As my roommate and I have been interviewing renters for our third bedroom, we have had to explain our lifestyle a lot, this concept of missional living. Because we don’t know the background of the renter, we leave out words that may have a particular connotation or may just be confusing, words like ‘missional’ or ‘incarnational.’ Having to do this over and over again, explain what missional living looks like without using ‘buzz’ words, has forced me to really consider what missional living looks like concretely.
Joining God in His Kingdom work amongst a particular people group or place (in this case, our neighborhood) is one thing that crosses my mind when I think of missional living. Along with that, a key element of missional living is tension or the state of being stretched or strained. Tension occurs as we seek to unconditionally love the neighborhood by throwing parties, hosting events, providing dinners to families, babysit, make ourselves available for conversation, or offer a helping hand. Tension is the strain of never having enough time to deeply talk with everyone, the stretching of the awkwardness of starting a conversation with a new neighbor. There is the strain as people ask questions—Why the hospitality? Why the free food? Why the friendliness? What are the ulterior motives? And if they find out that there is ‘church’ or ‘Christianity’ in any way linked, tension occurs that must be acknowledged and addressed—Are all these parties and kind gestures just some part of ‘network marketing’ to promote Christianity and ‘getting people saved’?
There can be tension as we strive to move forward, bringing all interested ones with us. This can look like initiating deeper conversations or spiritual conversations, the strain of sensing the timing of the Holy Spirit, initiating too soon or without the relational capital. Expectations in relationships are formed, and there can be let downs and asking questions like ‘Will forgiveness be extended?’ ‘Is this person a safe person to be vulnerable with?’, ‘Is this person trustworthy?,’ and ‘Can I depend on this person?’ Sometimes those answers are murky, and there is tension in the midst of finding them.
Deliberately staying in this tension, I take comfort in the reality that Jesus knew, lived with, and embraced tension. Luke chapter 6 is a chapter full of tension. Jesus and the disciples are picking grain as they are walking through the fields. They then dehusk the grain by rubbing the kernels in their hands and eat it. Verse two has the Pharisees noting and struggling with what they observe, “Don’t you know the sacred law says you can’t harvest and mill grain on the Sabbath Day—the day on which all work is forbidden? Why do you think you can ignore the sacred law?” Matthew chapter 11 tells us that Jesus ate and drank with sinners and that people were uncomfortable with that, complaining that he was a glutton and a drunk. Jesus’s radical, selfless love for people and his concern for only what the Father wanted (and not everyone else) created tension.
Though we all have to make our own choices of what we’ll do with the tension, I propose that the reality of tension in the midst of missional living is not a bad thing, as we see from Jesus’ life and example. I wonder what being strengthened by the tension would look like and how it would affect the people around us. I wonder if there are not many elements of tension that are good, right, and essential aspects of Kingdom living.
Like what you see here? Join us on Sunday mornings at 10:30 at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington for the conversation and our Q&A.