I was born in Brazil where I grew up in a missionary family during the 1980s and 90s. My parents were serial church planters who came out of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil. In those decades, mission was the equation of evangelism + discipleship = church planting. Their idea of mission was quite simple; share the Gospel with neighbors and use our living room as a place of discipleship through Bible study, prayer and community. Whenever the group got big enough, it moved into a dedicated church building and allow it to nurture the practices that started in the home. I experienced that process a bunch of times growing up, although my parents have been directly involved in over 30 church plants. This simple equation proved to be a great way to do mission, and the evangélicos in Brazil tripled in size during 1970-2000 in part because of approaches like this.

My own sense of vocation has been a journey of gradual discovery. It would be easy to presume on a sense of Christian and missionary identity given my background. Reading some of my dad’s publications from the mid-80s I found references to “incarnational ministry” and the “missionary identity” of the church, an early type of missional understanding if you will. Undoubtedly, I think the ingrained practices of Holistic Mission (Missão Integral), hospitality and service to others that my parents modeled have indeed played a part. Nonetheless, I only came into my own sense of Christian identity in my late teens. By this time, my family had moved to the United States where my parents engaged in some more serial church planting. I was a drug user and alcohol abuser as a teenager. At eighteen years old, I had a regenerative experience while being held in a jail cell due to a D.U.I arrest. It was the first time I can say that I truly experienced God. I was released from jail, but I remained in probation and had my driver’s license suspended for a year. During this time, I moved out of my parents’ house and went to spend that year in London, England where the terms of my probation could not affect me. It was in London, a place far from home that I found the church to be a home. While there, I attended a small international church and became a part of the community. It was in that foreign place that I began to grasp a sense of identity and vocational calling.

Vocation discernment is a communal engagement. Norma Cook Everist, in her book The Church as a Learning Community, describes the Church as a community of new beginnings. She states that in the Church, “one discovers entirely new relationships of reciprocity… which provide the ultimate trustworthy learning environment… to be what you already are in Christ.” She stresses that the personal discovery of vocation receives meaning when done in community through formative practices of shared discernment, trust and responsibility. As I became a part of that small church in London, I had an increasing desire to know God. The church acted as a holy community that served to sanctify my own life. I was still a mess, yet I devoted myself to daily practices like Lectio Divina and daily prayer. Those spiritual practices sparked in me a sense of vocation and purpose. I wanted to worship God through service. I met with the pastor and he suggested a few ways through which I could be of service. Simple service became a fulfilling experience for me. Serving had strengthened my commitment to the church and my sense of calling. That sense only grew, and by the time my year in London came an end, I had fully discerned that I wanted to pursue ministry full time.

Practices are formative experiences that shape individuals and communities. I was a young runaway who found belonging at a small multicultural church halfway around the world. My growth in the faith and initial vocational discovery would not have been possible if it were not for a community that practiced hospitality to strangers, truthful living and collective discernment. Nonetheless, that same missional discernment ultimately led me beyond the confines of the local church into a seminary that would shape my theology and equip me for ministry. As I discovered the God of the mission I became intrigued by the mission of God. Thinking beyond “the walls” became a new reality for me. By this time, I was well into my theological studies at the South American Theological Seminary in Londrina, Brazil. While in seminary, I was approached by a group of pastors who were thinking missionaly and wanted to transcend the walls of the church into the city. The solution was to create a project called AMID Londrina. The acronym stood for Association for Mission, Integration and Discipleship. For about four years we worked to promote justice, reconciliation and social integration among some of the most marginalized communities in the city.

The Church has a calling to the context and community to which it belongs. Alan Roxburgh, in his volume called A Journal of Missional Practices issues an important warning against the tendencies towards ecclesiocentricity whenever the Church reflects about the mission of God in the world. The aspects of missional practice lie beyond inner-focused categories such as church growth, church health and church styles. Roxburgh declares, “The God who acts in this world, acts in the concrete materiality of the local, the ordinary and the everyday”. Christian communities who focus primarily on inward-oriented practices overlook the fact that their congregants are part of a larger network of relationships that include families, friends, schools, places of work and places of recreation. These spheres are shaped by social and cultural histories that are often times marked by segregation and marginalization of different people groups based on ethnic and economic identity.

Dr. Mark Branson, a professor of Practical Theology at Fuller Seminary, speaks of missional practices as border crossings into society. He alerts his readers to the fact that the Christian movement led by Jesus, and the Early Church later on, was formed by heterogeneous communities that practiced inclusion and reconciliation. He affirms that the New Testament “shows an attentiveness to social realities, including languages, oppression, access to resources, and how leaders are identified, called and commissioned.” The Early Church was alert to its larger social context, and the Gospel was the tool to undermine the dominant cultural narratives of oppression. Christian communities begin to connect to the mission of God when they discern their context and work towards reconciliation by crossing socio-economic borders.

In my journey, I found the church to be a home as a foreigner halfway around the world in London, England. On the other hand, found it to be a missional community in my native Brazil in the city of Londrina, which means “Little London.” I went from the “Big”, to the “Little London”. Little did I know that “big to small”, or “macro to micro” would become a pattern in my ministry. In many ways, it worked like the categories of “general” and “specific” revelation. In June of 2007, I set out to Greece to be a missionary as a freshly ordained minister. The move was the answer to a macro desire to serve God (the one that led me to seminary) and a micro calling to that specific country (the Lord had spoken to me about Greece). Whilst in my micro calling, I found myself doing macro-type ministry in a national missions agency. My mission went from macro to micro again when I joined the pastoral leadership at a small local church. In this pattern, a desire to serve God turned into a call to Greece, which became a call to a city in Greece, that led me to a local church in a neighborhood, and finally to a call to serve the individuals in the church.

As in my own journey, the process of missional discernment is a discovery that shapes the identity of individuals and communities. In a sense, it is a process where a general revelation of vocation leads to a specific calling into a specific community in a particular context. Just as the shifting patterns of general to specific and macro to micro, it is my conclusion that the macro Church (with a capital C) consists of micro communities that promote the reign of the Kingdom of God through practices that sequentially form a new way of life. In fact, the Church is a microcosm of new possibilities in a world torn by injustice. It is a living organism expressed as a regenerated community through the collective lives of individuals who live a present grace and a blessed hope by practicing worship to God and mission to others.

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