The Seductive Deception of the Call to be Missional

by Mike Ratliff

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:36-39 ESV)

When I was a new Christian, through many interlocking circumstances, I moved my family back to the same town in Oklahoma in which I had grown up. We joined a very traditional Southern Baptist Church just a block or so from our house. We remained there about 13 years. When we first joined, the emphasis there was evangelism. We supported missions through the SBC. We had annual mission trips to Mexico and Central America. We had a very well run Evangelism Explosion program that was tightly integrated into our weekly prayer and visitation programs. I went from a trainee to a trainer after a year or so. That emphasis on evangelism was always outward. We went into areas outside of the Church and evangelized. God blessed this sometimes by using us to bring people into the Kingdom. However, in the early 1990’s, as I have shared in this post, we lost our pastors and the man who replaced them changed our church drastically. The emphasis was no longer an outward facing evangelism. Instead, it was on reshaping the church to be more attractive to those outside. The emphasis on the Gospel was muted. 

Instead of the church being the place we could come to recharge through being fed the Word of God, fellowship, prayer, and worship, we always had some slick media stuff going on and we soon learned to just stay out of the way. The Missional deception is a change of emphasis in a church from outward focused evangelism with inward focused spiritual growth to inward focused “evangelism lite” with little or no emphasis on the spiritual growth of the members. The Church was viewed by our pastor and his people as their “church plant” in our community from which they would be a missional focused church ministering to the seekers who came to see what all the fuss was about.

What is “Missional”? Is it the same thing as having a missionary focus like that church I used to belong to before its takeover by the Innovation Cult? No, it is different. The first way it is different is that it sees itself as “incarnational.” What does this mean? Instead of the focus being on the church and what goes on inside as far as worship, Bible Study, fellowship, and preaching, the emphasis is on being involved in the community. I saw this a great deal in that church I came from after the new pastor got full control. He got involved in everything in the local school system. He was continually promoting the programs and stuff we had going on at our church. He wanted us to rub shoulders with the unchurched, to get involved in their problems and work with them in making our town a better place. There is something about that that sounds nice, but is that what the Church is to be about? There was little to no emphasis on evangelizing. This was seen as our actively participating in the missio Dei, or mission of God. This view sees that one of God’s primary missions is the redemption of world back to its pre-fall state. Really? Is that the purpose of the Gospel?

The missional gurus know that to transform a church to this model requires some radical changes. I find it troubling that they all emphasize that it must begin with an emphasis on Spiritual Formation within the Church. This is contemplative prayer, mysticism, centering prayer, the blending of Eastern Mysticism and Yoga with Christianity. The proponents of this claim the purposes of this is the spiritual maturity of the people. I can guarantee you that the only spiritual change you will have with this stuff is to turn further and further away from God’s truth into deception. True Christian spiritual maturity is not gained through any of this stuff. Instead, it is comes as believers spend more and more time in prayer and surrender to the will of God. They learn His will through learning His Word. Romans 12:1-2 is a very good summary of this “process.”

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

None of this involves mysticism or yoga, et cetera. The transformation is a work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those whom He matures. It is not an instantaneous process. It takes time to become a living sacrifice whose focus is the glory of God rather than self fulfillment.

The emphasis of a “Missional” church will be community and meeting every need it can there rather than evangelizing it. This is not Biblical my brethren nor should it be the “mission” of the Church. They will always emphasize the amount of time the members in the Church spend with unbelievers in places outside of the Church. Show me that in the Bible. Also, there will be an emphasis in these churches to view other religions as just another way to God rather than in error. This is why there is little to no emphasis placed on evangelism.

My brethren, this is not Christian. It is not what the Church should be about at all. The Missionary focus of a true church is that it goes out to preach the gospel to an unsaved world headed toward judgment with emphasis on repentance for the forgiveness of sin found in the death and resurrection of Christ. This mission proclaims the absolute truth of the Gospel, which is proven by Jesus’ resurrection from the grave. The Greek word translated as “Gospel” means “Good News” and that is exactly what it is because it provides condemned sinners with a certain escape from God’s wrath.

The emphasis in being “Missional” is on an uniting the world religions around good works to make life on planet earth a paradise now according to the Emergents. However, this is not the true focus that God gave His Church. Instead, we are to gather around the teaching from God’s Word, praying, and fellowship (Acts 2:41,42). From this we are to go into the world preaching the good news of the Gospel, making disciples.

Follow this link to an article titled ‘What is “Missional”?’ that is all about being “Missional.” I want you to see the complete lack of focus on the Gospel in this. Incarnational or Missional churches are not about evangelism, but are about unifying with the various other “faith streams” out there to do good works to unify everyone so the world can be made a paradise. Then go read Acts 2 and show me how anyone can take those truths and come up with the Missional deception. They can do that because they are ignoring what God’s Word says because they do not believe it. They are in unbelief and are part of the Innovation Cult. This cult’s emphasis will never be the Gospel nor the growing of mature disciples according to the Word of God, obedient to Christ in all things, and walking in repentance. No, it will not be those things.

The Church needs to become refocused here:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Genuine salvation will always be accompanied by a growing spiritual maturity as believers are fed and discipled correctly. They will do good works, but the emphasis will always be this great commission, not being “Missional.”

Soli Deo Gloria!

15 thoughts on “The Seductive Deception of the Call to be Missional

  1. I read your piece with interest. As a congregant leader of a Missional committee in our church (First Presbyterian in the Shenango Presbytery in PA) and involved with our Missional journey for some years now, I believe that either in spite of your readings you continue to misunderstand the missional paradigm, or your frame of reference does not allow for the lexicon and language of Missional to communicate to your heart. More’s the pity.

    Surely, the Gospel is defined quite broadly in the scriptures– beyond simply: “your sins are forgiven” for this was frequently accompanied in MY red letter edition by “take up your mat” indicating a very real meeting of physical needs. This template was followed thrrough throughout the early church as well and Pauline letters are replete with instructions to care for the poor, widows, etc making interest in the community key to this Incarnational understanding. There seems to me to be little “mystical” about following a literal WWJD approach in this respect.

    The search for churches to find new modes of revealing Christ’s relevancy to our Neighbors whilst continuing our Growth as Christians is not a pursuit that should garner scud misslies from our own ranks. The scripture says that by their LOVE you will know them– not by whether they inquire if you are “born again” before inviting you to an alter call. 🙂 LOL
    Conversion comes through personal conviction– and that comes from understanding gained once an individual moves into a place of receptivity to the saving Grace of Christ….and this is nearly always something that requires the PERSONAL relationship with another believer to facilitate it–often many relationships over time and years (sowing of seeds). It is NOT accurate to say the missional movement is not evangelistic – it is simply a different form! It relies on PERSONAL contact and not tent meetings and alter calls after special offerings. It’s not about Programmes for the faithful, though it assumes the community of Faith must be growing in faith and maturity! I encourage you to do more reading if you really want to understand. Let him who has ears hear… 🙂

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  2. Being “missional” seems to be taking the place, as you pointed out, of true biblical evangelism. It seems that many “missional” folks have this unbiblical idea that going out into the community/world and aiding lost people in their struggles and difficulties IS the gospel. As in that famous saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:

    “Preach the gospel at all times – and when necessary, use words.”

    But in embracing this philosophy of my-kindness-shows-Christ-but-I-never-speak-the-words, how are we any different from non-Christians who are engaging in humanitarian relief? Like Oprah? Or Ghandi? Or Mother Theresa? Or the United Nations?

    Being missional is not biblical, but why not? Because the gospel is not the kindness we display…the gospel is a distinct message and can only be given by words. Yes, we should help those in need, because we are commanded to, and because it’s the right thing to do, but as Christians, we know that we have ONE thing that is distinctly different from what everyone else in the world has, and it is the life-giving truth of the gospel:

    That we are born sinful by nature, and are consequently under the wrath of God, but that God, being rich in mercy and loving-kindness, intervened into these dire circumstances to make a way for wretched sinners to be saved. He sent his Son, Jesus, fully God and fully man, to live the life that we could never live. And because of his humanity, Jesus was able to be a “representative” for mankind. When he was nailed to the cross, he suffered corporately for all those past, present and future, who had placed- or would place- their faith in God’s plan of salvation. (In Old Testament times, they didn’t know God’s plan was a man named “Jesus” and that he would grow up a carpenter’s son, etc., etc. But, they knew that God had a plan of salvation for those who trusted in him. They didn’t know Jesus’s name…but their faith was in him.) It boils down to this: we broke God’s laws, and Jesus paid our sin debt with his own blood so that we could be made righteous in the eyes of God, it’s as simple as that.

    Now, speaking as a someone who formerly embraced mysticism and eastern thought, I can attest that God’s plan of salvation is so much better than karma/yoga/meditation/fasting/vegetarianism. Those are all just different forms of “works righteousness,” getting on that wheel and working-working-working, trying to climb up that ladder to God. It can’t be done, we’re too wretched and our sin is to profound. He must make a way or we will perish in our sin….and graciously, He did.

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  4. Dear Mike,
    Were the very first churches that were established (usually termed “The Way”) in a lot of cases exclusive? By this I mean once a person professed to be a follower of Christ then they were brought into the Church very carefully due to the dangers and persecution of being a believer. It was explained to me that this was the reason for the Ichthys or Ichthus (the Christian fish symbol) that it was used covertly to point to where church services were being held and to identify if someone was a true believer. They did this by drawing the top of the fish in the sand and if the other person completed the bottom half they knew they were a Christ follower. So would it not follow that in fact the only people in the original church were professed believers?

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  5. Mary,

    The only people in THE CHURCH are professed believers regardless of “when.” The community of the local Church is under attack and, as you have stated, it is exclusive. The Gospel is not broadly focused, but the most narrowly focused that it can be. There is no wiggle room. There are no “various interpretations” which are all “valid.” Nope, the Lord Jesus and the Apostles would throw that one right back in the face of whoever tried to teach that, hence, the vast majority of the New Testament was written.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  6. Michael Compeau,

    I have delayed posting your comment until I had time to prayerfully analyze it and respond accordingly. I originally intended to not post it at all, but address your comment in another post, but after talking with some friends and then prayerfully considering this, I have decided to post it accompanied by this reply.

    First I would like to address your statement, “I believe that either in spite of your readings you continue to misunderstand the missional paradigm, or your frame of reference does not allow for the lexicon and language of Missional to communicate to your heart.” Well Michael, I walk by the Spirit. I walk in light of what the true Christian walk should be modeled after, which is outlined for us quite well in Romans 12. My focus is to learn from God by living for His glory in all things. Therefore, the “lexicon and language of Missional” will NEVER communicate to my heart because it is not the message that I do live by, which is God’s Word, The missional concept of the Christian walk is not of God because of its roots in Mysticism. God will never be part of something that is the very thesis of the things we are warned to have nothing to do with all through both the Old and New Testaments.

    Next, I would like to address your statement, “Surely, the Gospel is defined quite broadly in the scriptures– beyond simply: “your sins are forgiven” for this was frequently accompanied in MY red letter edition by “take up your mat” indicating a very real meeting of physical needs.” This is totally invalid because the Gospel is not broadly defined at all, but is, in fact, defined quite narrowly. Jesus is the way, no one comes to the Father except through Him, et cetera. Also, the Apostles epistles lay it out there very precisely what constitutes the Gospel and what doesn’t. You err immediately when you even begin to attempt to redefine it. Also, you are attempting to force Jesus statement(s) like “take up your mat” as directions for us to be Incarnational. That won’t fly, sorry. The Gospel is 100% about the atonement, who did it, and who He did it for. Sure, He healed people and still does, but that isn’t the Gospel. Those things are for God’s glory and to point people to God as their source. He is who He says He is and He can always be trusted, et cetera.

    The instructions for us to take care of the poor are simply the expression of the Love we have received from God outward to the world. No one is saying that the exclusivity of the Church excludes being merciful, but serving this way is still not the Gospel. We do not show God’s love to others by simply meeting their needs unless we also accompany that with the Gospel.

    Spiritual Formation and Christian Maturity are not based on the same things. Romans 12 tells us how it is accomplished and shows us what that will look like. Attempting to achieve spiritual maturity outside of this is not the same thing at all, and is, is fact, antithetical to the true message of how we are to grow in Christ.

    Your statement that insinuated that I equate true evangelism with tent meetings and altar calls is NOT Accurate. I was not saved that way and those I have led to the Lord were outside of that context as well. So, forget that straw man attack.

    Your concept of how a person comes to faith is flawed. It is all based on what people do. We do not believe that at all. We obey what we are told to do, which is to preach the Gospel in every way and at every opportunity that God gives us. We do not try to manipulate people into believing. Go read Acts 2. Peter preached that sermon and the Holy Spirit cut the people’s hearts to the core and they believed and were saved. That is how it works. Salvation is a work of God. Our part is to obediently preach the Gospel instead of trying to take His place in that by manipulating the circumstances. To do that is a product of some form of unbelief as I stated in my post.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  7. Although regeneration should be accompanied by works of compassion and sacrifice, at the core is always the forgiveness of sins, redemption, atonement, and the born again experience. It happens at a moment in time and is usually recognized by the recipient unless that recipient was saved at a very early age.

    The “missional” approach treats salvation like a medical prescription that “cures” a disease by taking pills over a period of time. That is inaccurate. A more accurate metaphor would be if a cancer patient had his cancer instantly and completely cut out and in the coming days his overall health began a steady improvement that manifested his former procedure.

    I guess the metaphor that would most accurately mirror salvation is if a man died due to a diseased heart and he was given a heart transplant and came to life, got up from the slab, and began doing good works, the greatest of these was telling everyone Who it was gave him his new heart and calling people to believe Him themselves.

    Sadly, due to this “missional” approach, there may be many well fed, medically helped, and economoically aided souls in hell forever.

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  8. Mr. Compeau, can you point to this sort of “friendship evangelism” in the Bible? Your statement here shows your lack of understanding of the human condition and the Gospel. You say that “receptivity to the saving grace of Christ” leads to conversion. How is it that one becomes receptive to the saving grace of God? You say that it “nearly always…requires the PERSONAL relationship with another believer…” So, would you characterize your relationship with a non-believer as manipulative? That’s surely the way it reads. You want to convert someone, so you form a relationship. This relationship is based on your good works toward that person. Over the weeks, months, and even years, you hope that your manipulation of the relationship will lead to that person seeing Christ in you and want to receive His grace.
    Great.
    I would rather that God is glorified as He sovereignly converts a person. It doesn’t take relationship to share the Gospel with someone. On the other hand, let me tell you how disillusioned I was to find out that several friends over the years were “Christians” but never once shared the Gospel with me. I had no idea who this Jesus was and I figured He must not be very important if no one wanted to tell me about him. No one warned me of the danger I was in. Great friends.
    And, of course, your statement reveals much about your lack of trust in a sovereign God who convicts and converts. Yes, seeds are to be sown, but that doesn’t take years of relationship. It really only takes a few minutes. If you really care about people, maybe you could walk up to strangers and share the bad news and the good. No friendship necessary. You just trust God that the seed will take root and flourish.

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  9. Hi Mike. I have shared with you on your blog before regarding our family’s exodus from the pentecostal churches, and into a reformed view (we are in a “pressy” church now).
    I wholeheartedly agree with your views (scriptural views that is!) in this article.
    What I feel I need to illuminate though, is something we are experiencing in our church. Our pastor and elders in our church have recently adopted the ‘slogan’ for our church – and it is that we are a “missional” church.
    I squirmed when he first said those words – but after a few months of him elaborating to the church of what he believes that means to us as a body of believers – my views have changed somewhat!

    There is definitely merit in being active outside the “walls of our churches”. Our church’s emphasis is on deeper spiritual growth – through bible studies (not contemplative practices – or we’d be long gone) So our pastor – I am sure there must be many others around the world -who have adopted this word “missional” – but they ARE using it in a God honouring way, that is scriptural.

    The emphasis in our church is deepening our understanding of the Word of God through the preaching of the Word, and our small group bible studies – (which by the way are bible focused – not coffee/cake/chat sessions)

    Through this personal yearning to draw nearer to the Lord, then comes the obvious. We are called to preach the gospel to the unsaved. Whether that is in our schools, our workplaces, our football clubs – God’s call remains the same. The people we interact with who do not know him, are going to hell! And if don’t become “missional” in these places – then how will they hear the gospel message?

    Yes, our Sunday services are for God’s people to come together to pray, worship, hear the Word of God preached without compromise. And praise God, that is what our pastor does.
    So in the context of your article, I find myself agreeing, and disagreeing! Yes, some churches have taken the word “missional” in the wrong direction. But when it IS used in a God honouring way, as does our church: then you can’t write off the whole word, and paint it with the same brush. As I’ve shared with you before, we share a similar church journey. On this point though, I have to share this – as our church most definitely does not fit your definition.
    And if it did, we would be long gone!

    In Christ,
    Sandra

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  10. Sandra,

    What you are describing is not what I was referring to as Missional so we do agree. It really does make a huge difference in what is meant by those who use these words, therefore, I would suggest that those who are sticking with Biblical Evangelism as their focus not use a word that is so misconstrued by these emergents.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  12. Hi again Mike!! 🙂 I’m wondering to what extent some of the “missional” movement isn’t a reaction to clergy guilt? What I mean is: when a “pressy” church I used to belong to started to shift to “missional” (and is now becoming emerging), the big issue was different modes of reaching the lost. However, we had been using a successful EE program, church visitations, and outreach events that were held in secular forums for a long, long time. Typically, it was only the laity and a few elders who were spearheading these efforts. Now, all of a sudden, from the pulpit we were being told that we need to go to the soup kitchen on Sunday mornings instead of Sunday school. And that we needed to be involved with orphanages and 12-step programs in order to reach lost people. Anyway, I wrote my concerns to the pastors at that time and told them that many of us were already deeply involved in outreach and evangelism within our own networks, since we spent 90% of our time in secular environments (work, neighborhoods, school, etc).

    Here’s what I’m thinking:
    1-pastors/leaders started feeling guilty under the reports by Barna, et al., that non-Christians think that Christians are hypocrits and decided that they need to change how they look to the world.
    2- So, they de-emphasized the nourishment of the sheep as their main mission, and as a byproducted reduced the effectiveness of unleashing of the flock to evangelism and good works.

    As a result, missional church leaders had to start creating and enforcing good works programs in the community by the church.

    One final note on the WWJD mantra — Jesus lived the perfect life, because we cannot. Jesus is the gospel, the gospel isn’t something that can be lived by us directly. But we do indirectly live it each day in our personal relationship at work, school, church, and in our neighborhoods, only when we have been properly fed and filled with the truth of the Gospel ourselves. Pastors need to trust that a properly taught and tended flock will do all that Jesus commanded in the power of the Holy Spirit.

    Those are my extemporaneous thoughts, for what they’re worth.

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  13. Deb W.,

    Thanks for sharing this my sister. Your description of what happened to your EE program was very similar to the one we had at our old church that went Seeker-Sensitive and became consumed by the Innovation Cult. I think you are right. These fellows are believing the polls and think they have to change stuff when all they really need to do is get more serious about prayer and their obedience in rightly dividing the Word of Truth with their flocks.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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