Jan 20, 2012
Sevens Interview: Geoff Holsclaw + Missionality
Why I’m Interviewing Geoff Holsclaw?
In 2009, I was invited to travel to Los Angeles to share at the regional Ecclesia Gathering
During the 24 hour whirlwind venture in Los Angeles, I’d had the joyful privilege to make a new friend that I suspect I’ll know for some time. Geoff Holslcaw, a pastor in suburban Chicago who serves with
While it took only twenty milliseconds to see Geoff’s heart, I knew he had lots to offer the church. He develops, thinks, and practices what we call missional approaches towards ministry and church life. While the term itself has been caricatured and mis-understood in many respects in the last twenty years, Geoff is seeking to bring clarity and understanding to the topic. A quick look at
But what is the missional church? In his classic book on missiology, Darrell Guder writes that the central figure in the story of God’s mission isn’t the church: it’s the “missionary God”. Guder argues that the church, as a creation of God, has dangerously subverted God’s mission as their mission. This notion questions the term “the mission of the church.” As my friend Len Sweet has commented in personal conversation the idea of the mission of the church is a complete attack on the idea of God’s mission (missio Dei). The church has no mission other than God’s. The church plagiarizes and copies God’s mission. Not their own.
I wanted to ask Geoff some questions on this topic as I believe it to be increasingly important in a post-Christian world as ours.
Q1: Geoff, what is missional theology?
A1: What is narratively implicit in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and propositionally explicit in John, missional theology makes central: God is a sending God on a mission. This mission is not an incidental act but the essential being of God, such that mission for all others is not a mere matter of commission but participation. Not distant as judge nor everywhere as justice, God works missionally in the proclaiming and presenting of the just ways of God.
Q2: What is a image of this in Scripture that might make sense to any reader?
A2: After racking my brain, the best image that comes to mind is Christ’s baptism—but most depictions are too tame: No longer contained, the Father tears open the heavens and through this “gracious gash“ pours forth the Spirit. And just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of creation, the Spirit also rests on the one bringing new creation, the Son coming out of the waters. From now on the Triune God is loose in the world—the mission of re-creation.
Q3: It sounds like the church is missional like Christ. Is it possible for the church to NOT BE missional?
A3: Yes, to follow Christ is to be missional like Christ. But for some this means if a church (or person) is not missional it (she) is not the church (or a Christian). This feels very works oriented to me, that I must be missional or I’m not in Christ. This leaves no place for grace. Rather I think every church must be moving into mission (i.e. sanctification). But of course there is still room for missional works of faith, as James reminds us.
Q4: What are two of the greatest enemies to being a missional church?
A4: The two greatest are a big idea and a little God. It seems like a big idea (ending world hunger, transforming a city, including the excluded) often keeps us from a simple conversation, taking time to care for someone, or offering a word of encouragement. And having a little God makes us scramble around because everything must change. Rather everything has changed in Christ, and thru the Spirit everything is changing. Mission starts close by.
Q5: It sounds like mission is simply being present. What’s one way a reader might practically do this kind of missionality?
A5: How about two? First, know/be yourself: are you an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor, or teacher? Be missional in that way (don’t be someone else’s gifting). The Spirit has given you a specific way of being missional (in community of course). Second, find a place to live out of: a shelter, a coffee shop, a neighborhood, or a campus. Don’t manufacture missionalness (a contradiction). Unfortunately, being more specific is impossible.
Q6: What does missional evangelism look like in these sorts of places?
A6: We need to practice affirming the things/people around us and seek to flourish them on the way to new creation, rather than pointing the fruits of the fall. Too often we preach pessimism, rather than holding out hope. Missional evangelism begins in hope (not despair), joy (not sadness), love (not hate). And while it will circle back to sin, the fall, death, it need not start there. After all, God is the God of the living, not the dead!
Q7: Geoff, I call this being “born again”, not “born against.” Is there a way to allow the gospel prophetically critique culture while affirming other elements of culture that reflect God’s kingdom?
A7: I think we need to leave behind the idea of prophetic critique and move back to the posture of witness. For me, prophetic critique is more Old Testament and reflects a Christendom perspective. It seems the more dominant category in NT is witness. We need to witness to what God has done (in Christ) and is doing (thru the Spirit), and look for how God has already given witness to Himself in culture. Critique and affirmation follow from there.
Two things stick out to me from this interview:
1) Mission requires Christ-followers to get a life—As Geoff talks about, engagement with our actual world is the cornerstone of missional existence. Bowling, coffee, breakfast at the local coffee shop, knitting clubs; all of these have a missional bent to them.
2) Mission is everything that God is up to—What I think Geoff eloquently argues is that the idea of mission is not to be relegated to evangelism and pastoral care. Rather, mission is everything God is up to. Church life is simply part of that. Caring for the poor, recycling, praying, voting…all of these are missional activities because all of them are elements of God’s life in our world.
What are your thoughts? What disturbs you? Helps you? How can you right where you are participate in God’s mission?
Well that’s it. Thanks Geoff for the time. To read more Sevens interviews or read about why they exist, go here.
 Darrell L. Guder, ed. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 4.