The word ‘missional’ is in vogue today. Everyone has to be ‘missional.’ Churches have to become ‘missional.’ Missional, missional, missional. I agree with the emphasis on the missio Dei but I have to protest that this word, through overuse, is becoming an irritant.
The other day I had to prepare a talk with this specific word in its title. So I decided not to look at the latest ‘missional’ writings. This decision was not because I don’t think that we can learn something from it. To the contrary. I just wanted to see if the Bible has the word ‘missional’ embedded in its text. What I discovered, kept me busy for the last few days.
With my powerful Logos Bible software package, I searched for the word mission and its derivatives in all of Scripture. The result startled me, for it put me onto the etymology of the word ‘missional’.
The first derivative of the word missional in our Holy Scripture is found in Leviticus 15.16. Let me quote it in full …
“When a man has an emission of semen, he must bathe his whole body with water, and he will be unclean till evening.”
So here we have it, the first ‘missional’ text in the Bible, has to do with sexuality – with sperm. The first missional text then, has to do with the ordinary lives of people and their sexual functions and dysfunctions. This discovery launched me into developing a paradigm of missions that is based on sexuality and its rhythms.
In Africa, a lot of our black brothers and sisters have a wonderful way of pronouncing English words. They put an “e” before almost every word. So when they talk about a house, they will say “e” – house. So here we have “e” mission.
Emissions in the Bible launches us into the integrate and intimate subject of sex. The Biblical account itself has drawn numerous parallels with sexuality and the missio Dei. Just take some time and read through The Song of Solomon or read the delightful account of Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4. God even goes so far to call us His bride and uses pictures of weddings and its consummation as well as breakup imagery. Furthermore the Hebrew word for knowledge or “to know” also has sexual connotations. So now I want to place missions within this sexual framework but I must warn people that this will be provocative – so if you’re easily offended I would recommend that you stop your reading here and go and enjoy something (or someone else).
I want to propose that missions can be placed on a sexual continuum, where on the one hand (lets call it the far left without any reference to the political debate in the USA; you can also call it the far right if you wish) you have the self-gratifying act of masturbation. This kind of missions is selfish, engages in fantasy and excels in abstraction. It engages in what one of my mentors call “church pornography”. This is the territory of “masturbation missions.” Now let us not kid ourselves, there is some satisfaction in this kind of missions, otherwise we would not do it. It is clinical, fast and requires no contact with the other. The only contact one needs is to stir fantasy. It also has the effect of creating feelings of grandiosity and importance. The sexy guy / babe (or mission field) always wants you. At this point it might be helpful to sketch out what we are saying and try to think this through in very real terms. So imagine a little sketch where you have on the far left or right the word ‘masturbation missions’.
I wonder what kind of activities can be classified as masturbation missions? The first thought that comes to mind is the myriad meetings throughout the world that never advances beyond the talk phase. Coupled with this is a continual reading of other peoples’ journey and how they are missional. These stories serve as some kind of stimulant and the excitement in itself can be mistaken as being missional. This becomes a kind of mission, a shadow mission, that consists of vicariously living through other people’s mission – missional voyeurism. It can also manifest itself in a situation where people actually make up stories of events that didn’t take place in order to make themselves look good. I have to think this through a bit more, maybe you can help me by jotting down some ideas on what could be seen as missions as masturbation.
In part two we will talk about the other side of the continuum – missions as rape.