like to highlight some of his ideas to stimulate "outside the box" thinking in American churches concerning not only short-term missions for youth and adults, but how we "do church and missions" in general.

Dixon writes about the mission trip and wonders whether it "is a helpful way to invite students into this way of life. I know that 'missions' are crucial, but I believe the time has come for there practice to be reimagined." He then discussed six personal struggles he has with how we presently conceives of and engage in short-term missions. I personally resonate with his concern about "consumerism" (that short-term missions trips become yet another church product to be bought and consumed, albeit for noble reasons), and "evangelism with no relationship" (wherein we perpetuate our evangelism as event or activity rather than incarnationally as ongoing process in relationships). In light of his concerns, Dixon then asks insightfully, "How much short-term mission practice exacerbates alienating dynamics?", and how often do we end up being "'do-Gooders [rather] than servants."

Having deconstructed popular conceptions of short-term missions in his first post on the topic, Dixon then provides some thoughts on a reconstruction in a follow-up post. In this post he has picked up on a key insight, namely the needed transition from missions to missional. Missions is often thought of as a verb, that is, something we do as an external activity, rather than as an adjective, something that describes who and what we are as a way of being. With this shift in perspective, individuals and churches are not so much called to engage in missions as an activity, but rather to embody being missional as a way of life that partners with God in the way of Jesus in proclaiming and living the radical life of the Kingdom in both individual and communal ways.

Dixon has changed the way he conceives of and participates in missions with his youth that moves beyond short-term missions trips to a concenpt of a Trip of Mission and Spiritual Formation. I believe this idea has a lot of potential, not only in correcting our faulty thinking about and participation in short-term missions, but also in the how being missional is an integral part of our individual and corporate spiritual formation, and the exercise of spiritual disciplines in the Christian church.

I'd like to thank Dixon for his thoughts on this issue. As a missional Christian in Utah I have wanted to involve Christians in short-term cross cultural missions experiences in Utah and California in the area of new religions and alternative spiritualities. After reflecting on Dixon's insights I have rethought this concept and changed it from traditional short-term missions concepts of trips and activities to one of spiritual formation that provides another facet of the continuing development of the people of God as they seek Kingdom growth in the way of Jesus. It will be difficult for churches to revamp there short-term missions projects, but a new way of being missional rather than engaging in acts of missions will provide greater blessings to both Christians and those to whom God has called us to bless.

Dixon's articles may be found here:

"Deconstructing Short Term Missions Part 1

"Deconstructing Short Term Missions Part 2: A Reconstruction"

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