This article by Charles R. Ringma, the author of In the Midst of Much-Doing: Cultivating a Missional Spirituality, takes us on a beautiful journey of missional spirituality, showing how to make it a part of our daily practices.
We are all too aware that when we speak of theology or spirituality or mission, we enter a wide domain of perspectives.
In theology the spectrum ranges from biblical theology to political theology, and so much in-between. With spirituality we may immediately think of Benedictine, Ignatian, Anabaptist, or Wesleyan spiritualities – but here perspectives are even wider, for “spirituality” can mean any reflective engagement. Mission can mean anything from soul-saving through to the mission of a world-formative Christianity. And when we link mission and spirituality, things become even more complicated.
So, a minefield beckons us.
Where Do We Begin?
Let’s think about working to understand missional spirituality as a series of moves through the minefield. The first move we should make is to raise the question: is there such a thing as missional spirituality? The answer can simply be: why not, when we also speak of prophetic spirituality, liturgical spirituality, marketplace spirituality, and liberation spirituality, among others.
The first move we should make is to raise the question: is there such a thing as missional spirituality?
The second move we can make is to hint in the direction of a gestalt of missional spirituality. Most basically, we may note that this involves the faith and courage to move towards the other – neighbour, colleague, stranger, enemy – in love, witness, and service, and this may involve a whole range of spiritual practices.
The third move we may make is to provide some definitions. So if spirituality, within a Christian frame, has to do with spiritual practices that reflect a life of following Christ, then a missional spirituality has to do with acts of witness and service sustained by the gift of being in Christ and the task of seeking to live and serve others in the way of Christ.
From here, we need to go deeper.
So How Do We Go Deeper?
A common misunderstanding is to see missional spirituality simply as prayer for one’s mission. This is a bit like seeing mission as the car and prayer as the petrol in the tank. While partly true, this is not the whole picture. Another misunderstanding is to prioritize the one over the other – mission is important, prayer is secondary and only a means to a certain end.
The productive move that needs to be made, then, is to explore integrational themes. Here are the most obvious. Mission is birthed in prayer, is sustained in prayer, and is a prayerful activity. Mission is the reflection of the love of God and the love of neighbour. Thus, our spirituality – our love of God – is expressed in mission through serving our neighbour.
Our spirituality – our love of God – is expressed in mission through serving our neighbour.
There are still further possibilities for articulating and living a missional spirituality. For instance, we can see missional spirituality as an expression of an action-reflection cycle; as the outworking of contemplation and action; as bringing us both into the heart of God and into the heart of our world; and we could go deeper still.
Who Can We Learn From?
There is a deep well of theologians, both ancient and contemporary, who offer rich insight for our exploration of missional spirituality.
St. Augustine (354–430) proposed that one should not be so busy with contemplative practices as to forget the ordinary realities of life and service to others, nor so involved in the daily affairs of life as to forget the practices of prayer.
St. Gregory the Great (c.540–604) makes the interesting point that there should be a dynamic circle in the relationship between contemplation and service. One should move from activism to prayer, from prayer and other spiritual practices to missional engagement.
Contemporary voices affirm these ancient perspectives. The theologian Diogenes Allen (1932–2013) highlights that the spiritual quest to rest in God and to become like him outworks itself in seeking to act like God in the realities of our world. The spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen (1932–1996), stresses that the practices of solitude and prayer have nothing to do with an escape from this world. Instead, these spiritual practices lead us to see the issues of our time more clearly so we can engage the world in more transformative ways.
And the monk, Thomas Merton (1915–1968), places an emphasis on a triple movement. Contemplative practices draw the follower of Christ into a deeper understanding and experience of the love, majesty, and mystery of God. They also draw the person into greater self-awareness and repentance.
Contemplative practices draw the follower of Christ into a deeper understanding and experience of the love, majesty, and mystery of God.
And finally, these practices draw the person deep into the heart of the world seeking its redemption in Christ.
A final contemporary voice is from Segundo Galilea (1928–2010) who highlights the double movement of contemplation – the movement of transcendence towards God and the movement of incarnation towards the world. The emphasis here is that whenever we move towards God in our spiritual practices, God will remind us of the neighbour in need and the brokenness of our world. And whenever we are engaged in the world in witness and service and the long road to justice, we will be provoked to seek the face of the mercy of God and seek his enablement and provision.
This is but the briefest of remarks, my book "In the Midst of Much-Doing: Cultivating a Missional Spirituality" (Carlisle, UK: Langham Global Library, 2023) takes you through the complex and beautiful dynamics of missional spirituality in deeper and expanded ways.
Prof. Charles Ringma.
In the Midst of Much-Doing: Cultivating a Missional Spirituality draws from Scripture and a wide range of Christian traditions to explain how we can sustain activism and compassion amidst the never-ending crises of the twenty-first century. Charles Ringma inspires the readers to integrate spiritual renewal and prophetic witness for the glory of God and the good of his creation.