Themes of Missional Preaching
There is so much that is written and said about missional preaching! In fact, you could pick up half a dozen articles and books about missional preaching and think you’re reading about six different things. So here is quick run-down of some the broad characteristics that I think make up missional preaching:
“Missional” and the Missio Dei… In recent years, as the term missional has become more popular, it’s become a label that is used to describe lots of theories, practices, ideas, and events which often bear no resemblance to the original missional conversation. “Missional,” which for all intents and purposes was recently coined, came out of a very specific conversation about God, mission, and the church in North America. This conversation relates to the Gospel and Our Culture Network, ecumenical theology, the end of Christendom, and North American missiologists. I think the convictions of missional preaching need relate to, in some way, the core convictions and concerns of this initial conversation. More importantly, missional preaching needs to flow from the missio Dei, or the mission of God to redeem creation through Jesus Christ. For more on “what is missional?” see my post here.
Preaching Jesus Christ The ministry of preaching–which is the proclamation of the gospel in worship as it arises from reflection on scripture and experience–is one of the primary ways that a local congregation is formed. In fact, it’s a core conviction of my Reformed tradition that preaching creates the church every time it’s done. Moreover, missional preaching is preaching Jesus Christ — his person, work, and name. This is the core confession of the church from the day of Pentecost; this is the heart of the missio Dei; this is the good news we have to offer: the crucifixion and resurrection of the incarnate God that accomplishes the redemption of creation. Though we preach from a text, though we preach with the kingdom of God in view, the core content of missional preaching is Jesus Christ.
Forming the Missional Vocation of the Congregation One of the primary tasks of missional preaching is to form and shape the missional vocation of the congregation. This is the congregation’s self-understanding that it is sent by God to bear witness to the gospel in its words and deeds. On the one hand, this is a common vocation is shared with the whole church: God is gathering the church and is upbuilding the church in order to send it out into the world to bear witness to him through its words and deeds. On the other hand, though, this is a vocation particular to a congregation’s time and place. Bearing witness to the gospel looks like one thing for a white middle-class church in Peoria, and different for an African-American church in LA. Preaching helps a congregation discern and understand both their common and their specific vocation.
Reading and Interpreting Scripture for Missional Formation At the heart of preaching is reading and interpreting Scripture to discern the word of God for the church today. The crucial question is, what lenses will we use to read scripture? Missional preaching requires that we ask missional questions–that we use a missional hermeneutic in the interpretation of the text. Missional hermeneutics is very much developing, but at its heart it means asking this two-sided question: how did this text shape God’s people for witness then, and how might it do so today? This also means asking questions that arise from the text about cultural-contextual blindspots your specific congregation might have, areas where your church is in need of conversion in order to bear faithful witness.
The Congregation as a Parable of the Kingdom of God A core missional belief is that the congregation–the local church community–is the primary witness to God in the world. The whole life of the congregation, in words and deeds, offers a likeness, a parable, of the gracious reign of God in Jesus Christ. The church is not and will never be a perfect portrait of God’s kingdom — we are always in need of conversion. But the church sets up signposts, markers, of what life under God’s reign is like. Through dependence on the Holy Spirit, hospitality, prophetic social witness, compassionate care for members of the church and community, and many other concrete practices the church strives to live in the new reality begun in Jesus Christ. Missional preaching draws on biblical language and insights into contemporary context to help the congregation see these possibilities, and be inspired by a vision of what life would look like in their time and place under God’s reign.