04 August 2009

More on Missional

the-sower-vincent-van-gogh-300x234I recently came across this quote by Ed Stetzer. I think it is telling for the body of Christ today.

Missions historian Stephen Neil expresses the concern that when churches focus on societal transformation, and particularly when they call it missions, then “everything” is mission. Neil explained, “when everything is mission, nothing is mission.” Those words were prophetic: he spoke those words to a movement that progressively moved away from church planting and evangelistic missions to a near total focus on social justice.

Moreover, are there historical patterns that further confirm Neil’s concerns? When we look at the history of missions, it is frequent (dare I say common?) that those churches which focus on societal change lose their focus on evangelism and church planting. The most healthy churches engage in evangelism (individual transformation), church planting (collective transformation), and societal impact (cultural transformation). And one tends to lead to the others. The best societal impact occurs when it is a reflection of individual and collective, gospel transformation.

When I am told that their church is missional, or they are “being sent,” what I see and hear don’t always align.

Besides losing our focus on evangelism and transformation, our mission ventures run the danger of becoming a project.

Food for thought.

A Few Takes on “Being Missional”

I’ve been doing some research on what it means to be a missional church. Here are a few quotes I’ve come across while researching the topic that I think are worth considering.

“Churches throughout the Western world find themselves increasingly marginalized from society as they endeavor to relate the good news to people whose assumptions and attitudes have been shaped by modernity and postmodernity. Our post-Christian, neopagan, pluralistic North American context presents cross-cultural missionary challenges every bit as daunting as those we would face on any other continent.

Unfortunately most pastors and church leaders have had no missiological training. Consequently they resort to marketing strategies in place of missionary insights in their attempts to reach out to a population that is becoming increasingly distanced from the church.”

– Eddie Gibbs in Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry

“Since that time, the market machine has spun out many conflicting definitions of missional church. In general, these definitions share a sense that the church is not primarily about us, but about God's mission. But consensus breaks down over what God's mission is and what it means to participate in it.

For others, the missional impulse has been translated into a consumer-oriented mentality—again, an approach that the authors of Missional Church explicitly reject. Some pastors I know are being pressured with missional language to focus their preaching on felt needs. Thus, preaching on "How to Be a Better Spouse" or "How to Be Financially Successful" is considered missional, while preaching straight through a book of the Bible, a common Reformational practice, is seen as an old habit of Christendom. When our needs set the agenda, how can we learn to embody the gospel that is not just our story, but first and foremost God's? The seeker-sensitive mentality reflects a profoundly different ecclesiology from that of Missional Church, which claims that God's people need to rediscover the centrality of God's action in shaping our witness to the world.”

-J. Todd Billings “What Makes a Church Missional?”

Knowing God

barth_writing Great quote from my reading Barth's Church Dogmatics this morning:

"We took as our starting point what God Himself said and still says concerning God, and concerning the knowledge and reality of God, by way of the self-testimony which is accessible and comprehensible because it has been given human form in Holy Scripture, the document which is the very essence and basis of the church (CD II.2,p3)

I especially like this observation: Our starting point concerning the doctrine of God is neither an axiom of reason nor a datum of experience. The measure that the doctrine of God draws on these sources betrays the fact that its subject is not really God but a hypostatized reflection of man.

This all goes to say that it is by God that God is known.

This struck me when I read this in Don Miller’s Blog:

Our artists walk away and make secular music and write secular books because they want to say something beautiful and meaningful and so have to walk away from the self-help gospel they grew up hearing about in church.

When we start believing the true story, we will start telling it, and when we start telling it, we’ll help make sense of the world. Story is a sense-making device. And the gospel of Jesus makes sense.

Powerful stuff.

The point of this interpolation is this: We approach our knowledge of God as something we can learn is we study or try hard enough, thus the principles or self-help program approach to knowing God.

What would happen if we took our understanding of God seriously?