The term missional has taken on many meanings as it has quickly become a favorite buzzword in church leadership circles. For the purposes of this article, I propose that missional simply means being sent into a community for the purpose of Gospel transformation. Historically, this is what all traditional missionaries were asked to do. We understand “sentness” and incarnational living in foreign contexts but missional brings it to bear on where we currently live. We are called by God to a place, a community. In the Old Testament, when someone received a call on their life from God, it was often not to a particular vocation, occupation or ministry as we think today. They were called to a place. Abraham to Canaan, Isaac to Gerar, Jacob to Bethel. They were free to work as they chose, but they were called to live where God had sent them. We even see the Israelites maintaining this perspective during their time in captivity.
Called To The Coalfields
Jeremiah 29:7 says, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” They understood their sentness even in Babylon. During a time of personal trial, I sought God to better understand my calling. I knew I was called to preach, but there were doors of opportunity in front of me and I could not discern God’s will. During this time, I realized that I had not been called to just pastor, but I had been called to a place: Bluefield. I began to pray Jeremiah 29:7 and ask my church to do this as well. We thought through what it meant to be “sent” to our town and how we could seek its welfare. Through this cry, we began to minister in ways we had never imagined.
An Unlikely Opportunity
I spoke to some business owners in our church and sensed a deep-seeded desperation and a fear. The economy in our mining town has been in a thirty year decline. They were scared that their life work was crumbling in front of them. I decided to try to help. I began hosting meetings of business owners in our community. We would meet in the warehouse of one of the businesses, I would teach a business principle with a Gospel message, encourage them to do business with each other, share a meal (that is paid for by the hosting business), and pray for our community. These meetings, which began with just a handful of men from our church, quickly began to grow. Our community had a great need for hope and it just so happened that I knew the “God of Hope.” Business began to happen. To date, over half a million dollars’ worth of local business deals have been generated though these meetings. We have found unbelievable favor and influence in our community.
A Church Of Influence
I now communicate with around 100 business owners in our community on a regular basis. We call our network REBUILD.REVIVE.THRIVE. and see ourselves as a local business owner think tank for the common good. We have been sought out by the local governments to speak to issues in our community. The local media has publicized our initiatives, and we are seeing a visible difference that we attribute to prayer. Empty buildings are (slowly) beginning to fill, metallurgical coal is seeing a (limited) resurgence, and we are playing a part in launching new businesses (two new businesses have already been started out of our small church). In Bluefield’s welfare, we are finding ours. Our church is beginning to sense a renewed purpose and responsibility. We are reaching out to our neighbors with a message of hope. This coming week, the local news station is hosting our meeting. We will probably have 50 to 60 business owners in attendance, and we are unveiling a vision to further invest in our community by starting our own FABLAB.
We have chosen to establish a FABLAB, an initiative of MIT, in our community because we have recognized that the people of our area are makers but have only been trained on yesterdays tools. Our FABLAB will begin to train and resource makers to “make” in the modern economy and then turn them lose to create. This will be accomplished through partnerships with the local middle schools, high schools, and public and private colleges. Thereby giving creative power to those who feel powerless. We understand that poverty is not just a lack of money, poverty is “shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness,” says Brian Fikkert. Through this initiative, we will be working to increase the quality labor supply (West Virginia is currently last in the nation in this category) and give marketable skills to a community with only 19.6% college attainment. We are also working with Bluefield State College, the nations oldest historically black college, to provide scholarships in engineering to young people who go through our program. But even more importantly we will be restoring dignity, hope, and power to our neighbors.
This is all happening because we recognize that we have been sent to a place and are prayerfully working to see transformation. We are being missional. The road is still long and the way will not be easy but we have been sent here and are here to stay. Our prayer now is Psalm 72:3–4 “Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills in righteousness! May He defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor.”