God's Missional Initiation

photo credit: Ryan Klinck

photo credit: Ryan Klinck


God's Missional Initiation:
What Does Missional Mean?, Week 2

by Adam White

What Does Missional Mean?

What comes to mind when you hear the word “initiation”? 

For me, I can not help but think of people being initiated into a Greek collegiate society or social club. It seems like persons being initiated are willing to go to great lengths so that they might be accepted into whatever group they are wanting to become members of. You have to be familiar with a certain history, dress a particular way, talk an acceptable way, know the right people, and more all for the sake of becoming a part of a specific community. A community that usually has certain rules governing secrecy and who is “acceptable” and who is not.

I think we can often exist in these types of initiated communities without ever being aware of it. Maybe these kinds of silent initiations occur in our social circles, our work environments, or, maybe, they even occur in our faith communities. Perhaps we have gone or currently are going to a church where people dress more or less the same, talk similarly, and are familiar with living a certain way of life. While the level of secrecy may be different than Greek societies and social clubs, churches can struggle silently in fully initiating people who are different than us, whether that is because of theology, political standing, ethnicity, language, or economic status.

The danger that exists in living under these kinds of silent initiations is that we can become distant from truly receiving the diverse relationships that God has placed before us. God never told us to build churches and only welcome people who look like us, talk like us, spend money like us, and so forth. We did that. What God has done and constantly does is invite us to be a part of a diverse body of humanity that looks different from the silent, initiated communities we are often drawn toward.

God’s initiation is missional. It is rooted in sharing every aspect of our lives in community with people who are very different than us. God’s image and creation is expressed in diversity, and, as God’s people, we are invited to mirror that diversity in our relationships. We live not according to the world’s definition of initiation, which is always based on power, but by God’s definition, which is rooted in humility and love.

God’s definition of initiation exists in a word that has become dirty for mainline Christianity, evangelism. Elaine Heath offers a new definition for this, “Evangelism is the invitation to discipleship, which is a call to holiness, and holiness is an incarnational immersion in the love of God. Love does not exploit, violate, manipulate, or try to make a profit from the beloved. Love pours itself out for the beloved. That is the meaning of Philippians 2: 6– 11, the great Kenotic Hymn.”

In this kind of evangelism, we follow the lead of Jesus Christ. And, as we follow, we need to ask, how did Jesus evangelize? He lived with the disciples, calling people who were naturally at odds together into community. Ever so slowly they came to faith as they interacted with Jesus in everyday life and were disillusioned of their own bad theology. Ever so slowly they learned that women are human. Samaritans are human. Tax collectors are human. Even Roman centurions are human. Jesus shows us that evangelism is a process that takes much time and loving, committed, genuine friendships between people.

Our initiation into our faith happens by following Christ. As we follow Christ we are guided by how the Gospel surfaces in our relationships. In this way, we are not simply initiating the Gospel into our churches, but the other way around: we are seeking to let the Gospel initiate us and our relationships into community with God. This bends toward the hope that God’s love might be incarnated, poured out, and filled in us as we live in diversity together. This kind of loving diversity, driven by God’s missional initiation, changes the world and our relationships as we know them.

Elaine A Heath and Larry Duggins, Missional. Monastic. Mainline. (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014)

Invitation to Missional Mindfulness:

  • What forms of silent initiation have you experienced and how did they function?

  • How has living into the diversity shaped your faith?

  • Where do you sense God’s missional initiation leading you and your community?

Our Voices:
We asked what Missional meant to you. If you would like to share your definition of Missional, please take our survey. Here is one respondent's answer.

How would Jesus live my life were he wrapped in my skin and walking in my shoes?