One of the great challenges of small-group leadership is preventing a fatal inward turn: that moment when the group begins to focus primarily on itself rather than those outside the group. Exercising Scripture's "one anothers" may require targeted attention on the few in your group, but when the gathering becomes preoccupied with the gathered, we miss the point entirely. The corrective turn outward requires a new way of thinking that most people call missional.
If you've spent any time introducing people to the idea of missional, you've probably struggled with what, exactly, to call it. Is it a new paradigm? Absolutely, but few people understand the word or understand its ramifications. How about framework? Nah. Too rigid. Is missional a lens through which we see Scripture and the world? Now we're getting warm. But simply seeing things through a missional lens answers some questions while raising new ones. The word mindset comes to mind because it incorporates attitude, but it also carries the negative nuance of being set in a particular way of thinking. The word lifestyle is close but incomplete because it seems to describe only the outward part of missional.
In their book Sentness, Kim Hammond and Darren Cronshaw hit on a nearly perfect word to describe all things missional: posture. It always describes one thing in relation to another. It's a stance that anticipates action, requires awareness, and assumes multiple forms. They highlight six postures that missional Christians take that keep them on mission with God.
Hammond and Cronshaw begin with the completely re-orienting basis of all missional thinking: Disciples of Jesus are sent rather than consuming. We can't be receivers of God's blessings for our own sake, but for the sake of the world. The authors put it this way: "Spiritual formation is not for any other purpose than for mission." This spins readers 180 degrees, from spectators into missionaries. The shift couldn't be more radical—from "come and see" to "go and do." The authors quote Leslie Newbign: "The only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it."
From accepting our primary posture as sent people, Hammond and Cronshaw show what it looks like to be submerged (living incarnationally) for the sake of shalom (seeking restoration of all things). They demonstrate the need for safe places of inclusion and the non-negotiable essential of sharing life in a web of relationships. They close with the posture of standing in the gap, empowering others to live out their sentness.
Speaking of safe places and sharing life is enough to give small-group leaders goose bumps. Sentness, though, demands webs of relationships that are ever expanding and radically inclusive, making grudgingly open small groups no longer acceptable. A posture of standing in the gap redefines our apprentice-leader relationships by moving mentoring and reproduction of disciples and leaders from the fringe to the core.
Hammond and Cronshaw's stories are powerful and accessible. Anybody can be missional under the power of the Holy Spirit. Their summaries and illustrations of each posture are both inspiring and convicting. Seeing how others live out their sentness inspires me to look for new ways to live out my own.
I hesitate to estimate just how much in Sentness will be new to readers of Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, David Bosch and Leslie Newbign, Chris Wright and Darrel Guder. But, after consuming several thousand pages of densely theological and deeply philosophical background material, I longed for a single starting point of introduction to missional; not a syllabus of many books that explore every nook and cranny (these are readily available), but a book I could hand to a friend or small-group leader and say, "Just start here." Sentness may be that book. While still in the introduction, I'd already decided to order Sentness by the case.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about what it means to be missional. It's clear and practical enough for small-group leaders. At the same time, it provides enough overview for small-group pastors or directors who want to know how to get the word out about missional living and missional groups.
—Dave Treat is the Director of Missional Communities at Asbury Church in Madison, Alabama; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.