On p. 144, the authors raise this question: “One key question for Christian communities today is how to pursue their prophetic vocation within society apart from the framework of Christendom.” This question asks how we are to be missional church without the privileges of Christendom upon which we have become dependent?
Drawing on insights from Lutheran theologian Gary Simpson, in which he expresses that missional communities need to exist at the intersection of public and private life, Van Gelder and Zscheile express that “congregations should see themselves as participants in God’s wider work in the world and society. This takes place not only through the church but also beyond it in such civil society organizations as social service institutions and charities. Congregations need to partner, collaborate, and participate in what God is doing in the world” (p. 144). They further clarify this by stating that churches “be spaces where the questions of human flourishing in a given community are brought for critical discussion that leads to action” (p. 144) that foster the common good.
The nature of this collaboration is different from the kind of collaboration in which churches wrap themselves in a nationalistic identity in order to seemingly have relevance within society – where often it becomes starkly clear that a Christian group is more aligned with an American agenda than a Gospel agenda. The missional call is a call to be collaborative in society, but not as a community that loses its identity, or sells out its identity, but rather collaborates and partners as a community of character with other societal organizations as a participating with God in mission, who is already active in the world through the Spirit.
In such missional collaborations, there is a making space for the Gospel in society, rather than a selling out or a diminishing of the Gospel in order to be deemed as relevant. Our relevance is in our participating with God as God is active in the world. In participating with God, we need to realize that we do not partner or collaborate on our own – but rather in our collaborations, we are conduits for the continuing work of the Spirit of God in re-creating human life, societal life, so that all may be made new.
In making space for the Gospel through partnering and collaborative efforts, we will need to find new ways of expressing the Gospel narrative – it is much more than merely engaging in evangelism telling people that they need God. I believe it is through evangelism that we make space for the Gospel, but in ways that live out the Gospel rather than only give words to the Gospel – we proclaim the Gospel by actions, as well as words. As one of my mentors noted – Jesus words are not the only revelation we have in the Gospels, his actions are revelation as well.
So in our partnering and collaborating as missional communities, we make space for the Gospel – we level mountains and fill in valleys, making a highway for the Lord, so that God has transformational access into people’s lives. In partnering we reveal who we are as a new community, revealing the Gospel through our actions of advocating for justice, of healing the sick, the blind, of setting the prisoner free, of expressing the year of Jubilee for the 99%.
Making space for the Gospel is a walking with the Spirit, for the Spirit to have unimpeded access into the lives of humanity. Making space for the Gospel challenges missional communities to not separate themselves from the world, but to engage the world in relationship, being in and among the world as communities of character, as communities of the Gospel – who live out the Gospel in such as way that observers may express the reality of the Gospel by witnessing the way we live and act for the common good of society.
Whereas, Christendom gave us a false sense of our privileged status, being missional leads us to be a different kind of community that seeks to love the world as God loves the world, that relates to and engages the world as God does – from a place of servanthood and humility. As we have eyes to notice what God notices, and in noticing develop collaborative relationships, missional relationships, we partner with God in bringing about God’s redemptive purposes in the world. Such a posture helps us live into the reality that this mission is not about us, but about God’s love for the world and what God desires and is bringing about in making all creation new.
Dare we be such missional communities of character that make space for the Gospel in the world, by partnering and collaborating with groups, organizations, peoples in whom we see God at work?
If so, we will become a new kind of Christian community in the world – in the world, re-envisioning a new way to be the world because we partner with God who has a vision of a reconciled and recreated world.