Sunday, November 3, 2013
My FAQs on Missional Church
My very personal FAQ i get on missional; not intended to speak for anyone or any group else:
1. what do you mean missional? Missional comes from the Greek word missio (to be sent). it is about being Sent, being called, to be with and for others, especially those hurting for whom my heart breaks. It is not about having a spiffy mission statement, especially one that is all about one's own faith community; and it is ultimately to me not also the same thing as Purpose. One can be purpose-driven, so to speak, and yet that purpose be self-oriented and self-serving. It is why missional church folks will say that the ultimate missional purpose is not about growing an organization, adding members, making more of "us" in the world, nor is it ultimately about changing the church; it is ultimately about the healing of the world beyond any notions or perpetuation of 'us" and ultimately about changing the world. In fact, when we put our initial and immediate focus and anxiety on changing the church we perpetuate this problem by keeping our focus on us; when we focus on the world, the neighborhood, we allow the church to form in response to that focus; that is missional. We then don't "attend church"; we "becomes church".
2. Doesn't it smack of being a missionary, trying to convert others, evocative of coercion and cultural imperialism? to me, though those concerns should always be with us, it is about the very opposite, the very undoing of that kind of mission-oriented past; living in Indian Nation, having been raised in large measure by full blood Osage aunts, I am cognizant of this response; but the new sense of missional is about at heart letting the church be converted by the world; i think those who see it as another means of evangelism, of outreach, of growth, are not being true to the missional soul; this might be one of the things that we progressives can bring to the overall missional table, and are, just as we get so much from the more theologically conservative who have helped shape the overall missional church movement. it is about listening learning being an ally living with others.
3. What is "church" about it? We say the church doesn't have a mission; the mission has a church. the church is not pre-existent in being as an organization that then tries to set out to find its mission, its why, and which then often changes as people within the organization change. Instead, the church is not a What, not by essence a 501c3 organization with a bylaws, board, budget, building; it is essentially a Who which may take that organizational form to best live missionally but it doesn't have to; it is, in one way of phrasing it, a people making the Sacred visible in the world. As such it can be two or two thousand; it can happen anywhere at anytime by anyone. One of the other lens for this is to say missional can be more about "the church" than about "a church," that is a sense of being a part of a movement, perhaps even a particular history and tradition, more so or in addition to being a part of a particular group/institution.
4. Sounds like it can just as easily be the work of a secular nonprofit, or even a socially conscious for profit business? Why think of it as church at all? In some ways I believe the work of the church can be done, and might be done best in some circumstances, outside of the boundaries of what is called organized church, or even what is called organic or missional or incarnational church; it is okay by me when people are fulfilling their connection to the Sacred and serving others without calling what they are doing as church; i have witnessed some churches focused so much on themselves that i personally find the Sacred more in something like the proverbial Rotary Club, or in what a group of family and friends might do. But I see it as part of the history of the church, part of the renewal and reformation of the church, and in fact part of a major hinge in history reformation as we have had happen every 500 years or so; the major threads of the missional church in its recent manifestation ove the past 30 years have been located in church communities, or by people who profess a faithfulness even though not necessarily, but often, to particular faith communities. I guess finally for me it is a personal thing; I am connected to the church and so see it as part of the church, but I have no qualms with others who aren't and don't; again for me it is the mission that connects us.
5. Sounds pretty Christian. Do you have to be Christian to be at home in the missional church? I am a Christian so I might not be the best one to address this; I am biased I know. But I think you don't have to be. In fact many many many Christians are anything but missional, which is why the missional church movement in many ways got its start and major push there. For me it fits into a theological framework, but I don't see it as having a prerequisite of believing in, for example, the Triune God to be missional, though not all Christians believe in that of course, and though many missional church advocates would say you need to be grounded in the Triune God to be truly missional (since they/we see the Triune God as inherently missio-minded, even libertion-minded): maybe I am an outlier both ways. You will definitely need to be conversant I think with contemporary Christian theology and terms and ability to translate and to see the depths beyond the particular language in order to really, at least at this point in missional church movement history, get the most from great companions in it who cross faith community lines, but it seems inherently unmissional to create such an insider group think and membership in order to be missional. We need all we can get in the mission. There are traditions of outwardly-focused, missional living, servants in many faith traditions. I and many others get our particular way of being and immersing in mission from the inspiration and story and way of Jesus, as well as from Christian theological perspective and history, and I think we who do need to be able to use it, but we shouldn't privilege it...I do think it is hard theologically to ground and sustain a sense of Mission without a sense of the Transcendent, call it Human Spirit, or other understandings, something that orients us away from ourselves, our own, and to others (even as we recognize our interdependence and that we have our own growth always at hand).
6. So what mission are we oriented to? Is it the same for all? I come from a liberation theological Christian frame of mind, so I talk about Mission being given to us, to be with "the least of these"; it has shaped the particular ministry I am involved in; but when we say the Mission creates the church, that Mission can have many particulars; one broad way to look at it is "to connect the disconnected" and that disconnection comes in many ways and in many peoples and many places; while I think there should always be an ultimate orientation of looking at how the most vulnerable, with the least resources, are being neglected and left out and should be at the table of all Mission, still there is much to be done with and for others in all neighborhoods (even if in some it might be to finally find ways to turn the resources of those neighborhoods and families toward others). There is so much suffering in all communities, all families, so we shouldn't, again, try to limit the outward turn.
7. All this talk of serving others and external focus, doesn't it tend to lead to burnout and unsustainability? What about the primacy and the need for worship? Yes, this is why Spiritual Direction and Mission have become intertwined and of an essence to many; just as so many churches have trended toward the internal pole and paralysis and irrelevancy and disconnection with the wider community and the folks in their own neighborhoods, so a too unbalanced fixation on others, without self-care and the refreshment of the spirit that comes from spriitual disciplines including worship, will undercut the missional service and ability to be with others in a healthy way. Regarding worship: there has been a mainstream tendency to see worship as reinforcing an inward turn, a group identity, but it doesn't have to be; not only can the message of missional living be crafted and called out in worship, but worship can be seen in some ways as another method for missional communities, especially if located outside of normal venues, or involving external communities, or done in such a way that the liturgy is serving the Mission and the lives of those who may never become a part of a particular organization as members. Some missional church leaders talk about a four part path of "becoming church": begin with service to and with others, especially those most in need; next do it as a community and grow in community relationships with one another in order to do the service the best it can be done; next grow in personal growth or discipleship and leadership formation so the community can be the best it can be so that the missional service can be the best it can be; finally refresh both the personal and communal spirit and growth through worship so that the other pulses or paths of church-ing can be best realized. But not all missional communities or relationships will even have a focus on all four of these; some of the communities that may be more organic and small may dedicate themselves and their spiritual mission on just one of these paths as its focus (while for example, worshipping with other groups, or going to other churches or groups for personal growth or education and leadership development); it is part of what missional leaders call being a part of "a bigger bandwidth" of what church can be.
8. Is there a way for an established institutional very organizationally focused church to be missional? Or must we "become smaller, decentralized, in order to do bigger things."? Can a church be "attractional" and "incarnational/missional" at the same time? Yes, I believe it can, though it might be tougher; but then again it might have more resources to be able to do so, too, if it has the will. When we say "a bigger bandwidth" we mean there will be missional manifestations or frequencies all along the spectrum or bandwidth; some churches are large and form missional communities out of what were once small group ministries; others see those small groups not as secondary but as the primary reason for church itself; some churches see the outward focus as the exhaling, and the group identity and faith formation of individuals as the inhaling, both necessary to living. At its heart missional church is more about "going to be with them" than it is the former dominant mode of "getting others to come to us to be like us." That should guide us. But it doesn't mean that you have to give up being attractional in order to be incarnational; just remember which is primary, and which ultimately is oriented most to Mission. At this point in church history, it is important not to fall too quickly into our default modes of what constitutes church; so we should question, I think, all things attractional, but ultimately make the Missional the guide. Keep thinking imagining outside the box of that default mode; for churches in a strong attractional or organizational mindset, consider all the ways, small and large, that you can begin to make the shift toward more external being, even if it is holding more events and meetings off campus, with others, for others; as well as bringing others in and sharing one's space, or giving it away, to others.