Hopefully the title got you here…if so, let me explain what this is all about:Thesis: The aims of the missional church conversation can be reached more rapidly and models become more effective by unhitching ‘missional’ from its inevitable ensnarement to a church culture on life support and allow ‘church’ to happen as a by-product of Christians growing in love of God and other.
The first time I heard the phrase ‘missional church’, it was 1997 and I was in Anaheim, California at a Vineyard Pastor’s conference. Todd Hunter was the speaker, and he was trying to inject a fresh vision for L.A.W. (Life After Wimber). As a young future pastor, I was enthralled and deeply challenged by his message. Todd, as he would confess to me later, was simply trying to make sense of what so many of us have acknowledged over the past 10-15 years – church business as usual wasn’t going to last. With the help of authors / scholars like Dallas Willard, Darrel Guder, Walter Brueggemann, N.T. Wright and others, Todd was in essence challenging some of the fundamental assumptions the Vineyard was founded on (that of the church growth movement). The point of church wasn’t self-serving; whether a church lived or died was of secondary importance. Laying hold of the particular aspects of Missio Dei (God’s mission) for a church’s context was what mattered. Becoming healed and healing others, growing in love and loving others.The theological basis for all this was of course, the kingdom or reign of God. Thirteen years ago, there were only a handful of books outside of academia that dealt with the subject of God’s kingdom. Certainly very, very few were trying to wrestle with its implications to the church and Christian life. Thankfully, that has changed considerably, but where does that leave us now? Is the church doing any better on finding its place in Missio Dei? Has all this discussion about the kingdom had the desired effect?From my perspective, yes and no. Yes, there are churches and ministries budding up all over the country that, at least, are saying all the right things. Thankfully the emerging church conversation has died down and allowed to be what it was – a necessary, transitional corrective. Locally, there are people (not a lot, but enough) that ‘get it’ and I’ve had the privilege to play a small part in helping to make that a reality. But by and large, if you were to slice a cross section through Christendom here in my hometown, I doubt you would find anything too radically different than what you saw in 1997. People still buy into whatever Christian media and churches are plugging as the “fix of the month”. There has been an obvious retrenchment: “What we need is more Bible study, better preaching, deeper worship, increased giving, relevant evangelism”. Somewhere in the mix are the same questions we’ve been asking about what it means to be the church, the gospel of the kingdom, discipleship, justice, and resurrection. I know those questions are being asked in the pastoral ranks and among Christian workers. But most still don’t know what to do about them.So back to my thesis. This is more than an idea, it’s actually the basis for our work here currently. The direction I alluded to a few posts ago fits within this thesis. Let me briefly unpack. If one of the aims of missional church is to help people find their place in Missio Dei and grow as lovers of God and people, converting churches and ministries entrenched in the status quo will be a serious struggle. (Remember, my status quo in South Florida might be different than yours…so keep that in mind). It’s not impossible, but leadership will have to be fearless and not distracted by the million other things churches have to worry about (money being the biggest one). I’ve thought about church planting again (Todd Hunter did), but in this context it would require a significant core (and I mean significant – i.e. more than 100 to start) of people who “get it” and want to move forward into mission. Otherwise, the church would get immediately bogged down with the mess of human blah-ness as I like to call it. Without that healthy core, the burden of leadership would just be too great. (You might disagree with me, but you don’t live here.)So, our strategy is subversive, pure and simple. We are going to infiltrate Christian culture – and the world around us – with people who get the kingdom and want to join in on what God is doing, in spite of where they go to church or what they do for work. We will do this through forming missional communities that form around specific areas of ministry or creativity. They will be led by emerging leaders – in most cases people of no reputation that simply have a dream and need a family around them for support and resources. They will relate through social networking and short cut the ‘good-ole boy’s club’ of traditional ministry. They will organize and secure funding through the help of low-bar concepts like fiscal sponsorship. Finally, they will allow ‘church’ to spring up in their midst, not necessary as a place you go on Sunday, but as a people that love one another and support the ministry of the Holy Spirit in a community.In future posts, I hope to chronicle the steps we are taking to see this vision fulfilled. Right now, we are praying our guts out for help. We might not need 100, but more than a handful would be nice. If you are local and you want to pray too, or help in some other way, let me know!