When we first set out to plant a missional church, we had some lively debates over what exactly it meant to live missionally. Does it mean moving into a disadvantaged neighborhood and working for renewal? Does it mean living in the same zip code so we can truly be a missional community? Does it mean deepening already-existing relationships with co-workers? Does it mean deliberately changing my patterns of life to bring me into contact with non-Christians “on their turf” (bars, music shows, nightclubs, etc)? Our conversations about these matters seemed easily to slide toward people moralizing their preferences and looking down on others who didn’t think like them. (Which is one reason why we consistently need to be reminded of the gospel!)
Tim Keller helps to answer this question by observing that the standard pattern of evangelism in the New Testament centered around the oikos (Greek for household). But the word household in NT times was much broader than we tend to think of it. “In the Bible, evangelism does not happen primarily through programs… it happens naturally through one’s oikos, or household… A household was not just your family, but… a fairly tight-knit, close set of colleagues, kin, friends, neighbors. It was understood that when you became a Christian, you had been called to be a steward, evangelistically speaking, of your oikos.”*
In our day, Keller suggests that the biblical term oikos applies to at least five networks: your kinship network (family and relatives), your neighborhood (those who live near you geographically), your colleagues (co-workers or co-students), your affinity network (people with a shared special interest), and your friends (those from the other 4 networks whom you develop a close relationship with). The relative strength or weakness of these five networks varies based on your context.
What it means to live missionally, then, is to have authentic friendship with people in these networks. That’s it. If Jesus is truly important to you, and if you have real friendships with people, then Jesus is going to come up sooner or later in the natural course of sharing life. You shouldn’t have to artificially shoehorn Jesus into every conversation, nor should you feel the need to hide or downplay your affection for him. Those in your oikos will get to know Jesus as they get to know you.
So – is missional living primarily about your neighborhood, your co-workers, your hunting buddies, or your non-Christian family members? The answer is: yes.
[*Quoted from “Evangelism and the Steward Leader,” mp3 audio from Redeemer Presbyterian Church.]
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[…] Bob Thune: […]
Thanks for posting this, Bob. I have been pondering this again myself recently, and it is good to have some things to help me filter my thoughts. I have really tried to build some relationships over the last couple of years, but I sometimes begin to feel discouraged when I don’t feel like Jesus comes up “enough” in conversation. I am trying to spend more time praying over those relationships and for those people…I think I mostly try to do things in my own power instead of relying on the Spirit.
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This is good information. I think there’s a danger in being overly concerned with “missional living” specifics, instead of encouraging the church to view their role in taking part in God’s mission wherever the Spirit takes them.
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