In my opinion, if you want to understand what it means to truly live “missionally” you have to understand what it means to live with “Gospel intentionality.” Here are some quick thoughts on trying to mesh together the concept of “Missional Living” with the concept of “Gospel intentionality.”
When it comes to defining missional living, I’d say it is something like this:
Missional living is loving others by meeting needs and building relationships with Gospel intentionality.
The church that knows the Gospel actively seeks to meet the various and practical needs of the community around us. Whether it’s feeding the hungry, showing compassion to the outcast, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, loving the orphan, or any other number of issues, the natural overflow of the Gospel at work in our lives is that it produces a desire to be practically meeting real needs in our communities.
By doing this, we are taking the message of the Gospel and making it real to people. The Church, as a new humanity of people who are being transformed by the Gospel, has a chance to be a tangible preview of the good news of Jesus to the city. For example, we can talk all day long about how God is compassionate to the outcast, but when the church backs up that message by accepting the outcast without judgment in our services, programs, and community life, the Gospel becomes incarnate. It goes from being an obscure message from the stage into a very real and very powerful reality in the lives of not only the outcast, but the people who met the needs of the outcast to begin with.
Loving others missionally is more than just a message to be talked about from the stage. It begins by needing to understand the real needs of the community around us, and taking tangible and practical steps to help with the needs of the people in our city.
However, it isn’t enough to simply show up and meet the immediate needs of those in our city. We are called to build relationships with those who are far from Christ. This is because by nature we are relational. We can have our immediate needs for food and acceptance met in a program, but at the end of the day, our hearts yearn for relationships with other people because our hearts long to be restored back to the relationship we had in the beginning with God.
That is what the Gospel is ultimately about. It’s about bringing God glory through restored relationships between Him and His children. As a result, the church is first and foremost always going to be relational. We bring people the Gospel when we not only feed them food when they’re hungry, but also engage them in a deeper relationship with us so that they can see in our daily lives the reality of the Gospel being lived out.
In this way, our missional strategy as a church should be geared to give us opportunities to build relationships and friendships with our neighbors and those who are far from Christ in our city.
“With Gospel Intentionality”
However, meeting needs and building relationships doesn’t automatically mean that we are living missionally. It is only when we are meeting needs and building relationships with Gospel intentionality that we are truly missional.
So what does it mean to love others with Gospel intentionality? It means that in everything you are actively looking for ways to display the truth of the Gospel in both word and deed.
Gospel Intentionality in “Deed”
It is critical that our actions match our message. In other words, we can talk all day about how much God loves us and accepts us without condition because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. But if we then go and show favoritism, or judge those who are different than us, or act racist, then our message is lost. We confuse people because the truth of the Gospel is not tangibly being lived out in a way that others can relate to. This is why Jesus said that the primary way people will see a picture of who God is and turn and worship Him is through the good deeds of the church (Matthew 5:14-16).
You can show Gospel intentionality through you deeds in any number of ways. For example, by helping your neighbor fix his car without any strings attached, you are taking the free gift of the Gospel that you’ve received, and extending it to your neighbor by offering him something for free. In this way, your neighbor not only gets his needs met because his car is fixed, but he also has to wrestle with the idea that you were willing to help him because you’ve received so much from God in the Gospel that you were happy to help.
It doesn’t only have to be deeds done for free to people who have needs. What is it about the Gospel that is changing your life? How can you continue to display that truth to people in deed? To the extent that you can answer that question, you’ll have an infinite number of ways and ideas on how to have Gospel intentionality in every relationship you are involved in. This is the essence of learning how to live missionally – to come to understand how you can put the Gospel on display in every facet of everyday life.
[Quick caveat… it’s also the reason why you need community in your life. Without community constantly reorienting you to the Gospel and helping you deepen in your understanding of the implications of the Gospel in your life, it will continue to be difficult to know exactly how to live with Gospel intentionality in all your relationships.]
Gospel Intentionality in “Word”
But we can’t stop at just deeds. If we never talk about the Gospel, then our actions will not make any sense. It is critical that if we are going to love others with Gospel intentionality that we aren’t just doing it in deed, but with our words too. This is evident by the fact that throughout the New Testament the apostles were constantly preaching the Gospel to people with words (the word “preach” is used over 90 times in the New Testament).
It would make sense that if you’ve engaged your neighbor relationally, that over time he would hear you talk about your relationship with Christ. He would hear in natural conversation with you how God is changing your life, how He’s moving in you, how He’s helping you further understand the Gospel more.
That’s the way close relationships normally work. For example, if you hang around me and get to know me at all, it will become evident pretty quickly that I genuinely enjoy spending a lot of time with my family, that I love baseball, and that I love to read. It’s not like I need to sit you down and say, “Can I talk to you about an important part of my life? Here’s the thing… I really love the Houston Astros and I thought you needed to know about them too.” There is nothing formal about me sharing my love of the Astros. It just seeps out of me naturally because it is part of who I am.
How much more should that be the case with our faith in Christ! If you’re around me for fifteen minutes, you’ll hear me talking about something about Jesus, His church, His message, His Word, His character, or fill in the blank. It’s the quintessential factor of my identity, and therefore, just being in relationship with me means you’ll hear about Christ in my words.
To live misisonally by loving others with Gospel intentionality means that we need to share Christ with people in word, but it doesn’t mean that has to happen formally all the time (though there are formal times that are appropriate and often effective) or even most of the time. It means we simply need to be so overflowing in our passion for Jesus that our words are naturally laced with more and more of Gospel.
This isn’t me trying to dumb down the responsibility and command we’ve been given to preach the Gospel. This is me actually raising the bar and saying anyone can learn to take someone through a formal presentation of the Gospel, but only those who truly know Christ have the Gospel dripping out of them in the normal day in and day out moments of their life. This is why deepening in our passion for Jesus is the most important way for us to grow in understanding how to speak about the Gospel to others.
As members of the body of Christ, we want to be a people who are united and mobilized around our mission to make disciples. As our lives are transformed by the Gospel, we become people who are serious about living our lives missionally in any way possible. Rather than just talking about some ethereal concept called “missional living”, if we continually learn what it means to approach every aspect of our lives with Gospel intentionality, I think we will be better at tangibly accomplishing our mission of glorifying God by making disciples who help restore the City through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Bill Magsig is the Lead Pastor of Berean Bible Church.