Detour: Some thoughts on a (NOT) Missional Life and How We Got Here

If you've been following this month's series, Voices of Foster Care, I'm taking a slight detour to offer some rambling thoughts on something that has been all over Facebook.

On Saturday, Anthony Bradley, an ethics and theology professor at King's College, wrote on article on what he considers to be the "New Legalism." In his article, he claims he has examined a rising epidemic among collegiate students. He outlines the increasing number of students he sees pursuing or feeling the need to pursue a missional lifestyle out of shame and guilt. He actually does go further and somewhat attaches this trend directly to what he calls "radical preachers" like David Platt, John Piper and other, as he refers to, "missional" leaders. He claims, Again, this was a well-intentioned attempt to address lukewarm Christians in the suburbs, but it is primarily reactionary and does not provide a positive construction for the good life from God's perspective, it misses the "radical" ideas in Jesus' own teachings like "Love."

Later, both John Piper and Anthony Bradley addressed the article on their Facebook pages. And, the comments were not all pretty.

Are we cheering for a football team here?

Bradley then went on to link a review he wrote on Radical in 2010.

Straight up disclaimer. I do not attend Brookhills. Jamie and I attend a small reformed PCA church here in Birmingham. However, a large amount of our support group  and many close friends are from Brookhills. I also had never bought or read a copy of Radical until two months ago. David Platt became our baseball coach, and I figured I should read it :) However, I had listened to many of his podcast sermons. Jamie and I have both been amazed how many people have commented in a divisive way that we must have read the book Radical, and that's why we are doing what we're doing. We actually just read the Bible, followed the Spirit's leading and trusted in the Father. Hmmmm.

Second disclaimer, I grew up "charismatic," married a PCA man, who is now an elder, and remain a charismatic at heart. I deeply believe in reformed theology. However, there are places I do not agree with my man's views on scripture or even my church's. Yet, Jamie and I seek humbly to learn from one another's views. It pushes us to dig deeper in the Word to explore together, rather than to react in an impulsive way. Our marriage of Scriptural views has shaped who we are to the core of our family. God knew that.

Third Disclaimer, and you've probably figured this out by now. I'm a social media junkie. And where we could say, none of this should be thrown over Facebook or Twitter, I do think there is something pretty cool regarding how we are able to discuss an article with believers across the country and hear various perspectives, rather than only those who look and feel just like us. It's all about how we keep it in check.

So...from this point forward, I'm going to check the articles at the door, and give my wimpy opinion that no one may ever read.

The "missional" or "radical" lifestyle should not be separated from what we are called to look like as Christians. Christ was radical in every sense of the word: His lodging or lack thereof, His companions, His clothes; the way He talked; His beliefs. He was a pretty radical guy. I think we do ourselves and fellow believers we are spurring on a massive disservice when we categorize our Christianity by levels. As John Gunter wrote in his blog yesterday, There is no Varsity in Christianity. 

Jamie and I were not always this way. When we were married, we wanted 2 kids (boy and a girl four years apart), Jamie to have a great and prosperous career in accounting (for God's glory of course), and me to have a stable freelancing avenue from home.

Enter God (or at least our awareness of Him :)

We knew God. Coming from 12 years of Briarwood, we could quote you any scripture or debate just about any theology point. But, the love of Christ had not penetrated our hearts. We were content to do the, as the article refers, "suburban life."

But we remembered two things Fran Sciacca challenged us with in our senior Bible class:

1. Choose your lifestyle early. Determine the way God is calling you to live, and do not let yourself inflate beyond that. It's all His anyway. Find ways to use it intentionally for His glory. 

2. If you want to be doctor or lawyer, that's great. Where are you going to be one, and who will you be them to? 

I go more into these challenges here.

Now, on the surface, this challenges may seem what Bradley claims is the "New Legalism." But let's be real. We are in comfy America. If we are not challenged to dream there could be something more, we fail to see the vastness of God's glory and vision. I want to drill into my kids that they can GO, and DO, and BE anything God has designed for them to be and anywhere HE leads them to go.

We prayed every single day that God would give us the courage to live these two things out, even though we didn't see how or really even feel it.

And along the way, something shifted. Maybe it was three boys in three years. Maybe it was almost losing our middle son. Maybe it was a marriage that just wasn't seeming to take off the ground, or maybe even our sin-soaked mess :) But May 18th, 2009, we looked at each other and both said, I want to know the love of Jesus deeper than I ever have, and I want Him to have it all.

And He said, Follow me.

I don't know that I've ever felt a shift in my life so clearly. Everything changed.

There were times we pushed the cart before the horse. We wanted to jump into ministry before we knew we were being driven from the love and calling of Christ. A need does not always justify a call. But, we knew we were being called to love deeply because we have been deeply loved.

So, here are some thoughts on this (NOT) Missional Christian Living:

1. Missional living must be driven from grace. We love because we have been loved. Once we know love, we cannot help but seep His glory because we are being transformed into the very image of Jesus with each passing day. We are never the rescuers; we are the rescued.

2. Missional living is intentional. I remember when I first had Caleb. I was drowning, and I was pouting to a close friend because my world "for Jesus" felt so small. Yes, loving Caleb was and is a high calling. However, after having 100 kids listen to you preach from your soapbox every day, it's a jolt...a good one, but a jolt. However, she challenged me by saying, Catie, you're not looking. Your mission field is all around you. She went on to challenge me to go to the same store, on the same day, at the same checkout line each week and build a relationship with the clerk.

I did. Her name is Jennifer. Our boys are the same ages. Her life is hard, harder than I will ever know. Now, she's at Chick-Fil-A. For 10 years, I've followed her. I pray for her kids. That was Publix.

Walmart is a whole other story. Every single person in that store at 4 in the morning knows me by name, and I know them. They know my faith. They ask me to pray with them.

I knew when Christine's husband lost her job and was able to hook her up with someone who could help.

I knew when Jazzy had her baby as a single mom.

I knew when Christina didn't have money to get school supplies.

And they know my kids. My gang got Christmas presents from the early Walmart shift.

I don't say any of this to prop me up, but I do think that we can use our callings as wives, mothers, and husbands sometimes as an excuse to be a singular calling. We can have a missional lifestyle in the midst of doing life. But it takes intentionality.

3. Missional living is costly. Ask any of the apostles or disciples. Ask William Tyndale as he was led to be choked to death and his body burned. Ask Elisabeth Elliot who held her husband, her family's future with open hands. Ask John Wycliffe whose body was exhumed after death to be burned along with his writings. The list could go on.

Life to life ministry is costly. Discipleship is expensive. Faith is dangerous. It's an investment of our time, or resources, our hearts...whether it is our own children, our neighbor, or the woman standing on the street.

4. Missional living is not forever. Fellowship, though we are commanded to do it now, will continue forever for those in the Body of Christ. Worship, though we are commanded for it to be part of our life now, will also go on for all eternity. Missions, alleviation of the poor, orphan care, mercy ministry will end one day. This realization does make us pause.

5. Missional living comes from our design. Our purpose does not shape our design. Our design shapes our purpose. We are designed for a calling, for the space He longs for His glory to be made known to the world in a way only we are able to do that. If we invert these two things, we can quickly begin chasing after one another's stories, rather than watching the beauty He is writing through our own.

6. Missional living has no guarantees. We often want the promise of an end result. It ain't gonna happen on this earth. But, we do cling to the promise that all things are being made new, that we are being transformed into the image of Christ, and one day we will fully look like Him.

But, I will say, that since we have followed the Father's leading and grace in our lives to our messy missional lifestyle, we know more peace and joy than we have ever known in our lives. Is it hard? YES. Is there grief and pain? YES. Is it inconvenient? YES. Are we tired? YES. But, am I tasting more of my Savior than I have ever known? YES, a thousand times. And, am I learning more about the heart of God than I ever have? Yes.

7. Missional living is not about us. I did appreciate how Bradley pointed out that a missional lifestyle apart from knowing the deep love of Christ, can only produce narcissism and self-absorption. Just as a comfortable life apart from Christ can produce narcissism and self-absorption. It's a constant battle to examine and re-examine our hearts.

So grateful to be reminded of this verse yesterday from a friend I admire:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
~ Romans 12:6-8

Because of the One who is the Author of our Calling,


  1. This is a really well articulated, gracious response. Thank you for posting your thoughts on this matter! The article by Bradley made me so upset, and I couldn't seem to get beyond my outrage to see any good in his thoughts. Thank you for your perspective and most of all for obeying your calling. It spurs others, that you may not even know :), on to love and good deeds. Love your blog and I'm glad I found it!

    1. Thanks, Allison! There's pieces of good and pieces of not-so-good in all our views, because we're fallen. And, I keep going back to the fact that Satan would love to see us divided rather than united so that no good for the cause of Christ can go forth. So grateful for you! Friend me! Would love to talk more!

  2. Catie, Thanks for your post. Thanks for some great perspective on what being ordinarily missional looks like. I think your words about getting to know the people with whom we interact often (cashiers, etc) was spot on. There is something about getting to know them and caring for them. They are people created in God's image! I read Bradley's post and have not read John Gunters yet--he is an old friend from my years on staff with Crusdade--but I need to check it out. At times when I see these things pop up on FB it is so frustrating because people of our theological ilk can all too often either throw rocks or roses too quickly. Funny how our belief in the gospel of grace doesn't get very far in our practical theology. Lastly, let me say how encouraging it is too see what God is doing in you and Jamie. It is so fun to see students who have moved on into life and are walking with Jesus. III John 4. Take care and keep loving Jesus--cause he will never stop loving you. Take Care, Steve Johnson

    1. Steve, so honored that you would comment. Watching families like you guys, Billy and Marian and others, shaped who we are now by the grace of God. His story through you was a sermon of grace to us. Thank you on being courageous to live your life openly, because it grafted so many of our hearts to long to be more like Jesus as we longed to be like you guys. So grateful.