Pattern 3: Taking Risks as a Contrast Community
When a congregation discerns its missional vocation, it will probably discover that it is becoming different from the dominant culture around it. It is learning how to be different from the world for the sake of mission to the world.
We’re not in Christendom anymore. The missional church recognizes that it no longer lives in “Christendom,” if it ever did. It cannot expect the society around it to be Christian and to adopt all the church’s values. It understands that the church is called to be “in the world, but not of the world.” It raises questions about the church’s cultural captivity.
The church discerns what of the culture it can affirm, and to what of the culture it must offer an alternative. Some aspects of the dominant culture are helpful and commendable. Other aspects of the dominant culture are hostile to the way of Jesus. For the sake of the world and its salvation, the missional church practices “nonconformed engagement” with the world—engaging the world, but not conforming to the world, conforming rather to the reign of God. One pastor said, “If we are faithful Christians, we will be out of step with the culture.”
The missional church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death, and resurrection of its Lord. Jesus Christ lived a life of conformity to the God’s mission in the world. That life led to his death on the cross. The early church understood that God was calling it the same mission as Jesus: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” It also understood that it was to share Christ’s sufferings and thus participate as well in Christ’s resurrection victory. It grapples with the ethical and structural implications of its missional vocation.
The missional church knows that witness to the gospel often involves risk. If doing God’s will and living out one’s missional vocation is the most important thing, then everything else is worth risking. Risks can be small or large. One congregation decided to spend money for a project important to their missional vocation, even though they didn’t yet know where the money would come from. Another congregation took a public stand on a controversial issue and arrived one Sunday morning to find red paint had been thrown against the front door of the church building. Some risks for the sake of the gospel may even be life-threatening; we take inspiration from the witness of Christian martyrs throughout the centuries.
The missional congregation is learning to deal with both internal and external resistance to the gospel. It engages conflict in healthy, reconciling ways. It knows that living out its missional vocation will not please everyone all the time. It deals with conflict in Christlike ways.