A MISSIONARY CHURCH Shortly before I was elected as bishop in the United Methodist Church, I stood with others, including two bishops, at a tiny country church in Leesville, Texas. A plaque was dedicated to Alejo Hernandez who had been ordained at Leesville in 1871 by Bishop Enoch Marvin. In part the plaque reads simply, “He was a burning bush and the first to preach the gospel among the Mexicans in the manner done by the Methodists.” In 1873 Bishop Keener charged Hernandez “with the responsibility of opening a Methodist mission. With the result, as described by the secretary of the Board of Missions: ‘Brother Hernandez has been subjected to the dire necessities of poverty, to the persecutions of superstitious ignorance and bigoted power, and to the no less potent influences of flattery. But out of all the Lord hath brought him by his power.’” (http://www.gcah.org/history/biographies/alejo-hernandez) Reverend Hernandez was a man on a mission. He understood himself as driven by the Lord through the Holy Spirit and assigned by the bishop. Illness caught up with him in Mexico, and he did not live long. Buried in Corpus Christi, Texas, his tombstone reads: “He was a burning bush and the first to preach the gospel among the Mexicans in the manner done by the Methodists.” Methodism began as a missionary movement! People like Hernandez were the norm not the exception. The term missionary comes from mission and it details a person sent on a mission in the name of and by the power of the Risen Christ. For decades the term missionary was dismissed as a form of cultural imperialism. Yet today the Pentecost movement in China is largely the legacy of North American missionaries prior to World War II. The phrase missional with all its variations on “mission” and “missionary” calls those who are Christ followers back to the deep sense of being sent by Christ. It is the awakening of the claim of Matthew 28:16-20 – The Great Commission. Rightly it has been said that the church doesn’t so much have a mission, the church is a mission – a people sent to share the gospel in word and deed by Christ himself. Alan Roxburgh, author of The Missional Leader, writes: “If ever there was a word that has shaped North American Christianity in the opening decades of the 21st century it is the word missional.” He continues with the following: In 1998 Eerdmans published a book with the title Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. It was written in the most unlikely manner by a team of missiologists, theologians and practitioners who met for three years to compose the book. The book’s genesis lay in the convergence of various people inside a new network called the Gospel and Our Culture Network. Comprised of people from a variety of church backgrounds (Methodist, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist and Anabaptist) GOCN coalesced around the writings of Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, a missionary in India for over thirty years. Newbigin, upon his retirement in the mid 70’s returned to his native England to encounter the fact that the Christian culture he had left some thirty years earlier had all but disappeared. Having a keen missionary sensibility Newbigin recognized that by the latter part of the 20th century the mission field for the Gospel had shifted dramatically. The greatest challenge to Christian mission was now those very nations that had once sent missionaries out around the world. It was the peoples of Europe, shaped by the Western tradition, that were rapidly losing their identity as Christian. In one memorable epithet Newbigin asked the question: Can the West be converted? That question captured the imagination of church leaders in the UK and Europe. It represented one of the fundamental issues that had to be addressed by the church but had not been articulated so clearly until that point. The challenge facing the Western churches was the re-conversion of its own people.” (From a paper presented by Alan Roxburgh to United Methodist Church Developers in 2007, “What is Missional Church?”) What we need today, what God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is calling into being, is a new church – a missionary church in the truest sense of the word! Properly understood a missionary church is a sent church. Such a sending comes from the authority of the risen Christ. By its very nature it encompasses both personal and social holiness, both justice/mercy and evangelism, both justification and sanctification – “make disciples” + “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.” The focus of attention is not on institutional survival but on serving the Lord through loving others in the fullest understanding & sense of love. Again Roxburgh is on target. “The biblical narratives are about God’s mission in, through and for the sake of the world. The focus of attention is toward God not the other way around. The missio dei is about a theocentric rather than anthropocentric understanding of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection which itself, as the apocalyptic engagement of God with the world, breaks into creation in order to call forth that which was promised from the beginning – that in this Jesus all things will be brought back together and made new. But the focus of the missional is doxological. It is not about, in the modern, Western, expressive individualist sense, meeting my needs. The perpendicular pronoun is not the subject of the narrative; God is the subject.” (Alan Roxburgh, IBID) Put bluntly a missional church is a movement for Christ that goes into the world (thus is incarnational at the essence of its methodology). Worship, spiritual formation, bible study and the like provide a critical shaping that propels us forward. The ancient theme so well explicated in 1 & 2 Peter of “in the world but not of it” is applicable at the very core of the churches’ being. What are some of the practical elements of a sent church, a missionary church? A missionary church will be: 1. Christ centered at its heart. 2. Spirit led in its soul. 3. Sacrificial in nature. 4. Servant oriented in character. 5. Incarnational in methodology. 6. Explicitly evangelistic in witness. 7. Creatively engaging in its expression. All this sounds good until we get down to particulars. Yet if the gospel is anything, it is about the scandal of particularity. The High God of the universe comes in the baby named Jesus. This same Lord God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is calling a new church into being. As the years unfold we can expect and even rejoice in a wondrously different shaping of the “United Methodist” part of the church universal. We are at the end of a time of cultural privilege and accommodation. The days of the guaranteed appointment in its current form are numbered. The dominance of a physical structure (building) is receding. Who knows what will happen? Only God. Methodism started as a missionary movement. This is where our future lies. We are in for a wild, exhilarating, terrifying wild ride. The Holy Spirit is calling a new church into being.