God is Working Outside the Church? – Althought not personally invited, still joining Ed Stetzer’s conversation about Missional Church

You see kids, Ed Stetzer (the head of Lifeway Research, author, blogger, and popular speaker on the missional church) has been facilitating a conversation on his blog about what it means to be “missional.”  On Monday’s he poses a question and then several other bloggers answer it. 

I was not personally invited to participate in this conversation.

Now, while it is true that the other bloggers have much higher readership than Wendy and I do, have been more successful in church work, have been blogging much longer, are national leaders in missional thinking, probably know Ed personally (I saw him speak one time…there were like 2000 people there) and (although this hurts to admit) are much smarter and better looking than I am; I still believe I should have been personally invited to participate.   

 It is alright. 

I’m not tooooo offended.

Maybe the invitation just got lost in my spam box. 

I like that.  I shall make believe that is true because it makes me feel good. 

Personal invitation, shirmishinal invitation!  I have decided to join the conversation anyway.  And join it with style and panache I shall!

Now that the air is clear…let’s dive in.  On Monday Stetzer posted a fantastic theological history which described the formation of a statement that I (and other missional thinkers) often use:

“God is working outside the church and we should join Him here.”

Stezer then challenged us to define it by explaining:

How is God at work outside the church? Is God working savingly or salvifically outside the church? In other words, are believers (or “the church”) the only instrument for proclaiming the Gospel and bringing individuals, through the finished work of Jesus on the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit, into the Kingdom of God or are there other means? Or perhaps more broadly, how, then, is God at work outside the church?

First we need to talk about what God is doing.  When we look at the Garden before we messed it all up with sin we see three relationships:  God and humanity in an inmate loving relationship, people dependent on loving community with one another (it is not good for us to be alone), and people caring for the earth.  In chapter 3 we reject God and all three relationships break down.  The story of the Bible is a story of God seeking to restore the relationships we were created to have.  God is on a mission of  restoration – seeking to restore us to right relationship with Him (righteousness) and right relationship with one another (justice). 

So in this scenario what is “salvation?” 

Although we are separate from God (as one of my favorite theologians Jurgen Moltmann said – God first had to create space for us to exist apart from Him because He is and has always been omnipresent) we are dependent upon Him as He is the giver of life.  When we divorced ourselves from Him, death and destruction entered the world.  

As a good Southern Baptist kid, I grew up using the word “punishment” to describe death.   I have grown to understand death not as something that God handed to us because we were bad; but rather as the cost or consequence of the separation from Him we choose.  God does not want us to die.  He takes no pleasure in judgement.  Sin and death were never His intention.  He longs for us to be reconnected with Him and be restored to the eternal relational life we were intended to have.  (For those out there cringing at that last paragraph…yes, I understand the implications of my statements so don’t go throwing Romans 9 at me.  That is another conversation for another time.)

Salvation then comes through the restoration of our relationship with God, made possible by His death and resurrection. 

Is restoring relationship with one another (justice) salvific?  No because we have no power to give life to one another.  Although, it is through our loving relationships with one another that we find God. 

So we have this God who is on a mission.  He longs to see the world restored to Him, to the intimate relationship with Him we were created to have.  In Genesis 12 this mission driven God does something crazy wild.  He invites a family to join Him. 

Pause there.

Did you catch that?

He was already on mission and invited Abram to join Him. 

Are we (people) necessary for the Holy Spirit to work and move in the hearts of others?  Is God limited by our involvement in His mission?  Could god not have blessed the world and called us back to Himself without Abram?  He didn’t seem to need anyone to get Abram’s attention.  As Christ said, if we refuse the rocks will cry out.  God doesn’t need us.  The Holy Spirit is not limited by our participation in His mission.  It is our privilege to join Him.  And personally, I think He is a little nuts to let us come along.  If I were picking teammates, I wouldn’t choose us. 

So I see the Holy Spirit working all the time.  I see Him working in the minds and hearts of my friends that don’t know Him, calling them to relationship with Him in ways they don’t fully grasp. 

I see Him working to restore the relationship we were supposed to have with no another.  Inspiring us to combat injustice.  Calling us to fight oppression and inequality.  Fulling us as we serve and love one another.  Putting within us a deep longing for peace (or wholeness).  That is how we were created to live. 

The Spirit works through the wall calling creation to restore the justice and righteousness we were intended to live in. 

Let’s wrap all this in a big red bow by tackling Stetzer’s question head on.

“Are believers (or “the church”) the only instrument for proclaiming the Gospel and bringing individuals, through the finished work of Jesus on the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit, into the Kingdom of God or are there other means?”

No.  God’s mission is not dependent on believers participation.  If it was it would have ended long ago.  God will do what God wants to do. Illogically He has asked us to join Him on the journey.

And for this I am thankful.

Now I’m pumped!  Bring on the next question Stetzer!  Let’s do this!

God is Working Outside the Church? – Althought not personally invited, still joining Ed Stetzer’s conversation about Missional Church

17 thoughts on “God is Working Outside the Church? – Althought not personally invited, still joining Ed Stetzer’s conversation about Missional Church

  1. There is no restriction on who can get in on this conversation, so I’m really glad to jumped in. I hope you do tackle each of the questions as they come. Looking forward to reading your responses.

    1. jeffandwendy says:

      Oh also…the conversation you participated in back in 2008 (I think it was) radically shaped my understanding of “church.” Some of the blogs written during that time were formative for Wendy and I at a critical time in our lives.

  2. Jeff, don’t feel too offended at being overlooked. Seems the Mission Shift conference itself is an exclusive affair reserved primarily for white, male, American pastors who mostly do church planting. Lots of folks are being left out–non-Americans, women (well there is one doing a lab), hospital, prison and college chaplains, non-whites (except there’s one Black guy who’s face and name appears on the site but doesn’t seem to be speaking), people working with the homeless, etc.

    I have hope that Ed Stetzer will open up the platform, and hopefully others are speaking up, part of the blessing of this open forum that Mr. Stetzer has created. By opening the floor to a variety of voices we get a richer, fuller, healthy view of missional.

    1. jeffandwendy says:

      Just to clarify…I don’t actually believe I was overlooked; nor do I feel left out. I was just screwing around.

      Also, the fact that I (a nobody in Baltimore) can post an article and have three prominent missional bloggers respond in minutes shows how open to others and non-exclusive they are. I mean seriously…that’s crazy. From what I have seen (granted my view is limited) the missional conversation going on has nothing to do with race, gender, denomination, organization, church style, sexual perference, suburban vs. urban, strawberry vs. bannana loving, clergy vs. lay people, drum banging vs. harp struming… or any other division you can think of.

      For me it is a conversation around theology driven by a desperate need to be closer to God and more like the wild unleashed church of Acts. I’m sorry you feel that way bro and from what I’ve read of Stetzer (spelled it right that time…he commented on the blog, does that give me the right to call him Ed? Is Eddy crossing a line? E-Dog? We will just stick to Dr. Stetzer for now) I’m sure he would be sad as well.

      1. Hey Jeff, yeah, I totally knew you were screwing around, and yeah it is cool that Ed Stetzer got back to you and commented–sorta a Church celebrity drive-by. About names I kinda like E-Dog, but then you have more face time with him than I do, so I will stick with calling him “Ed Stetzer” 😛

        While the on-line conversation is technically open to anyone with access to a computer, Internet and the English language, the conference itself, as it is presented on the Mission Shift site, advertises an elite group of presenters. The diversity that appears in the ministry world isn’t even remotely represented at the conference. Unless there is a change in the line-up, this will be an American conference with a bunch of white male pastors speaking into a vacuum while the rest the participants have to sit down and listen. Nothing revolutionary or novel about that.

        Representation makes a difference. From having served on the mission field in Latin America and Africa, I saw how impoverished the work became when the American missionaries assumed and left out the nationals in directing the work. While they were included, how the work blossomed in so many unexpected ways.

        1. jeffandwendy says:

          So let’s take a different path…who would you like to see speak at a “missional conference?” Who do you wish was going to be there? (Anybody feel free to jump in.)

          I recently went to Verge in Austin Texas. Alan Hirsch and Francis Chan were there (two writers that have had major recent impact in my life).

        2. jeffandwendy says:

          Also a second question (this is something I’m seriously struggling with in different settings), how do you hold a productive dialogue in a large group (we are talking 100’s to 1000’s of people) setting?

          If we are to reform existing large church structure to move from program driven to people development (to steal from Reggie McNeal) that is something we’ve got to figure out.

          1. Jeff, there are some excellent protocols for facilitating large group discussions even without advance technology and lots of computers.

            When I spoke at the Lambeth Conference in 2008, they ran daily groups with the Bishops, where each group was able to have deep discussion and report back to the larger gathering.

            Two protocols in particular can be very useful:
            The Chalk Talk (http://www.teachersnetwork.org/ntny/nychelp/mentorship/chalktalk.htm) which can record an on-going dynamic, interactive conversation over shorter or longer periods of time. All you need is a big wall covered with paper and lots of markers. You put a prompt at the top and people write a word, phrase, question or image. As people put things up, they can relate, connect, comment with each other. When it is done you have a document that can be then used with the interactive input of many people.

            Another model is the World Cafe. See http://www.theworldcafe.com/ They provide loads of useful resources for facilitating large scale discussions and provide cafe etiquette and guidelines. I have found this to be very effective for getting lots of people talking to each other in small groups in a way that the average person speaks with dozens of people in a short time.

            1. jeffandwendy says:

              Thanks bro. I’m totally going to check those out tomorrow. This is a question Valley (a church I’m a part of) is beginning to struggle with. We have these dynamic white board sessions around Gospel stories and we want to take it to the congregation…but have no idea how. Thanks for the hook up!

  3. Cory says:

    The fact that church leaders are talking about “getting out” is, in itself” the real deal here. That will be the culture shift. I’m glad that the target is “white, male, American pastors”. They are the ones that have the resources to reach out.

    The test will be to see how they use the blessings they have been given to reach out. Reaching outside the church makes ministers uncomfortable, it requires sacrificing the blessings that they have been given. Easy to talk about, much harder to act on it.


    1. jeffandwendy says:

      Ha. That’s always the tough part. I would love the exhilleration of the resurrection…but could do without the painful sacrifice of the crucifixion.

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