I first started hearing the word “missional” when I was in college. It probably started long before then, but that seemed to be when it reached the hallowed halls of Valley Forge Christian College. I remember it catching on pretty quick; for us, it meant that things like street preaching and the Ten Commandments quiz were out the door. Now, we never had to do that as students, but I know I was glad to see people standing up and saying, “Hey! Maybe throwing our faith in people’s faces all the time when they’re just walking to lunch isn’t such a good idea!” It was certainly a relief to see the church moving in this direction.
As I left VFCC and moved into the real world, I kind of lost touch with the world of being missional. I never distanced myself from it, per se, I just kind of moved on to other things. Truthfully, it just fell off my map as I moved out of evangelical circles. I stopped looking for ways to tell people about Jesus and just decided that doing what Jesus told me to do would be great. Religion already comes up when people talk to me anyway; it’s kind of what comes up when people ask me what I did in college (along with “…and what do you do with a theology degree?”). That’s about as missional as I get, I guess
I guess when I saw this book come across in a Speakeasy email, I figured, “Maybe something new has come about in this whole missional thing. Let’s check it out.” It helped that Scot McKnight, an NT Scholar whom I admire, endorsed the book and wrote the foreword (I’m a sucker for that sort of thing).
The Story Lives is a practical work by Henriet Schapelhouman, whose name makes me glad this isn’t a podcast and I don’t have to attempt to pronounce her name. Designed for “serious, missionally-minded leaders at all levels of ministry, both in local churches and beyond, who want to take the missional conversation from theory to action,” TSL functions as a guidebook and discussion generator for people who really want to get into the whole missional living thing. Schapelhouman tries to get readers to see their own story and how it applies to the Gospel, then shows them how “living their story” can help them do great things for the kingdom of God and spread the Gospel of Jesus. For Schapelhouman, the whole missional movement is for everyone, and needs to move out of small groups and into the world.
That last point, I felt, was the high point of the book. She’s VERY focused on getting Christians off their butts and out into the world, doing “some serious good” as she says, and showing the love of Christ in the world around you. This is the very embodiment of missional living: showing the world how to love as Jesus loves us, and it was one of the things I really liked both about this book and about the movement as a whole.
However, I had misgivings. Again, I’ve been through the whole missional thing, so not a lot of this is new to me…and that’s probably why I’m disenchanted with it. While I liked this paradigm shift that occurred awhile back in the evangelical church, I very much moved away from being evangelical…while the Missional movement didn’t. Throughout TSL, there’s all these references to “living one’s story for Jesus” and “not being ashamed to say it if you are” kind of stuff, and while I’d like to think I’m doing both of these things…I just don’t worry about it as much anymore. I “live for Jesus” by taking seriously the things he said and doing them. If people want to know why, I tell them why, and that’s really it. Schapelhouman still centers herself very much in orthodox Christian thinking, whereas I’ve begun to reexamine my own views and find such language a little off-putting.
This book reads like something you would go through at a weekend leadership retreat (there are ads for fully day workshops at the back, even), and while I guess those things are fine, it’s not the kind of thing I’m looking for. I’m already doing a lot of these things and working a lot of these things out in community with my church. I think that’s the case in many churches today; many people are taking Jesus seriously, going to their church and talking it out, and moving into the world. The whole thing just seems…late, I guess.
However, having read through this book, I can honestly say this: if you’re late to the game too, it’s a good resource. Cheesy, in my opinion (seriously, all self-help/inspirational Christian books sound the same to me), but hey, maybe that’s what you need. I’d never say that no one should read this book; I’m simply saying it wasn’t for me to read. I am just one person in seven billion, however, so there’s probably a lot of people out there who should check this out.