7 Ways Missional Spirituality is Different than Christian Spirituality

Missional spirituality is something that every Christian needs to know about.

We all know that “missional” is not primarily about doing more outreach activities in the church but rather about our identity as Christians. In other words, to be missional is to understand that our deepest identity is that we are children of God sent into the world to cooperate with the mission of God.

So missional is about the people of God coming to terms with who they are. Ross Hastings in Missional God, Missional Church says,

“What ails the contemporary church is forgetting the essential theology that determines its ecclesiology, the theology of the Missio dei… It gets us back to the basic understanding that the church is a sent community because it is the community of the sending triune God.”

What we want to see is people being formed into “sent ones” (John 20:21). Missional is about the people of God coming to terms with who they are. That is a spiritual concern. Click To Tweet

That is a spiritual concern. Matters to do with identity and formation are related to spirituality rather than strategy or methodology or even primarily activity. “Who am I?” and “Who am I becoming?” are deeply spiritual questions. So mission and spirituality are codependents.

Christian spirituality, however, as it is popularly thought of, and in my opinion, has become quite confused and corrupted by worldviews which are counter to a missional identity. Christian spirituality has become quite confused by worldviews counter to a missional identity. Click To Tweet

Disembodied vs. Embodied

Christian spirituality can sometimes reflect the excarnation that sits in our culture. Charles Taylor used this term in A Secular Age to describe what happens when we conceptualize and abstract our lives. What ends up happening is that concepts and thoughts become more important that bodily engagement with those thoughts.

I see this often when people lament that the discipleship is lukewarm in their church. What is the usual solution offered? More teaching, more study and more information. We instinctively think that correct doctrine will transform us automatically. Our spirituality has become an abstraction rather than grounded in embodied practice. Our spirituality has become an abstraction rather than grounded in embodied practice. Click To Tweet

This-Worldly vs. Other-Worldly

Michael Gorman in an essay called “The This-worldliness of the New Testament’s Otherworldly Spirituality” in The Bible and Spirituality says,

“For many people including Christians of various kinds the word spirituality connotes an experience of the transcendent even specifically of God or Jesus, that is not connected to life in the world. Its purpose so to speak is to transport people out of the trials and tribulations of the world through mystical experiences, an interiority focused on the self or the god/God within, or an eschatological orientation that pays scant if any attention to social ills. Although recent scholarly interpretation of Christian experience has opposed such approaches to spirituality, much popular spiritual writing and some Christian music (both traditional and contemporary) reinforce such sentiments. The resulting spirituality is often otherworldly, escapist and even narcissistic.”

Our spirituality is often more similar to gnosticism than the grounded spirituality that Jesus displayed in his life.

Service-Oriented vs. Self-Actualized

Often when we think about spirituality and formation we can be very focused on our growth, our self-improvement, and our flourishing. In this sense sometimes I think that spiritual formation has an end goal to make us more self-actualized or moral people as opposed to people who are oriented to serve our world. Sometimes we consume spiritual growth programs in the same way that we would attend self-help courses that aim to help us live our lives for the betterment of ourselves. Sometimes we consume spiritual growth programs like we would attend self-help courses. Click To Tweet

Engaging vs. Withdrawing

David Bosch in his book A Spirituality of the Road critiques the Christian classic Pilgrim’s Progress stating that it conveys a

“decisive break with the world and a flight from the ‘wicked city’… In this model the world is primarily seen as a threat, as a source of contagion from which the Christian must keep himself free. To be saved means, in essence, to be saved from this world, spirituality means otherworldliness.”

Sometimes our spirituality is more about withdrawing from rather than engaging with the world. If you think about what usually comes to our minds when we mention spirituality, probably it is images of retreat, reflection, inwardness and privacy as opposed to service, action, and engagement with our neighborhood.

A missional spirituality counters this popular but wrong expression of Christian spirituality. Instead, its aim is the formation of a people who are sent into the world on God’s mission.

Incarnational vs. Excarnational

Darrell Guder says in his book The Incarnation and the Church’s Witness,

“The centrality of the community to the gospel means that the message is never disembodied. The word must always become flesh, embodied in the life of the called community. The gospel cannot be captured adequately in propositions, or creeds or theological systems…the gospel dwells in and shapes the people who are called to be its witness. The message is inextricably linked with its messengers. If there is good news in the world, then it is demonstrably good in the way that it is lived out by the community called into its service. The early church in Jerusalem lived in such a way that they had ‘the goodwill of all the people’ (Acts 2:47). A missional spirituality takes seriously the embodiment of the gospel. The world is to look at the people of God and exclaim “So that is the gospel? I see it now!”

We embody the gospel and as we do that, we witness to our living Lord Jesus. This means moving beyond information and towards transformation through action. We recognize that as we act, we experience the presence of God building his kingdom on earth. As we act, we discern God’s whispers calling us to join him on his mission. A missional spirituality is grounded, earthy, “this-worldly” and embodied. 7 Ways Missional Spirituality is Different than Christian Spirituality Click To Tweet

Cruciformly vs. Upward Mobility

In Michael Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God he says,

“Cruciform holiness stands in marked contrast to key Roman values (which can infiltrate the body of Christ), especially those values associated with the libertine and status seeking lifestyle of the elite, and those related to the power and domination predicted of imperial divinity. This cruciform holiness means in sum, becoming like Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son and thus also becoming like God- For God is Christlike “You shall be cruciform, for I am cruciform.”

A missional spirituality crucifies the ego that seeks self-promotion and upward mobility. Instead, we aspire to service, sacrifice and love of enemy which will inevitably lead to suffering.

Trinitarian vs. Individualistic

God is Father, Son, and Spirit in deep, mutual and interdependent relationship. We reflect this in our personhood to some extent. This is a serious challenge to our Western notions of individualism, independence and the worship of the narrative of the self-made person. Colin Gunton in The Promise of Trinitarian Theology states that the main way in which the church can reflect the triune nature of God is through the practice of koinonia. He asks,

“What then is it for the church to reflect, as part of the creation, the being of God? … The answer lies in the word koinonia, perhaps best translated as community. A missional spirituality moves away from individualism and towards community and deep fellowship. We ‘participate’ in the lives of one another.”

Missional spirituality as a way of life.

A missional spirituality is a way of living which avoids the dualism of Gnosticism, shuns the excarnation of our culture and refuses to separate contemplation from action. It is an integrated way of living which points to the resurrected Lord Jesus manifesting in us, calling us beyond ourselves and towards his mission of the reconciliation of all things. If we want to live out our identity as missional Christ followers, then a missional spirituality is crucial.

In the next part of this article I will focus on practical habits or disciplines that we can engage with as the people of God so that we are formed into “sent ones” of God.

More resources

For more on missional spirituality here are some recommendations.

Surprise the World by Michael Frost

Global Church by Graham Hill (view chapter 15 on spirituality and discipleship. The majority world offers us an integrated view of spirituality. We have much to learn here. )

Missional Spirituality: Embodying God’s Love from the Inside Out  by Roger Helland and Len Hjalmarson

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