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The Missional Key

Jim Denison

Jim Denison looks at missional life, listening to God and making ourselves available to him through calling and intimacy.

How do we unlock the missional life for our churches?  How can we start to see our great worship gatherings or events translate into impact in our neighbourhoods and city?  How can we begin to see Jesus glorified thru our tribes and congregations amongst our friends who have walked away from “religion?”   How can I help my city flourish and thrive?

These are the questions that haunt me and I am sure they do you as well.  Being the leader of great worship services and events in which a lot of bodies sit in seats was never my idea of why I got into this… The thing that gripped me as an idealistic 20 year old was the vision of Jesus’ Bride and the difference she could make thru His power in this world.  It is still what grips this idealistic 43 year old.  The Bride.  The call.  Impact.

Did you know that God is missional in your city?

As I have been flailing around and attempting to be a catalytic leader in this area I have discovered one thing that is the most liberating, most encouraging and most hopeful Truth I’ve come across in 20 years…  Missiologists call it the “Missio Dei.”  Its’ the Mission of God.

Did you know that God is missional in your city and the spheres of relationship in the people of your church already?  Did you know that He is doing stuff and wooing and working and pursuing even before you plan that programme that is THE KEY to saving your city?  Did you know that He has people who He has primed and prepared for you to meet and thru whom He is working to impact whole relational circles?  It’s true.

Mission is not the invention, responsibility, or program of human beings, but flows from the character and purposes of God.

Missiologist Gailynn Van Rheenen writes the following in the Aug 2010 edition of the journal Missio Dei, This theology, missio Dei, “express[es] the conviction that mission is not the invention, responsibility, or program of human beings, but flows from the character and purposes of God.” God, the source of mission, who is both holy and compassionate, calls and sends his people to be his missionaries who carry out his purposes…  Moses’ misunderstanding led him to object: “Who am I that I should go?” (Exod 3:11); “Who shall I say sent me?” (Exod 3:13); “What if they don’t believe me?” (Exod. 4:1) and “I have never been eloquent. . . . I am slow of speech” (Exod 4:10). These objections illustrate the human tendency to make God’s mission a mission of self. Each was based on human deficiencies or misunderstandings. God’s responses, however, proclaimed that the mission is greater than the missionary. The ever-present I AM WHO I AM was behind it.”  (see also John 17:20-24 & 1 Peter 2:9)

In the practical this simply means you do not need to be the creative mind behind Mission for your church.  You just need to learn yourself and teach your people to live life in the posture of “Listening” and “Availability.”  Let’s just unpack what a life that listens and a life that is available looks like and why it engages with His Mission


There is a difference between a good idea and a God idea.  Sometimes He will use good ideas because He is gracious.  And if the question is to do something good or do nothing…. I’d say default on doing the good thing!  He can at least steer a moving vehicle.  As Erwin McManus says, “go unless you get a no.”

There is a difference between a good idea and a God idea.

But there is more than merely God using good ideas in His grace.  There is a life that is engaged with what I call “God ideas.”  My whole training in ministry (in Southern California megachurches) was designed around coming up with a great idea, asking God to bless it, marketing it well and then administering it effectively.  It is the model I brought to the UK.  But Jesus’ Kingdom message flies right in the face of that.  His rule & reign is “at hand.”  It is palpably present to our immediate circumstances and the whole of the Christian adventure is to engage with that!  He doesn’t ask us to come up with a parallel programme of our own devising.  His Kingdom = God ideas.  What is He doing?  Where is He?  What is His heart doing over this circumstance?  What grace is He giving for lives to be touched in a particular way?  These are the God ideas that I came to see were the whole point of the NT.  I knew my toolbox needed some new equipment!

Now in saying that, I know people who are haunted by the task of trying to ascertain the will of God.  They agonise and struggle because they are not sure if they are hearing from Him or just wishing they had heard.  Sound familiar?  In this case the temptation is for many of us to lessen our emphasis on “Listening” and begin to fall back on a “Good idea” approach.  These are not our only alternatives.  Is there a way to live a life that prioritises listening without becoming super spiritual and over stating our ability to sense His heart in the midst of a “not-yet” reality?  Can we engage with the pieces of His heart that we do feel we grasp and so begin to live the adventure even if it isn’t precise?  Surely He will speak to us in ways we can access if we reorient ourselves for this task?  Maybe that is what He is looking for after all? Maybe He was whispering because He was trying to trigger us to lean in and become quiet and begin to grow in our desperation for His ideas, His mission?

You see, “Listening” is a lifestyle.  It is a lifestyle that He wants even more than the Life that acts.  He wants you and I to become listeners because a listener is “poor in Spirit.”  This is the “sweet spot” of Biblical living.  Poverty sees.  Poverty hears.  Poverty acts.  That is why they are “blessed” and that is why the Kingdom of Heaven BELONGS TO THEM!  Flipping heck.  They have it.  Listening is something you do when you need to.  Listening is something you do when you no longer trust your own ideas to be the key to His work in the world.

 Listening is something you do when you no longer trust your own ideas to be the key to His work in the world.

When I arrived in the UK with my shiny ideas little did I know Jesus had the agenda of crushing that toolbox and enabling me to be a Kingdom minister.  A Listener.  So, he introduced me to His little friend “brokenness.”  Almost ten years in I can honestly say that I have learned this one pretty good.  I think it is no overstatement to say that I no longer trust my imaginative ideas.  I have seen so many of them turn to dust over the years that I simply am no longer impressed.  Are they His?  Are they in alignment with what He is doing?  This is my desperate prayer now.  Whereas I can sadly admit that there were days when I’d do an entire day of “full time Christian employment” and only realise at the end of the day that I’d not tuned into Him even once during the entire time I now live a kind of involuntary lifestyle of the daily office through sheer desperation. “If you don’t turn up I’m in deep stuff.  Help.”  It seems to me this is the life of the Listener.  I am not saying the Hearer.  In that I am still an infant and wrestle just like the rest of us.  But my spirit is impoverished.  And that tells me the Kingdom is close.  That tells me that I am in position to be a part of His adventure in His Mission.


However, if, as we become Listeners,” the Kingdom is “ours,” then we are faced with a dilemma… “Be careful what you wish for!”  To have the Kingdom invites active participation in The Kingdom.  But again, our lives get in the way.

People are not interruptions, they are the reason you are here

When I was young I saw a plaque on the wall of a pastor’s office that said “people are not interruptions, they are the reason you are here.”  I never forgot that.  But the life I was trained to live in this culture somehow made that quote a trite truism that cannot really serve any purpose except to make me feel guilty about how often I need to ignore the needs around me to “get stuff done.”

In order to be available we must Change. Our. “Perspective.”

By perspective I mean that the way we “see” our lives, the way we understand the purpose for our time will decide how we use it.

The sad reality is that our culture in the West is designed to make life without God palatable.  Seriously.  The values and structures of our culture around us (and this includes the use of time) are designed with a secular worldview behind it and therefore sees productivity as the measure of one’s value.  You value because you produce.  And what is worse, the followers of Jesus in this culture are learning from this culture how to order their lives.  We are being trained by a culture that is trying to make a God-less existence pleasant in the skills of how to order our days and hours and minutes .  Is there something wrong with this?

Jesus lived from a rhythm of life that prioritised Intimacy and Call over productivity and popularity

The worldview of Scripture gives us something radically different.  Jesus had loads of opportunities for productivity.  He chose faithfulness to what His Father was doing instead.  (Mark 1:35-38)  Jesus lived from a rhythm of life that prioritised Intimacy and Call over productivity and popularity.

When we approach our daily lives like this it means that we see work as good and important but more of a means rather than an end in and of itself.  Think about this: our diaries are the amniotic fluid in which the Life of Kingdom cooperation grows and develops.  I know Christians can use this as an excuse for slacking in job performance or dishonouring work all together.  This is an abuse of the principle.  Work is God ordained and you were made for a life of purpose.  However there is a difference between being productive and being fruitful.  A productive life values the outcome regardless of the rhythm utilised to get there.  A fruitful life values the intimacy from which the fruit flows and thus fruit become inevitable.  This means you do not feel that adrenalized rush to produce… He is at work.  I am engaging with it.  Could this be why we do not experience much of an “easy yoke” or “light burden?”

Jesus “saw” each moment filled with calling because He lived from intimacy with His Father.

If we are going to live a lifestyle that is “available” we are going to need to see each moment infused with the presence of His purpose. In practice this means we must see behind the surface level realities:  (I always think of those posters that force you to un-focus your vision before you see the picture that is hidden amongst the pixels.)  Your work colleague who is grumpy is not a thorn to bear but a life dealing with disappointment.  Why?  What is God inviting you to participate in with regards to their circumstances?  Your child’s teacher who is overwhelmed by bulging class sizes is not a threat to your child’s education but an opportunity for you to perhaps volunteer and serve and bless?  You see…. Perspective changes everything.  But if your diary is pointed at production it will never be free to be fruitful.

You will not be able to live in this if you do not value the intimacy from which it flows.  Jesus “saw” each moment filled with calling because He lived from intimacy with His Father.  His closeness enabled “eyes that saw what The Father was doing.” (John 5:19)  This can be true for us as well. The King opens our minds to “Kingdom time” and “Kingdom calling” through a Kingdom perspective.  Availability begins with disconnection from cultural rhythms/expectations and connection with Kingdom intimacy.

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