Sunday, November 9, 2008

Current Directions in Missional Thought

People will often ask where the current theology and practice of mission is heading. My answer always needs to be prefaced with the caveat that any description of the mission scene is of necessity a “current” description. Perhaps that is because the missional movement characterizes itself as “emerging”. Hence, the “man on a swing” remains a workable illustration after all these years.

Two of the leading threads in contemporary church thought are characterized by the words “emerging – or – emergent” and “missional.”

Dan Kimball, a leader in the emerging church conversation has recently written: “The term “emerging church” now means so many different things depending on who you are asking. So it all depends on what stream of the emerging church we are talking about. For me, the term means churches that are being missional in our emerging culture. That part of the conversation certainly seems to be gaining steam and interest from churches of all types. So I really hope the missional outward thinking is something that grows stronger and lasts. But what that looks like may be constantly changing as culture changes. But I hope we keep gaining a passion for being sent by Jesus into the world. I hope that stream of the emerging church grows and lasts.” (Click here for article.)

Mark Driscoll, a conservative Evangelical emerging church leader with a Reformed theology, helps pin down the streams of the emerging church movement in the following brief video:(Click here for video.)

In effect, he describes (from his own theological basis) four primary groups that are participating in the emerging church “conversation” (a word sometimes preferred to “movement”):

1. Relevant Traditionals – These are congregations that hold a traditional theology, including a rather traditional ecclesiology, missiology and concept of evangelism, but seek to upgrade their forms and practices to make them more appealing to the emerging culture (usually defined as the postmodern culture) or the new generation. In effect, this describes many of our congregations and judicatories that are trying to reach a new world, but may not have fully examined what that really means in terms of theology, ecclesiology and missiology. It is easy to tack the word “missional” onto what we have always been doing and think that we are doing something new because the music is different , the robes are a different color, or a new program is being used.

2. House Church Evangelicals – These are people who often hold a fairly moderate theology, but whose ecclesiology is characterized by small group “house church” gatherings which they claim to be the New Testament model of the church in the world. This is sometimes called the “Organic Church” movement (in contrast to the “institutional church.”) This group also includes a branch of a New Monastic “Community approach. What is interesting to note is that in spite of the anti-institutional stance of this stream of thought, most adherents belong to some network or association of house churches.
Click Here for New Testament Reformation Fellowship
Click Here for Organic Church
Click Here for New Monasticism

3. The “Emergent Church” – These call themselves “A node in the web of the emerging church” (Click here for "Emergent Village) but they have been a very influential node, and in spite of the similar, if not confusing, name, they are a very distinct group. The group set out to relate Jesus Christ to the emerging generation (at the time it was “Gen X”) and the emerging culture (at the time it was postmodernism). It has become the most liberal stream in the emerging conversation, sometimes questioning not only ecclesiology but atonement, original sin, the normative function of scripture, the exclusivity of Christ, etc. The problem with the emergent group – a problem they themselves are beginning to recognize – is that they may have confused actualization of the Gospel in the culture with accommodation to the culture. (Mark Sayers) The emergent movement may have tied itself too closely with postmodernism and with Gen X in the same way that Church Growth tied itself too closely with Modernism and the Boomers. (See later section.) Indeed, most of the emerging church conversation has been tied to classic postmodernism, which is characteristically deconstructive in nature and fails to recognize the constructive and collaborative worldview that is now emerging into what M. Rex Miller calls the “Convergence” worldview.

Miller and others hold that at least three worldviews currently exist side-by-side in our culture:

“Modern” Worldview:
• Prevalent from 1500 to 1950 or later
• Still held by many in the “Builder” and “Silent” generations (and many others)
• Linked to print based media
• Logical, linear, reasoned
• “I think” – “Prove it.”
Doctrinal, systematic, apologetic, absolutes
• Hymns for content “truth”

“Postmodern” Worldview:
• Emerging in the 1950’s and prevalent today
• Held by many of the “Boomers” and some generations following
• Linked to visual based media
• Experiential
• “I feel”
Pluralistic, relativistic, deconstructive, individualistic – “non-traditional” “contemporary”
• Programatic -- highly crafted -- designer labels
• Songs for praise “contemporary”
• Megachurch quality and anonymity

“Convergence” Worldview:
• Present and developing
• Generation X and Generation Y (Millennials)
• Linked to digital media
• Relational
• “I choose to believe”
Constructive, collaborative, pluralistic
• Room for the ancient traditions in new contexts – Open to orthodoxy and “vintage faith”
• Seek authenticity, truth, community – may be from many sources, but will commit to a community.
• Could be virtual community
• Songs of truth and praise “real”

I think it is important to understand these three worldviews if we are to understand the direction of mission in contemporary culture. Church Growth (see below) was tied to the scientific and sociological practices of Modernism. The Emergents may have accommodated to postmodernism. The next group, the missional movement, is not tied to a particular worldview. In fact, its roots may be in the “vintage faith” of pre-modern culture, but it can clearly flourish in the constructive Convergent Culture that is emerging in our society.

4. Missional Church Movement -- The Missional Church movement is mostly a shift in thinking. Its theological basis, for Lutherans, at least, is not the command of the Great Commission, but God’s gracious action of justification in Jesus Christ. That action of God is the story of the Missio Dei, which means the mission or “sending” of God in which God is both the subject and the object of the sending. Missio Dei was popularized by Hartenstein and Vicedom in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It tapped into the trinitarian emphasis of Barth and others in the 1930's and moved the thinking beyond the ecclesiocentrism and individualism of the time. The emphasis was put on God's mission rather than ours - we participate with the Triune God in what he is doing. Bill Danker’s hymn says it well:

The sending, Lord, flows from Thy yearning heart;
Thou. Lord the Sender; Thou the Sent One art;
And of Thy mission makest us a part.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Missional Church is not simply a sending church. It is a sent church. Its focus is the world and preparing people to be the church in the world. Its ecclesiology is shaped by its missiology rather than its missiology supporting its ecclesiology. It is in practice, therefore, incarnational rather than attractional. In harmony with Luther’s concept of Christian vocation and with good stewardship principles, it takes a holistic approach to the world and God’s place in it rather than a dualistic approach of sacred and secular. Its proponents advocate an “apostolic” rather than a “hierarchical” leadership style in which the gifts of all are used. Lutherans would probably state that as a renewal of the priesthood of the baptized, while maintaining the importance of the office of the public ministry, and see the two linked in a missional understanding of the divine call.

JR Woodward gives a practical picture of what the Missional Church looks like:

* Not simply how many people come to our church services, but how many people our church serves.
* Not simply how many people attend our ministry, but how many people have we equipped for ministry.
* Not simply how many people minister inside the church, but how many minister outside the church.
* Not simply helping people become more whole themselves, but helping people bring more wholeness to their world. (i.e. justice, healing, relief)
* Not simply how many ministries we start, but how many ministries we help.
* Not simply how many unbelievers we bring into the community of faith, but how many ‘believers' we help experience healthy community.
* Not simply working through our past hurts, but working alongside the Spirit toward wholeness.
* Not simply counting the resources that God gives us to steward, but counting how many good stewards are we developing for the sake of the world.
* Not simply how we are connecting with our culture but how we are engaging our culture.
* Not simply how much peace we bring to individuals, but how much peace we bring to our world.
* Not simply how effective we are with our mission, but how faithful we are to our God.
* Not simply how unified our local church is, but how unified is "the church" in our neighborhood, city and world?
* Not simply how much we immerse ourselves in the text, but how faithfully we live in the story of God.
* Not simply being concerned about how our country is doing, but being concern for the welfare of other countries.
* Not simply how many people we bring into the kingdom, but how much of the kingdom we bring to the earth.

For more resources on the Missional Church you need to check an outstanding resource that just came out this week, JR Woodward has written “A Primer on the Missional Church” (CLICK HERE) DO NOT SKIP THIS ONE.

Many more links may be found by investigating the “Friends of Missional” site on my links listing.

If you have some time and want more depth, check this video conversation with Craig VanGelder, professor of congregational mission at Luther Seminary, St. Paul. (Click here for video)

What may need to wait for another posting is how a specifically Lutheran and confessional approach to theology might apply to missional thought and contribute to the missional conversation.


Another picture of the Missional Church may be gained by contrasting it with the Church Growth Movement. It still surprises me at times how much energy we waste arguing about “Church Growth.” Reggie McNeal and others declared years ago that the Church Growth Movement was dead, yet when I mention that at workshops, I always find that it is still alive in the minds of its supporters or detractors. The Church Growth Movement is dead because our worldview has changed. It was born at the cusp of the transition from Modernism to Postmodernism and combines elements of each, though mostly Modernism.

Here’s how Gailynn Van Rheenen (Click here for full article) compares Church Growth with the Missional Church. The one change I would make is that I believe the Missional Church really reflects more of what I have called a “Convergence Culture” than “classic” Postmodernism. (Note the holistic and convergence attributes.) Another note that may be recognized by those who have begun to read the new books on Luther and mission is how closely Luther’s theology of mission (theocentric, Missio Dei, Trinitarian, centered on justification, focused on the Kingdom—not the church, not depended on organizational structure, not confined to a particular culture, connected to vocation, etc.) parallels much of the “Missional” column below.

For some good video clips on the contrast between Church Growth or Seeker-Church and Missional click on:

Mark Driscoll Part One : Click Here

Mark Discoll, Part Two: Click Here

Tim Keller: Click Here

In summary, the direction of contemporary missional thought is always “emerging,” but what seems to be emerging is a clear focus on missional theology and ecclesiology. The enduring stream of the “emerging church” conversation is the Missional Church stream. Kimball’s opening comments hold true: “That part of the conversation certainly seems to be gaining steam and interest from churches of all types. So I really hope the missional outward thinking is something that grows stronger and lasts. But what that looks like may be constantly changing as culture changes. But I hope we keep gaining a passion for being sent by Jesus into the world. I hope that stream of the emerging church grows and lasts.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good summary. Thanks..