Culture At Large

Have missional churches become the new legalists?

Monica Selby

Churches built around the concept of "missional living" are everywhere lately.

My family and I relocated two years ago for the sole purpose of helping launch such a church, compelled by the vision of getting out of a building, back into the neighborhood, reaching the culture where it is.

But I now wonder if we are in danger of becoming the new legalists?

On the surface, it doesn't appear so. Many members of missional churches are beer/wine/liquor connoisseurs. No one takes issue with lighting up a cigar. And rather than shunning modern music for CCM-style worship, many missional Christians are on the cutting edge of their local music scenes. The new legalism is not one of avoidance, then. ("I don't drink, smoke, or chew, or hang out with those who do.")

Instead, modern legalism involves “doing.” There are hundreds of books, sermons, articles and conferences centered on the strategy of missional living. Common themes center on doing more to reach your neighborhood or city:

  • Move into an urban area
  • Become involved in neighborhood associations (the buzzword here is “intentional”). Don’t just do it because you want to improve where you live; look also for “authentic” (another buzzword) ways to spread the Gospel.
  • Host. Host. Host.
  • Eat dinner with your neighbors. One challenge I’ve heard is to eat at least one meal a week with someone outside of your immediate family, preferably in your home.
  • Host some more.
Because of the open nature of hospitality, it is also one of the biggest invitations to legalism. As a young mother with three wild boys and a husband that worked for days on end just to support us, I feared having people in my home for years. When I finally faced that fear and began hosting a meeting in my home weekly, I received judgment on how I chose to run my home. As my grandmother says, “Darned if you do; darned if you don’t.”

Is it bad to invest in your neighborhood, open your home and eat with neighbors? No, of course not - and my family has done each of these things and more in our passion to share the love of Christ. Notice, though, that this list does not include seeking to grow your own relationship with Christ. Perhaps it is assumed that if you are living missionally, you are also seeking Christ. But should it be?

The missional movement did not start this way. The men and women credited with leading it write with passion about Christ and the pursuit of His glory. Many of the pastors leading the missional churches long to join with Christ in the renewal of His creation. Yet as the churches grow, as more books are published, as the websites get more traffic, the danger of legalism increases.

Without close, intimate relationships, it is too easy to prescribe a method, a strategy. We are in danger of expanding on the Great Commission. “Therefore, go, and make disciples. And do it this way…”

Can the missional movement avoid legalism? I believe so, and I don’t think it’s difficult. Preach the gospel, always. From the pulpit, to each other, to yourself and - eventually, without agenda - to your neighbor. When we focus on Christ, the rest falls into place according to His will.

Missional living comes from the idea of missio dei, the mission of God in the world. We must be careful to go with God and not because of Him.
Monica Selby lives (missionally) in Memphis, Tenn., with her husband and three boys. She is a member of Redbud Writers' Guild and blogs at In the Whisper.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith, Evangelism, The Church, Home & Family