Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Missional part III: Living For the World

Picking up where I left off, Missional has become a buzzword that in many ways needs to be carefully defined, and it is best understood as the very nature of the Church. The Christian Church was founded as a mission – a human community formed to continue carrying out the very mission of God, as begun with Jesus’ sending from God the Father.

Backtracking a bit for a second now, Missional is not a Church Growth movement, it is not a method of evangelism, it is not the social gospel recast for a new generation. It is the an accurate description of the Church – a community that lives not for it’s own sake, but for the sake of the world.

All right, so I’m going to show some of my cards with this one. It’s my belief that the word Missional in describing the church borrows heavily from Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics and particularly from Vol IV.3.2 Barth begins, (quoting from (IV.3.2, S72) as I did above, with the call into existence, by stating ”that the Christian community exists as called into existence and maintained in existence by Jesus Christ as the people of His witnesses bound, engaged and committed to Him.” It is also the ”action of the Holy Spirit…[which] is the basis and secret of the existence of the Christian community.” Barth goes on to further describe how it is that the Christian community is to be for the world in the following ways:

1) It knows the world, it’s origins & purpose, and it understands the covenant relationship between the world and God.

2) It is to practice solidarity with the world meaning full commitment to it, unreserved participation in its situation, in the promise given it by creation, in its responsibility for the arrogance, sloth and falsehood which reign within it, in its suffering under the resultant distress, but primarily and supremely in the free grace of God demonstrated and addressed to it in Jesus Christ, and therefore in its hope.”

3) It is obliged to the world in that responsibility for the world is put on the Christian community – meaning the Church is to minister to, serve, help the world just as the Samaritan helped in Jesus’ parable.

This outward movement, this existence for the world as spelled out here through Barth, leads to the obvious question – at what price to the community as it exists as an entity, as an organism, as an organization, does the Church do this? All of the practical questions well up – methods of evangelism, appropriate teaching, form of worship – if the Christian community, the Church itself exists not for its own, but always for the world, how can it even exist in any sense? At what point do the walls become so porous as to be not walls at all? At what point does the Church itself, cease to be the Church and simply be the world to & for which it exists? The answer to this will come from both Barth and Newbigin in the form of two very profound concepts that I’ll entertain in the next post. For Barth, the Christian community is a parable of the Kingdom of God. For Newbigin, the Church is the hermeneutic of the gospel

Missional - Part I: The New Christian Buzzword

Missional - Part II: The very Nature of the Church

Monday, May 11, 2009

Missional - Part II: The very Nature of the Church

sorry for the 3 day hiatus - here's part 2 of what looks to be a 3-5 part series:

Probably what bothers me the most about the overuse of the word Missional right now in the Church, is that it seems to me that it is being used by some in much the same way the words "organic" and "green" have been (bandwagon book sales & marketing ploys) - words appended to other concepts in order to make it more palatable because it seems like people want that. Again, I'm not trying to tear down anyone who uses the word. I think it's valuable - and possibly the MOST valuable word that's come along in regard to the Church in a long time, but there are a few things I feel I need to point out.

First, the simple fact is that the concept of Missional should not be separated from the "Church" to which it was originally connected in the book Missional Church. Simply put, you can't be a missional person, at least not as I understand the concept, as put forth by Guder et al in that book. Missional and Church belong together.

Second, and maybe I'm stepping out of my depth on this one, but a Church itself is not Missional or Not - it's not like you can get a scorecard and determine whether you're following 6 things and grade yourself accordingly. It's not a question of whether a congregation does XY or Z and therefore is missional, while another congregation does not do XY or Z and therefore is not missional. It's not like that. THE Church, the church universal - that great body of believers, that bride, created by Jesus, even now, awaiting it's full redemption in the fullness of time, THAT Church is, by it's very nature, Missional. It is not about adding a program and then your church will be missional. It's not about adhering to certain principles which will make it missinoal. The church, and every gathered body of believers whether in a house or an auditorium seating 20,000 people - IS by it's very created existence - Missional.

Third, the word Missional itself, while it may be a creation in the English language, is much more than that - it recognizes the essence of the Church, derived from the very words of Jesus. Jesus commissioning of his disciples, particularly as recorded in John's Gospel. If the Church is the community, called by God, formed by Jesus words and empowered by the Holy Spirit - it is a community that in its first act as a community is on the move - it is about a purpose that exists beyond themselves. The Missional Church, is essentially saying nothing more than The Church. The Missional Church is like saying Jesus Christ. As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we understand that Jesus is God. Jesus is the promised Messiah, Jesus is the promised Christ. So, while you can say Jesus without Christ or Christ without saying Jesus - you can't say the one, at least not in an orthodox Christian sense, without meaning the other as well. Jesus - fully human and fully God.

Fourth - and finally, this concept of the church - this understanding of it's inherent nature as a moving community as a Missional community - is not only derived from the commissioning of God in Jesus Christ, but it is founded in the very being of GOD. God, the Trinitarian God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, chose to move toward humanity in the person of Jesus. Jesus was sent by God to re-engage with humanity and in the ultimate re-engagement, his death and resurrection, permanently bound God to humanity - and redeemed humanity. This act of movement, this re-engagement with humanity is out of which the Church gets its mandate to be engaged with humanity. The Church, following in the same movement of God toward humanity, in doing so is doing nothing more than what it has always done, what it has always done, and what it has always been created to do.

This then leads to the simple, profound, and very scary realization which would irk those who wrote and hold to the Second Helvetic confession's answer to What Is the Church? " assembly of the faithful called or gathered out of the world..." The Church, in not moving, in not engaging the world, in being holed up with eyes only for itself (and for God of course) the Church is actually not the Church...

Missional - Part I: The New Christian Buzzword

Friday, May 08, 2009

Missional - Part I: the New Christian Buzzword

It's funny how things get going, isn't it? Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point, has been great and I could probably use it to tackle that question with regard to this, but that's not exactly where I'm going. Mainly because I'm not as interested in the use of the word, or better-yet in the co-opting of the word, but in the understanding of the word. That word being MISSIONAL.

Truthfully, I haven't written a book, taught a seminary class or been a keynote speaker at some event where I used the word Missional, but I do have some insight into the whole thing that comes, about as close to the source as you can get. I think, I think, I get Missional. What I'm concerned about, is that so many other people out there DON'T get it, and they simply connect it with other things or co-opt it into their own designs to either deride or use the word as they see fit. First, let me share the story of the word, as told to me, as best I remember.

It begins with a conversation, a conversation about the Gospel and Western Culture, particularly in the United States. This conversation, was born in part, but not entirely, out of a work by the late Bishop, Pastor, Missionary, Missiologist and Ecumenist Lesslie Newbigin, and partly due to his writing Foolishness to the Greeks, based on the Warfield Lectures given at Princeton Theological Seminary back in 1984 and further expanded into his famous work The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. The conversation took root in what became the Gospel in our Culture Network, connecting professors, missiologists and pastors who were concerned that the death of Christendom hadn't been realized in North America and that the old ways of doing and being church were no longer effective in communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This network is also, I believe, the launching pad for Emergent, although I may be mistaken on that point.

Anyway, part of the Gospel in our Culture Network was writing - and a group of them, "headed" by Darrell Guder, Dean & professor at Princeton Seminary, but at the time of this, professor at Columbia Seminary (also formerly of Fuller) - wrote a book in 1998. As I the story was relayed to me by Dr. Guder, and as I recall it (recollection is always a funny thing), Dr. Guder got a call at one point, late in the process of writing. Most if not all of the different parts (written by different authors) were in and edited, but an overall title was still lacking. Again, as I recall, he got a phone call from George Hunsberger professor at Western Theological Seminary. He had a title he wanted to run by Dr. Guder... it was, Missional Church. The problem was of course, missional wasn't a word. They talked it out, vetted it and finally signed off. Missional Church would be the title of their book. They'd spend a ton of time defining what the term meant, but as it was more of a concept than anything else, it remained open to interpretation - and of course, mis-interpretation.

What I find funny now, is that missional like so many other buzzwords in the Christian community, has now taken on a life of its own. The cat's out of the bag. No longer do professors steeped in a concept of God's mission in the world, trinitarian theology and a robust understanding of the church have ownership of this word. The book was published, it met with resounding success and people everywhere started using the word.

Here's my big problem - I think a lot of the use of this word is misguided at best and down right disgusting at worst. The concept of missional and a Missional Church is a key recovery in the church which shouldn't be reduced to the next fad in Church Growth, which it has by some. Having graduated from Princeton (oh, how it pains me to play that card, I promise you), having studied under Dr. Guder, read deeply in Lesslie Newbigin, studied Karl Barth (where Guder gets his initial concepts of God's mission in the world interestingly enough) and done so in a group of peers who have challenged and tweaked my thinking - it so pains me to see people putting out crap - whether published or not, that attempts to subvert this concept. Finally, today, I've had enough. I'm going to start a series, I don't know how long, of posts all about Missional. Certainly, it will be at best a rehashing of published work, for which I'll give full credit, but in this age of the internet - my guess is that there'll be many that will not have come across this at all. My hope is that I can clarify and clean up some thinking - at least in a tiny corner of the inter-web...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

What's YOUR Song?

Music is a powerful tool and it strips away so much and allows us to feel emotions that sometimes are so deep below the surface that we don't even realize we experience. But when you hear those notes, or when you hear that one line, your body tingles, your skin is set on fire and you KNOW that you're alive.

I blogged awhile back about the song that's probably MY song right now, Never Let Go. It's such an amazing reminder to me, of God's unending - unending love. And I'm really hoping to teach that to my boys. Every time we hear the song come through the CD player in our car, I reach back and grab Brennan's hand, because that's OUR song. I want him to know that even more than my love for him, God's love is greater - and HE never lets go.

That said, I was driving the other day and listening to Christian Radio - which meant Bridgette had been driving the car before me, 'cause I raerly turn on Christian Radio, simply because the play list is way too short and so much of it is 10 years old and a bit sappy. Anyway, I'm listening and this song comes on by Third Day, that I think I've heard a bunch before, but with the current series we're preaching through at Liberty "Hope for a Hurting World" - I heard it with new ears. Particularly, the second verse, which begins with this:

For the marriage that's struggling just to hang on
They lost all of their faith in love
They've done all they can to make it right again
Still it's not enough...

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He'll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus, Cry out to Jesus

Just to be sure, my marriage isn't in trouble. But growing up in a broken home, one redeemed by God, I must say, and in a culture where divorce seems almost the norm instead of the exception (and I know way too many people who are or have struggled through a disintegrating marriage) - my heart just broke hearing that.

But of course, God's hope is in no way restricted to marriages, which is what this song talks about - hope for the lonely, hope for the tired, hope for those in pain and burdened with addictions - hope for everybody. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is beyond God's redeeming, which means that in everything, we need to cry out to Jesus.

If you're reading this, maybe this song was for you. If it wasn't I'd love to know what your song is right now. What song are you singing, or is singing you, and why? There are so many songs that God has placed in our hearts...

Monday, May 04, 2009


I've updated some of my reading list and within the next few weeks I should be able to make some reviews of the books. Finding time to put in this necessary reading is a key component to growing in this "line of work" - unfortunately, that's easier said than done. My bookshelf is littered with books I purchased thinking "ooh, I really should/want to read that book" - but haven't found/made the time to actually read them.

Well, things at the church of course begins to "slow" down during late Spring & the Summer - unless you're an Associate Pastor. Because I'm preaching 6 of the next 16 Sundays and I'll be in Honduras for a week in there as well (which means I'll probably "preach" 1-2 more times there too).

I'm curious - if there's anyone out there listening, how/where do you fit in time to read? Drop a line...